Mark Maciver is the founder of Hackney-based barbershop SliderCuts. Over the years as a barber he’s built both an incredible brand and business that have afforded him invitations to feature in marketing campaigns for Facebook, Nike, iZettle and Reebok. He’s also a public speaker, mentor, and author of the book Shaping Up Culture. We recently grilled him on his impressive career journey and his approach to brand and community-building.
You’ve had some high-profile clients over the years – Stormzy, Anthony Joshua, Lebron James, just to name a few. How did this come about?
I first started cutting hair when I was 13 or 14, when I picked up the scissors to cut my own hair (which went wrong). When I started cutting hair professionally at 18 years old, the barber that was above me used to have a lot of celebrity clients, and at first I thought that was what I wanted to do too. And then, as I started doing a lot of call-out haircuts, I came to realise that I didn’t really enjoy that, and so I moved away from it.
I actually went through a whole phase where I didn’t really want to be involved in cutting hair for celebrities at all, and my whole focus was just on being a good barber. It was through doing this that the recommendations would come through: I cut Lebron James’ and the USA basketball team’s hair through word of mouth. This was before social media even existed. Richard Blackwood, Plan B, various footballers – I was being recommended to all of them as a good barber.
Whether you know it or not, people are always watching. This is how a lot of these opportunities came about: I was just acting the right way, putting myself in the right position for openings I didn’t even know were there.
How has social media changed how people find you?
With social media I started to consistently display all my work, and soon I was posting everything I believed about hard work. Whereas before you had to be recommended, now you were being discovered on your Instagram page.
I remember that when I cut Tinie Tempah’s and Anthony Joshua’s hair, they told me they’d been watching my page for a while before they called me. They were seeing my consistency and my professionalism and knew they could connect with me as a barber. Reggie Yates contacted me for a haircut six months after following me.
As I write in my book, whether you know it or not, people are always watching. You’re always being ‘interviewed’. This is how a lot of these opportunities came about: I was just acting the right way, putting myself in the right position for openings I didn’t even know were there. Through recommendations and social media they all just started coming and I wasn’t pursuing any of it. I was just doing good business.
How much time do you invest managing your social media and making sure it’s a good ‘shopfront’?
I spend a lot of time putting content out there, even now during the lockdown when I’m at home. I’m still putting out work and have advised quite a few barbers to do the same to stay relevant in people’s eyes. In the era of social media, people’s attention spans are short and you need to make sure you are constantly reminding people you’re still there. I put out content daily; Sundays are the only day I don’t always post.
It’s about putting out who you are. Think about what your business is and what you represent, and once you’ve established that, think about what content you can create to reflect this. I don’t spend time creating the perfect image because my business is based on authenticity, and I don’t have to spend time on refining who I am. You’ll see videos out there of me with mistakes in them and I don’t mind that, because I know what my brand is.
How do you go about recruiting and retaining staff?
It’s a general problem that a lot of barbershops struggle to hold onto staff. From the beginning, my plan was to just make SliderCuts a fun, comfortable place to work, so that even if you wanted to leave you’ll realise what you were missing out on!
My focus is not on me making money: I’m focused on making sure they’re all making money too and improving their skills. My team can tell you that I’m always trying to grow their personal social media pages for their own benefit. I think it’s important to build on what you’ve got from the platform you’ve been given so you can contact clients and gain a following on your own terms. I’ve always been about building up the community and to some degree, I am trying to cater to everyone’s needs. I always ask new hires how much money they want to make, and when they give me a figure, I assure them they’ll make even more.
What has it been like managing your team during the current coronavirus pandemic?
I currently have employees and I also work with people who are self-employed. When it’s come to COVID-19 and the current lockdown, I’ve just been honest about the situation and tried my best to put them first before myself. For example, even though we had no business last month, I still paid their wages with the money I had, which meant I was then defaulting on my own bills this month. There are some people that technically I don’t have to pay as they work an hourly rate, but I’ve told them to tell me how much money they need to live on and I’ll try my best to work something out.
