Sid Sottung is perhaps one of the biggest names on the British barbering scene. Having set up the Sid Sottung Academy, he has trained barbers to the highest of standards across not only the country, but the globe. He has also expanded his business into his own barbershops with his fellow barber and business partner, Barrie Stephen.
Along with a wealth of skill and experience, Sid has developed his own highly personalised aesthetic that runs through his academy and barber shops alike.
We caught up with him for this month’s Salon Design of the Month to find out how his journey brought him to this point…
How did Sid Sottung Academy and Barbershop begin?
The Sid Sottung Academy brand started over 6 years ago. I had recently gotten sober from alcohol and drug addiction. I was trying to turn my life around. I was walking down a small street in Nottingham and was drawn to a “for let” sign at a shop. I was already in over £20,000 of debt from my past mistakes but there was something that was telling me to get this shop. Within 24 hours I had signed the lease. I had to somehow get this started by myself. It was a slow start. I was doing everything myself working 16-18 hours a day, but I knew I had to make this work out. Within 7 months I had paid back all my debt, met my (present day) wife, and was needing a bigger space. I then opened up a larger academy in 2014 and employed new staff.
The Sid Sottung Barbershop concept had started over a phone conversation with my new business partner, Barrie Stephen, in November 2019. By the end of November, we had opened up our first barbershop together in Leicester. Our second barbershop opened up at the end of January 2020. We have plans to open up our third barbershop in a major department store later this year. We are in the beginning stages of this venture.
Overall in the past six years, I have opened up two academies, one hair salon, two barbershops and have taught classes throughout the world in countries such as the USA, Italy, Russia, Mexico, France, Sweden, Holland, Poland and many more.
How did you decide upon the aesthetic of your barbershop?
The new aesthetic of our barbershops and academies was designed by my wife, Esther Sottung. I had told her I wanted a crossover of a traditional American barbershop feel with a modern art deco concept. With the help of Salons Direct for supplying our barber chairs throughout my whole course of starting up my brand, I knew I couldn’t go wrong.
All our work stations are hand made by my carpenter, Travis Brown. They are stain resistant and made out of the finest oak. The pictures on the walls are from various product companies I work with and artwork I have collected over the years. The lighting was from Made.com. The mix is from vintage adverts, punk and rockabilly bands and pinup artwork.
Pictured: Lotus Gilbert Black Barber Chair
How do you stand out from your competitors?
We personally stand out from our competitors by our professional experience in the barbering and education industry. We have a total of 43 years of teaching experience. I was one of the top 3 that provided barbering education in the UK in the beginning. Our mix of traditional and contemporary barbering skills are our main attraction to the beginners of this trade and clients in our barber shops.
Our biggest success stories are our students and their journeys. Our main focus is bringing the best quality education for our students both nationwide and internationally.
Our barber shops strive to bring the utmost professionalism to our clients. We specialise in full wet shaves and beard designs. It’s a mix of both traditional American style infused with the classic Italian style of shaving. We will also be offering our new premium “Whiskey Shave” soon in our barbershops.
How do you think social media has influenced our industry?
Social Media has changed the barbering industry immensely.
There are both pros and cons of social media, unfortunately. I was barbering before the internet was so powerful and I do remember the time when you didn’t have to take a million photos of your client and just enjoyed the moment.
Social media is great for getting your name out there and being discovered a lot quicker. It doesn’t mean you are an educator, though. That takes time to develop. Social media is a great platform to build your brand and let your clients see your work and any offers you’ll be running during the month. You don’t necessarily need to do social media, but if you don’t your competitors will. Try to spend a day a week thinking about marketing ideas for your business.
How do you keep up to date with the latest industry trends?
Myself and my whole team of staff stay up to date by continuously watching videos from MHD.com. It’s an online tutorial video page that has over 500+ videos online. We offer that as free subscription when signing onto our courses at our academy. We also upgrade our skills by working at London Fashion Week. I had learned so much working at London Fashion Week and Florence Fashion Week last year by sharing ideas with other like minded professionals.
We also develop our ideas through trial and error. We have plenty of access to male models who let us try new ideas on them. It’s all about just trying them out and learning from your mistakes.
What do you think makes a successful barber?
What makes a successful barber to me? Someone that is happy with what they do for a living. I personally don’t worry about how many followers I have on instagram. If you enjoy what you do and your clients are happy, what more could you want?
I think the new generation of barbers believe you have to be an educator to be successful and travel everywhere. Just remember that there are different levels of success for everyone. What your level is is different from mine. I only want my students and staff to be happy and our clients to look and feel great when they step outside our barbershops.
What advice can you give to others wanting to open a barbershop?
I have a few pieces of advice I would recommend for anyone wanting to open up their own barbershop.
First, speak to your supplier for advice. I strongly recommend Salons Direct for assistance in your budget, getting the best deals and finance options. They are extremely helpful.
Second, when taking on staff please get references. Last year I had an ex-employee suspected of fraud within my company. She basically cost me over £200,000 in loss of earnings. It was a lesson I learned and which I’ll never forget. I strongly recommend getting references, both work and personal. Also, do trial days and evaluate their performance and personality. Don’t base it on followers!
Third, try to work with builders that you can trust. You can always get amazing vintage pieces from the thrift stores. Try to personalise your barbershops and make them unique in some way. Try to step outside the box of thinking and be original.
What are some of your favourite products and tools to use?
I can’t live without my favourite tools and products. My favourite clippers and trimmers to use are from Andis. The new Master Cordless Clipper is my go to, especially with magnetic guards. I can’t live without them. I take them everywhere with me.
I also use the Slimline Pro Cordless Trimmer from Andis. It’s great for beard designs and shaping up. But when I’m breaking out the bald fades, my go to shavers are the Andis. Especially with the new grips on the sides. Makes it so much easier to use.
Related: Brand Spotlight on Andis
Pictured: Andis Master Cordless Clipper
When I am styling and caring for beards, I go to my range from Captain Fawcett’s called Barberism. We have pre-shave oil, moustache wax, beard oil and beard balm.We’ve also just launched a cologne – it’s amazing!
My haircare range of choice is Reuzel. They have expanded the range to suit all different hairstyles. I don’t just use them because I love the products but the owners are my friends. I will always stand by my friends.
When we are creating the perfect Italian style wet shave services for our clients, we always go to our favourite Proraso products. You can get them at Salons Direct. The classic fragrances enhance the whole service.
What can we expect from you in 2020 and beyond?
Our plans for 2020 are only getting bigger each day. We plan on expanding our international travels by delivering the best education. New countries to visit are in the works. We are expanding our NVQ program to Leicester. Offering a better concept for the apprenticeship program.
We also plan to franchise our barbershop concept throughout the UK. More barber shops will be opening up soon later this year. We plan on developing more products with Captain Fawcett’s. Maybe a new haircare range? Sssh don’t tell anyone! We are at the moment expanding our new barbering academy and adding more stations. We just purchased 11 more barber chairs from Salons Direct for our academy and barbershop.
I can honestly say my life has changed since I first got into barbering at the age of 14. Myself and my team will continue to deliver great quality work for our students and clients. Barbering is our passion and way of life.
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