barbershop terminology, and queuing theory, in Tokyo

Normally I buzz/cut my own hair, so haven’t been to a barbershop in years. However, traveling for a month in Japan with only carryon bags meant no hairclippers, so I went looking for a barbershop.

In US, and Ireland, for buzzcuts, the terminology is
#1 (3mm length)
#2 (6mm length)
#3 (9.5mm length)

In Japan, for buzzcuts, it seems the terminology is:
#1 (1mm length)
#2 (2mm length)
#3 (3mm length)

I discovered this difference while *in* the barbers seat, and yes, thankfully I was able to sort it out in time, despite the language barrier!

The place I went to near my hotel (QBHouse) put a lot of thought into making a haircut as quick and cheap as possible. For example:

  • Each shop has a green/orange/red traffic light outside – you can see it for blocks away. Green = no wait. Orange = waittime of 5-10mins. Red = waittime > 15 mins, go do something else in the area and come back in a few mins. Because of this traffic light system, they dont need much space for waiting customers, and also customers feel like it takes less time to get a haircut, so they return more frequently.
  • All haircuts are the same price and you pay by putting money ((1000Yen ~= $10USD, exact amount only) into a machine at the door as you come in. Tipping is not allowed. There’s no cashier and they dont take no credit cards, hence lower overheads.
  • Instead of washing hair, and hence drying it afterwards, they use a retractable vacuum and sterilizing equipment instead. This speeds up haircut time, and also saves on plumbing costs.
  • They aim to get you seated-cut-and-out within 10mins, so slow/complicated haircuts like bleach/dyes are simply not done, which improves accurate traffic light predictability.
  • Each hair-cutting-station is cleverly designed to be very compact, and also something that the barber can keep totally clean in a few seconds between each customer… further reducing wait times.
  • Instead of having a few large stores, they instead have many small stores (2-3 hair-cutting-stations, and waiting space for 3-4 people, seemed typical per store). They can then afford to have multiple smaller stores in the same area. This makes it more likely that there is a store within a few minutes walk of you whenever you decide to get a cut. In case its busy, there’s going to be another store nearby you can try instead, and because of the external traffic lights, you can tell if its busy by looking from a distance.
  • By being open for long hours, (10am->8pm, not closed for lunch), they spread the user load to reduce wait times even further.
  • All the focus to improve efficiency and reduce overhead means that each store can quickly be profitable, even if there are other branches nearby. Also, because they are each small, its easy to make guesses in new areas, and less painful to cut losses on unprofitable stores.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but after last week’s fun and games with wait times for queued pending jobs, I dug this up again, as the analogies seems interesting. Cheap to use. Low wait times. Streamline setup/cleanup between jobs. Lots of small “cheap” stores make it easy to scale up, or reduce down, as needed.
What do you think?

[UPDATED: fixed links to external sites that had moved, updated photo. joduinn 15nov2010.]

4 thoughts on “barbershop terminology, and queuing theory, in Tokyo

  1. I heard rumors that working on the build system makes you pull out all your hair in frustration, so you wouldn’t need a haircut. Glad to hear that is false.
    10 minute haircuts sounds golden, but also sounds too rushed. I also buzz down my hair (I use #4 though) and it can be tricky to make sure that all the hairs are the same length and you didn’t miss any spots.
    When you described how you pay for the haircut, it sounds like the next best thing to a vending machine haircut.