‘I do the real Turkish experience’
2007-11-22 16:19:00 -

 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Mehmet Ali, a barber from Turkey specialising in traditional Turkish grooming 

Mehmet Ali is from Turkey and has been living in Ireland for seven years. A third generation barber, Ali decided to see a bit of the world, and began researching the barber and salon industry overseas.

“I knew I could travel with this skill and so I searched on the internet every day and found out about businesses around the world,” he says. “I emailed CVs to businesses in different countries, and I had an offer from a five-star hairdressing salon in Portlaoise owned by Barbara Aldritt. They were looking for a Turkish barber. Ireland was not my choice, it just happened that way.

“When I first thought about setting up on my own I knew that there is a restriction on foreigners starting businesses here,” he explains. “A person would have to live in the State for five years minimum or to have 300,000 euro in the bank before getting permission to open a business. I worked for the time necessary, and when I got my stamp for long term residency I could open my business.”

Located on Aungier Street in Dublin 2, Ali’s Traditional Turkish Barber offers Turkish hot towel shaves and barbering. “Male grooming, Turkish baths and massage have been part of Turkish life for centuries,” says Ali. “A hot towel shave is part of the culture. Men visit the barber maybe twice a week. It is a social thing.

“I do the real Turkish experience; it is a very close shave with an instrument called an open razor, a new sterile blade used for each customer. I prepare the skin well so that the pores are open before the shave: one down, then foam, then up again. For the head we do massage and any style in haircut. Grooming is not just about looking good but feeling great.”

What, has he found, is the difference between the grooming business in Turkey and in Ireland? “Everything in Ireland is too fast,” he notes. “I find that in barber shops in Turkey men take time to relax. They talk to each other and to the barber. It is more leisurely. In the barbering business in Ireland, people want to be in and out quickly. I feel that sometimes people want a McDonald’s approach to services: quick, fast and rushed. I try to get them to unwind a little and to enjoy it more.”

Ali was confident in setting out on his own, as he had completed a business course run by Blanchardstown Partnership and also previously studied property and finance at the Dublin Business School. “I have an accountant for tax returns, but I prepare most of the paperwork myself and my accountant acts more as a consultant,” he says.
Ali has been based on Aungier Street for six months, after some difficulties in finding the right premises. “It was one of the biggest problems I had when starting out; getting landlords to consider me as a prospective tenant,” he explains. “I think that as a foreigner I was seen as a riskier tenant. I do not put this down to racism; it is economic. The landlords want to see a business history and evidence of a track record in Ireland. Immigrants just cannot always offer these credentials. I was lucky as [my current] landlord had heard about me and my barbering and he said that the place could be mine.”

How about marketing for the barber shop and letting people know where he is? “I have some clients who followed me from previous locations and I am also building up my customer base in this new location,” he says. “The site is good as this area is improving. Not too long ago it was quiet but now there is development and some good hotels setting up.

“I am getting my Turkish clientele but also plenty of Irish guys wanting a good shave. Tourists, too, are keen on this service as I am very close to their hotels.

“Business is word-of-mouth at the moment but I am considering flyers and promotions soon. I will be advertising gift vouchers for the Christmas market.”

Above all, Ali would like men to look at grooming as a part of life: “In Turkey we say that a visit to the barber is for every boy, from seven to 70.”
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