I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison Koch, Proprietor of Man Up Grooming. Wow, not many people impress me but she did! Classy, intelligent, forthcoming–a true entrepreneur. I could have talked to her for hours.
What is most interesting to note about Alison is that she is the owner of a barber shop but she does not cut hair herself. She saw a need–a place for men to feel special and pampered and she opened her doors to offer them an assortment of quality services: hair cuts, buzz cuts, beard trims, hot razor shaves and even colour!
The ambiance at Man Up is warm, inviting and dark… It has man cave and western saloon vibes with a long wooden counter.
M: What was your inspiration for Man Up?
A: At the time, men did not have anywhere to go to get a great haircut and be treated with respect and great service. There were informal barber shops that didn’t offer a hair wash, a quality drink, appointments or quality environment.
Men could choose to go to a salon where almost everything was merchandised for women: feminine colours, feminine smelling products, couches and coffee tables with women’s fashion magazines. These salons were also charging a substantial premium to the barbershops. Therein laid an opportunity!
M: When did you open your business?
A: Spring of 2013.
M: Did you always want to own your own business?
A: In my 20’s I was an employee and then started creating my own employment shortly after that. Yes, I felt comfortable with risk, it gives me energy.
M: Do you have a philosophy in life that you would like to share with everyone?
A: Never stop pushing hard towards your dream. Just when you think it’s a complete disaster or won’t work, that’s when you drive harder and make it work. If you give up then don’t even try. I find most people tell me why something won’t work rather than focus on how to make it work.
I chose three words for each business to keep me focused on my mission statement: respect, style and quality.— Alison Koch, Man Up Grooming Proprietor
M: Where are you from? If you moved to Vancouver, why did you move here?
A: I am one of the few born and bred in Vancouver. Lived on the North Shore the majority of my life.
M: What did you do prior to opening your business?
A: Lots. There’s one thing I strongly believe in is that business is business, it doesn’t matter if you are selling ballet shoes or changing car oil. When an opportunity knocks, take it. Even if an industry is saturated, you can be successful if you do it differently. I have found that not knowing anything about an industry can give you an edge to create what has not been done before.
M: If you were in a different industry, did you enjoy your former career?
A: Yes, I must say I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done. Some were more challenging than others on so many levels, but the constant learning curve is what keeps me driving. I’m proud to say there were only a few years I was not taking some kind of educational course. My latest diploma is Animal Sciences as my next big dream is to create an animal sanctuary.
M: Did you attend university? Which university did you attend? Would you advise others to pursue a degree before opening their own business?
A: University helps you buy some time to grow up or figure out what you want to do. Obviously, if you’re going to be a doctor or lawyer or something that requires a degree, then yes. All others should be given serious consideration if you want to work for yourself. There were two things that every business have in common–law and accounting. Both disciplines are worth learning as much as you can.
M: What would your advice to future owners with dreams of owning their own business be?
A: Be realistic, it takes years to establish a successful business. It also costs twice as much as you think. Select your mentors carefully and never listen to “you can’t because” statements from your friends and family.
Some people will tell you that you can’t do it because they cannot envision how to make it work. Others will support you blindly, again not knowing how to do what you are about to conquer. Neither opinion is helpful.
Ask strangers (because they are not emotionally invested in you) and other successful people (because they have already done it).
M: Are there any milestones for your business that you would like me to mention in the Feature?
A: I can’t think of any right now, we are waiting for Covid to end so we can have a customer appreciation bash, perhaps we will be able to for our 10 year anniversary in 2023!