JIN-308 -- QB House Cuts to the Quick

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 308
Friday February 11, 2005 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: QB House Cuts to the Quick

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@@ VIEWPOINT: QB House Cuts to the Quick

For 20 years I descended the hill to the barber shop. I
would glance through the window next to the revolving
barber pole to gauge the wait. I would enter the shop
if no one was waiting; otherwise I would return later.
By the chairs in which waiting patrons sat was a bookcase
stuffed with manga and back numbers of "Playboy." On
top of the case lay fresh copies of the "Yomiuri" and
"Kanagawa" newspapers, and a box full of Mild Seven
cigarettes. The brass ashtray stood nearby.

I didn't go to the barber shop for the amenities; I
went for the sensual experience of fingers squeezing
furrows of hair for the scissors, hands kneading scalp,
hot towel wilting whiskers, razor smoothly scraping
skin pulled drum tight, and vibrator running up the
spine, then massaging the shoulders. The experience
lasted an hour and set me back 3,500 yen.

It's been a couple of years now since I visited the
hill-bottom barbershop. The reason: QB House.

QB House, operated by QB Net Co. with a Tokyo head
office, has in front a red, green and yellow signal
lamp in place of a barber pole. Green means no wait;
yellow, a wait of five to ten minutes; red, a wait of
15 minutes or longer. QB House is for busy souls.
Indeed, its motto is "Unlocking the potential
of time."

It achieves speed through cutting-edge rationalization.
The patron purchases a 1,000-yen coupon from a machine
that accepts only notes and can't make change. When
his (sometimes her) turn comes, he hands the coupon
to the first available barber. Thus barbers handle no
money and can concentrate on cutting hair. Which is
all QB House does. No frills, 10 minutes.

The key is the "system unit." This consists of a chair
on top of a dust box into which the barber sweeps hair;
a closet for the patron's coat and bag; a mirror on
the closet door; and shelves for sterilizer, neck
papers, combs, and "air washer." Several system units
make up a single QB House.

The "system unit," by placing tools at the fingertips,
increases the barber's efficiency. The "air washer"
draws cut hair by light suction. If in spite of this
paean to F. W. Taylor a hair cut takes over 10 minutes,
there is no extra charge.

The first QB House opened in Kanda, Tokyo, in 1996.
Two years later the company was making inroads into
west Japan and Kyushu. In 2000 QB Houses began popping
up in northern Honshu. The 100th shop opened in
2002, in Kanamachi.

People outside of the barbering industry began to take
note. QB House was awarded the New Business Prize and
the Asian Innovation Award for 1998. There are now 15
QB House outlets in Singapore, where they draw an
average of 700 customers per seat every month,
according to a company spokesperson. In December 2003
a QB House outlet sprang up in Malaysia. Today QB Net
Co. is capitalized at over 235 million yen and has
more than 230 outlets.

On the wall of the shop at the bottom of the hill hang
photos of the barber's trip to visit his brother's
grave in Manchuria. His brother had died there during
the war. He told me about his brother one day.
Another day he described how watercraft had
once chugged up and down the nearby canal. And
he once remarked someone from the countryside had
bought a nearby penthouse for more than 100 million
yen. "People with money have money," he commented.
We always talked. I also talked with his wife. Both
chatted with patrons waiting their turns.

In contrast to a cut, shampoo, and shave at
the bottom-of-the-hill barber shop, the QB House
experience is as sensual as a shoeshine,
and about as communal as a ride in an elevator
with strangers.

Yet I won't return to the barber shop at the bottom
of the hill. It charges me three times what I pay at
QB House. For a dude writing a free newsletter for
a living, there is really no choice.

-- Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)


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I live in Perth, Western Australia. About 2 months ago I was in S'pore and tried this type of barber. Just love it. Is it ever coming to Australia? If not who do I approach to get a franchise?

India has got a huge market. Economy is also very diverse.
How can we get a franchise in india?