The Valet is a storefront that stands out. Its facade all chocolate brown and cream, the classic palette of a gentleman’s grooming parlour. Posters proclaiming it the winner of the South London Business Awards 2012 are confidently pasted to every window; a glimpse around them reveals oak, dark leather, glass and the quick movements of black-aproned barbers. Among the less stylised retail businesses, nail parlours and dry cleaners on Addiscombe High Street, The Valet shouts sophistication.
David Maseyk, Managing Director, is pragmatic about his reasons for opening the shop in such an unremarkable London suburb: “I already had the shop here as part of my then-property business,” he says. Originally a property manager developing portfolios for professional investors, David took a change of course into the male grooming business in 2008 when the crunch hit. “I knew that business would get harder … and after 20 years in the business I was getting fed up. So I sold the property business to my partner and invested in this one with my wife; who’s a hairdresser. I’m an entrepreneur at heart so it’s the excitement of starting a new business that I enjoy.”
Croydon might not be the first place you’d imagine a need for a high-end barber, but business is good with a solid customer base of regulars. “Men want more now”, says David. “There’s much more pressure on them to look good and they’re more interested it.”
The Valet’s particular vision of ‘the man’; a deft combination of gentlemanly masculinity and the modern, metrosexual male has been part of the success. “You can get a cheaper haircut down the road if all you want is a haircut and you don’t mind sitting on a plastic chair.” says David. “But here you can come in, watch a bit of football, get your complimentary beer, coffee or wine. You can have hot towels and conditioning treatments. You relax, you get some me-time, and are looked after. And it’s half the price of a West End treatment. You come out feeling really good.”
One look at the website’s professional-looking promotional videos and social media, combined with a conversation with David, and it’s clear that the ambition extends beyond one shop in Croydon. “I’d like to get into the West End”, says David: “Get some private investment, open a flagship shop there and franchise this one.” Ultimately he and his wife would like to take the business to the US.
A big ambition perhaps, but David’s already made the outwardly improbable leap from property manager to men’s grooming expert. And not just in name, he gives shaves himself and he knows his stuff. During the conversation I receive a brief lesson on the high quality of the steel in German razor blades and the superiority of English grooming products, a legacy of London’s history as the home of the traditional barber shop. So, why not another leap? Addiscombe to New York maybe?