A BARBER’S TALE: CHARLIE MCCOY AND THE BIRTH OF ARTISAN BARBER
An early 1960’s TV drama set in New York was famed for stating each week that “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This is one of them.” On the one-year anniversary of the opening of Artisan Barber on the Upper East Side, it’s time to tell brand founder Master Barber Charlie McCoy’s story. And who better to tell his story than McCoy himself?
We caught up with McCoy as he celebrated the paper anniversary of his shop’s opening. Speaking with him, we learned a few surprising things about his background and got a glimpse of things-to-come from Yorkville’s newest entrepreneur.
Congratulations, Charlie on your shop’s first anniversary. Artisan Barber has quickly become a mainstay in the East 90’s. Did you always want to be a barber?
CM - As far back as I can remember as a kid growing up in the Midwest, I used to draw. Some of the things I used to sketch included cars, and funky haircuts. My uncle, himself a master barber, got me interested in the trade. By the age of 16, I was working in salons and barbershops in Oklahoma City.
So, your career started early?
CM – Yes and no. My career had a roundabout start. My focus had a mixture of both college and trade school. I enrolled in an automotive engineering program with the plan of eventually getting a job in a nearby General Motors plant.
Working as a barber while going to trade school turned out to be lucrative. I learned that I could enjoy the art and the schedule and maybe make a career of barbering. After I finished my education in engineering, I decided to focus on my career as a barber. I apprenticed for two years with a master stylist who taught me women’s and men’s hair as well as color, perms and shaves. From there, I struck out on my own and built a clientele.
How did the Oklahoma boy make it to the big city?
CM– My move to New York City also had a roundabout start. Having visited New York twice as a kid, I was excited by the idea of being surrounded by energy and opportunity. I knew that this was the city where I wanted to live.
But my initial move east took me out of the city. At first, I was living in upstate New York. I took a position for a shipping company where I learned logistics and supply chain management. To keep my barbering skills sharp I, kept private clients. In 2011, after five years living upstate, I move into the city. A year later, Kiehl’s called me to work in their spa on Lexington and 64th Street. The spa was a first for Kiehl’s and was a big hit for the brand. Two years later, when they were opening their Hell’s Kitchen location, I came along to open their first barbershop.
You were with Kiehl’s for a while. What was that experience like?
CM - Kiehl’s changed my trajectory in the industry. They began to use me as a brand ambassador. During this time, I was expanding my own brand as a master barber. I built a loyal clientele of world travelers and taste-makers. I learned the inner workings of how a Fortune 500 grooming brand operates from product development to marketing to service.
Around the same time that I started working for Kiehl’s, I started the Artisan Barber blog (which would eventually become my brand’s name). In 2017, after five years working for Kiehl’s and its parent company L’Oreal, it was time to branch out on my own.
Why did you choose Yorkville for your shop’s location?
CM – A bunch of reasons. I already had clients who lived in the area from my years at the Kiehl’s spa on Lexington. A big reason why I chose the Upper East Side because there was a vacuum here for barber services that provide something beyond the traditional. The timing was right with the opening of the Q train, and rents more affordable than in other parts of the city. All of this provided me the opportunity to bring my existing clientele from around the city and build a loyal clientele of locals. Plus, it’s convenient for me. I live here. It made perfect sense for me to launch on the Upper East Side. I handle the e-commerce side of the business from home and the service portion from the shop.
2018 also marked the year that Artisan Barber branched out from just providing services to launching a brand of products.
CM – It’s been a watershed year for our line of products. For haircare, we launched a shampoo and conditioner along with control cream, pomade, matte fiber, beach clay, paste and wax. We’ve also gone into the shaving and bearding market with the Artisan Barber Apothecary shave cream and grooming oil.
What’s next for Artisan Barber?
CM – In 2019, we’ll be launching a subscription savings service that will deliver all our products directly to your home. We’ll also be significantly expanding our line beyond shaving and haircare to include bath and body and razors. The goal is not only to capture the morning ritual by filling your bathroom and medicine cabinet with Artisan Barber products, but to make it super easy for you to get them.
How do you sum up Artisan Barber’s philosophy?