It wouldn’t be an understatement to call Matty Conrad, owner of Victory Barber & Brand, superhuman—he really does do just about everything. He has four barbershops in the Vancouver, British Columbia area. He is continually educating (he’s booked every weekend through the end of October). He created a range of barbershop products, including a cutting cape and aprons. And he manufactures his own line of styling products. In fact, while I interviewed him, he was literally mixing a new batch of Beard Oil. Talk about a multitasker.
“I didn’t start out in this industry to become a barber,” Conrad says. “Back in the ’90s, barbering wasn’t very cool.” So at 19, Conrad became a stylist—and a good one. He became a platform educator, which took him all over the world. By 26, he owned his own salon, which soon became two, and he was six months booked out, even as he was charging $150 per haircut. “But I felt like I was wearing a costume,” remembers Conrad. “I was trying to be what I thought people wanted me to be, rather than who I was.” It was around this time, in 2010, that his grandfather passed away. “It really made me think about my legacy,” Conrad says. He evaluated what he loved about styling—making people feel great, education, technical cutting—and compared it to what he hated—blow-drying, color corrections. Then the path became clear: barbering.
At the time, however, Conrad couldn’t find any shops doing what he wanted, so he decided to open his own. “It’s a love letter to my grandfather,” Conrad says of the Victoria location, whose design takes a nod from the 1940s, the era in which his grandfather grew up. The shop is in a building that’s LEED certified, meaning that it’s sustainably designed. Conrad took this idea to the next level: he used reclaimed floors from a 100-year-old building; the chairs are nearly 90 years old; all the shelving is from timber from an old house; even old plumbing was repurposed as shelf holders. “We were pulling stuff out of the dirt and making it new again,” Conrad says with a laugh. When it opened, the shop was the largest in Canada, and it was an instant success.
How successful? Clients were waiting three-plus hours. And while Victory Barber’s “Complimentary Call-In Service” was encouraging clients to prebook, it wasn’t enough. “I have a friend who opened a dive bar, and in the back we opened up a two-chair shop,” explains Conrad of the Saint Franks location (which is named after his other grandfather). Now, walk-ins are asking to wait for their service.
The Gastown location was basically set up for Conrad before he got it. A fan recreated the look and feel of the Victoria shop, but got in over his head, so Conrad agreed to buy him out. And the Duncan location is co-owned by Ian “Sugar” Smith, Conrad’s first-ever apprentice. Sugar, a former police officer, wanted to become a barber after an injury in the line of duty left him colorblind. He traveled two hours a day to apprentice at the shop, earning nothing except everyone’s respect. When he mentioned he wanted to open a shop closer to home, Conrad couldn’t be happier to partner with him. “Now it’s the barbershop in the area,” beams Conrad.
So what does Conrad think of all of this success? “I’m more surprised than anybody,” he laughs. “I’ve been playing piano as fast as I can to keep up.” And it doesn’t look like he’ll stop playing any time soon.
[Images: top - courtesy of Victory Barber & Brand; bottom courtesy of Karoline Turek]