By the age of 21 he owned a growing barbershop business with new product range launches in the works – then Covid-19 shut it all down. But Hohepa 'Hops' Rutene found enforced time out of the business has allowed him to lay a plan for even greater success. He tells his story here.
My barbering journey started four years ago with Bundy Blake at his Boar & Blade barbershops.
He’s a legend in the game and a good mate; I purchased the business off him in 2017 and was soon managing the Wellington and Auckland sites.
We offer a timeless barbering experience set inside characterful industrial buildings, so when a Wynyard Quarter leasing agent got in touch, a CBD site was a natural next step.
After seven months of planning and design, I opened Pakenham Street at the end of 2018 – an area full of corporate clients and with only one other barbershop.
Our staff grew from eight to thirteen, with a great mix of ethnicities; these boys are the reason Boar & Blade has become so successful.
But, always on the lookout for a new and creative angle, in 2019 I decided to launch a range of high-end male hair products, as many we were using didn't quite hit the mark.
I named the company Micky Day and found an amazing manufacturing partner for this journey who helped me create the first product – a handmade hair clay.
In a barbershop, you get to meet people from all walks of life, and I was lucky to meet Josh Heares, who’s become a good friend.
He helped me develop the label design, and is someone I’m in constant contact with, picking his brain on anything to do with design and branding.
So with three barbershops and a new product business, in early 2020 I decided to find a business coach.
Starting a business at 21 meant I didn’t have a lot of hands-on experience and was learning a lot by trial and error.
I wanted a better understanding of the fundamentals of business and how to implement effectively to make sure my brands would be successful over the long term.
So I approached business coach Toss Grumley just before the pandemic hit – little did I know the rollercoaster I was about to ride!
In the first level four lockdown in March, we had to close all three stores for seven weeks, a massive financial strain.
During the second lockdown I had to close both Auckland stores, but I was lucky to have Wellington still in operation.
The business survived, but I learnt the big lesson to always have capital saved for unforeseen circumstances.
I used the enforced downtime to step back from both businesses, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and look to the future.
Toss helped me navigate the business disruption from an operational, financial and marketing point of view.<
For the product business, I created the second Micky Day product (a pomade), added gift boxes, and moved all my shipping to third-party logistics.
For the barbering business, we were down on bookings for ages, as people were not getting their hair cut as often.
And with people working from home, our Wynyard Quarter location suffered with fewer people working in the area.
But as we’ve moved down the lockdown levels – and with the warmer weather – we have finally seen our shops return almost to capacity, with 10 to 12 chairs running most days.
From here – better armed with business skills – I would like to grow Boar & Blade, and I’d like to see the boys that work in the shops take on their own Boar & Blade stores in time.
With Micky Day, the aim is to become one of the most established brands across New Zealand, and eventually expand trans-Tasman, with a full range of hair, beard and skincare products for men.
Without the enforced downtime, I could not have laid out these future plans so quickly.
And while we’re not out of the woods yet with the pandemic, I’ve got my contingencies in place and staying focused on some very positive mid-term plans.