Grafton, New South Wales. Six hundred clicks north of Sydney. Host to Australia’s oldest floral extravaganza, the Jacaranda Festival. Birthplace of country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley. Home of the one and only Weekend of Trucking. Grafton can boast many great achievements, but would you drive through its broad, blossom-covered avenues for a cut and shave?

You may soon. Because, while the rise and rise of barbering in Australia’s cities has been well-documented, there are signs the modern barbershop has burst its urban confines and spread to the regions.

Regional businesses are now backing local demand and putting their hard-earned into reno’s and training, with salon owners in remote towns across the state investing tens of thousands to secure a cut of the burgeoning male grooming market. We’re also seeing the introduction barber-specific apprenticeship programs in non-traditional areas, such as those TAFE NSW offers in Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.

Grafton is at the face of this expansion, and Kerrie DiMattia is one of the new breed of regional business people embracing the trend. DiMattia recently outlaid around $30,000 on a hairdressing salon renovation to include a stand-alone barbering area, Prince Street Barbers.

She had already planned some sort of revamp but, with local demand for barbering clearly increasing, it was the perfect opportunity to capitalise and capture a new clientele.

“I was expanding an existing business and knew I wouldn’t be paying additional rent or other costs, so the risk was low. Since re-opening, it’s clear the diversification has led to significant growth and attracted a demographic we hadn’t seen before.”

DiMattia said Prince Street Barbers averages 40 to 50 clients a week and is already breaking even. “That’s amazing for a new business, and having two separate offerings means the salon offsets the barber shop during quiet weeks and vice versa.

“In particular, mums who bring their boys in for a cut with the barber see what we’re doing in the hairdressing salon and get excited. I’d say two out of every 10 mums who bring their boys in enquire about hairdressing services for themselves.”

Inevitably, the growth in barbershops has seen a corresponding rise in the demand for barbers skilled in modern techniques. There are genuine differences between barbers and hairdressers that require specific training. Barbering is as much about a culture and experience as a haircut. And then there’s the trust involved in letting a relative stranger hold a razor-sharp blade to your neck. Barbers must be skilled with their tools to avoid “accidents”.

TAFE NSW Barbering Head Teacher Betty Rensink said it has taken time for barbering’s uniqueness to become recognised outside of the major cities. “Until recently, barbering has been considered a skillset, rather than a qualification,” Rensink said. “Due to the revival and modification of barbering and barbershops, it has become quite a specialised craft. It’s at the point now where the local industry is asking us to provide barber-specific qualifications, just as we do in hairdressing.

“The Certificate III in Barbering teaches the latest, specialised skills, such as beard and moustache maintenance, face and head shaves, and techniques with hone and strop straight razors. Barbers are typically passionate about what they do, so we bolster that with a focus on sales and consultation that helps students provide that high-end, barber experience to clients.”

The boom has also drawn workers from the unlikeliest of occupations. Nathan Thompson – one of TAFE NSW’s first barbering students – was at one stage set for a career in construction, before he swapped his screwdriver for a shaver and took up a job at DiMattia’s new venture.

“I’d always had a career in barbering in the back of my mind, but the spur for me was seeing trade work drying up everywhere,” Thompson said. “I knew I needed something more stable, with greater long-term job security. I don’t see the growth in men’s grooming ending any time soon. It’s more than just a trend; a whole generation of men are now taking more care in their appearance across the board, and hair is a crucial element.”

Written by Matt Mullens