HONG KONG -- Fast, neat and cheap. A simple recipe for cutting it in Hong Kong and one that underpins the success of quick-cut barbershop QB House, a Japan-based chain poised for future growth in the busy city.
"I go there once every two or three weeks, just to spruce up," said Jonathan Chan, a 23-year-old man working in Hong Kong. "It's inexpensive and the barbers are quite professional."
QB House began cutting Hong Kong hair in 2005 -- both men's and women's -- and now has 57 locations around the city. Customers sometimes wait an hour or so for the chain's signature 10-minute haircut, which costs 60 Hong Kong dollars ($7.64), considerably less than the usual city price of HK$100 to HK$200 for men and more than HK$300 for women.
Justin Ho, a 23-year-old television station employee, visits QB House once a month. "I don't want to spend too much money on a simple haircut," he said. "If I want to change my style, I'll visit a salon," he added, echoing a common sentiment among QB House fans: quick cuts at QB and more elaborate styles at upscale salons.
Most customers are men in their 30s and 40s, according to parent QB Net Holdings. But older visitors are on the rise, and women account for about a third of all customers -- a higher ratio than in Japan.
Justine Chan, 23, visits a QB House near her home once every two or three months. "I don't really need much in the way of a haircut since I have short hair," she said. "QB is convenient, quick and cheap, and the quality is OK."
The customer-to-shop ratio in Hong Kong is the highest among all QB House's overseas barbershops, which are also found in Singapore, Taiwan and the U.S.
The company chooses high-traffic locations for its shops, like shopping malls and subway arcades, to attract a steady stream of customers, who drop in after work or while shopping. The speedy service is especially well-suited to the frenetic lives of Hong Kongers, 7.3 million of whom are packed into an area about half the size of Tokyo.
The price point of HK$60 per cut is unusual for the city, where people equate low prices with poor quality. But because barbers in Hong Kong do not need to be licensed, anybody with a pair of scissors can set up shop. Hence, quality varies widely. In contrast, QB House trains its barbers before turning them loose on customers' hair to ensure uniform service at all locations.
Another draw is shop cleanliness, an image associated with Japan, which the company initially promoted by including Japanese on its signage. Since then, brand recognition has been growing organically as the chain spreads and popularity climbs.
The QB House style is catching on, as other barbershops in the territory have started offering 10-minute cuts. Sensing room to expand, QB Net Holdings plans to increase the number of Hong Kong locations to 100.
Meanwhile, the company is exploring new opportunities. In May, it opened a shop in Hong Kong International Airport called QB Premium. Haircuts there are priced at HK$100 and take a little longer -- usually around 15 minutes -- but include styling.
Unlike at QB shops in the city, customers can make appointments at the airport location via a smartphone app to avoid standing in line -- a nice touch for always-on-the-go Hong Kongers.