QB House, the Japan-based company, created a blue ocean in the Japanese barbershop industry and is rapidly growing throughout Asia. Starting with just one outlet in Tokyo in 1996, today QB House has 463 franchise outlets in Japan and 79 in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. At the heart of QB House’s blue ocean strategy is a shift from an emotionally oriented Asian barbershop industry to a highly functional one.
In Japan, the process of activities undertaken during a typical men’s haircut – hot towels, massages, tea and coffee, and special treatments – makes the experience an hour-long ritual. The actual time spent cutting hair is a fraction of the total time, creating a long queue for other potential customers. The price of this haircutting process is 3,000 to 5,000 yen ($27-$45).
QB House recognized that many people, especially working professionals, do not wish to waste an hour on a haircut. So it stripped away the emotional service elements and dramatically reduced special hair treatments to focus mainly on basic cuts. QB House then went one step further, eliminating the traditional time-consuming wash-and-dry practice by creating the “air wash” system—an overhead hose that is pulled down to “vacuum” every cut-off hair. This new system works faster, without getting the customer’s head wet. These changes reduced the haircutting time from one hour to ten minutes. Moreover, outside each shop is a traffic light system that indicates when a haircut slot is available, removing waiting time uncertainty and eliminating the reservation desk.
QB House was able to reduce the price of a haircut to around 1,000 yen ($9), while raising the hourly revenue earned per barber nearly 50 percent, with lower staff costs and less required retail space per barber.
QB House’s strategic move illustrates the potential to create new market space by challenging the functional-emotional orientation of an industry, path five in the six paths framework.