My team knows I’m not greedy or selfish, but managing a team is about being honest and focusing on the solution instead of worrying about the problem. Communication is one of the most important things that so many people don’t do.
Coronavirus is obviously unprecedented, but have you ever faced a huge challenge to your business?
There’s a story I tell in my book, in the chapter ‘The Struggle Is Real’, that was actually a harder challenge than this. COVID-19 is socially hard, as we’re seeing people passing away and we’re all worrying about passing on the virus onto our loved ones; but when I was opening up SliderCuts Studios, that was a mentally challenging time for me. I had no cash and had just borrowed a lot of money to buy our current family home when the shop became available. I said yes to the lease, which then required me to put down another £65,000. I remember asking myself, ‘Where am I going to get the money from?’. That didn’t even include all the costs of refurbishing and decorating the shop. It was a mentally tough time but I got through it.
Another challenge was when I was learning to manage myself and a whole team of different personalities. I had to gauge the balance between friendly but assertive. Transitioning to being an actual ‘boss’ was challenging.
How do you balance all of your projects?
I sacrifice sleep! Fortunately I’ve been blessed with a grateful attitude and I never wallow in pity, because there are always people in worse situations. Whatever circumstances I found myself in become my norm. For example, when I was living in a one-bedroom flat with my wife and son, I adapted to it even though my wife found it cramped. I move to another place or I take something else on and I just adapt to it.
What’s the relationship between social media and the business? Is it ‘mo’ followers, mo’ money’?
It can be, depending on how you use your page. For me, it does translate to revenue because I use it to promote my core business of cutting hair. I don’t do paid Instagram promotions and I’ve always declined those offers because I want to keep authenticity on my page.
I put work on social media and see it translating to money when the shop gets packed, or when Nike, Facebook, iZettle and Reebok reach out and pay me to be in their adverts promoting SliderCuts. My focus has always been to use my online presence to bring customers in real life. It’s about taking the following you’ve got and converting them to paid customers.
Promotion is payment too. I have certain clients where I think, ‘If they offered me social media promotion instead of a cash payment, that might actually be worth more than the money’. There are other forms of currency you can be paid in, and I am actually a big fan of brand promotion. In years of cutting hair I’ve promoted SliderCuts where people can’t actually buy my services, such as India, Australia, Ghana, Brazil and France. I want to build brand awareness just so people know the name. If you want to be a global brand, you have to be known globally.
What’s the vision for your business expansion in the future?
Opening another shop is something I would consider, but it takes a lot of time and work. I’ve recently been contemplating whether my life should be about building businesses or enjoying some of the returns they give me. How far should I push it before I put the brakes on? For the past 10 years, I’ve been putting 160% into my work and there comes a time when I need to enjoy life. As much as I’m going to keep pushing for now, I can’t forget to live at the same time. You’ve got to work to live, not live to work.
In terms of international expansion, I’m not fully sure yet whether the vision is selling products people can buy internationally or creating content for people abroad. Often, I do things without an end goal, just because it’s enough to know that I’ve made myself open to whatever may come. Just because you don’t have an end goal yet doesn’t mean you can’t be pushing your business forward to be whatever it can be.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been putting 160% into my work and there comes a time when I need to enjoy life. You've got to work to live, not live to work.
What attracted you to working with Jamii?
Jamii is a business that focuses on people from similar backgrounds as me. I’m all about supporting and connecting with small businesses, because when you start getting successful it’s very easy to get caught up in the allure of big brands. It’s important to stay grounded and remember the small businesses.
Jamii is focused and I really like the business model and ethos – it’s about helping other businesses while growing themselves, creating a full circle. There have been other businesses that have created similar discount cards but I love that Jamii works with smaller companies, as no other business has gone to this demographic before. They’re promoting people on the ground level, giving them a platform.
I met [Jamii founder] Khalia when we spoke on a panel together, and I found her very genuine and passionate about her work. I buy into people, and I could really connect with her morals and reasonings for creating Jamii.