Ted Cheng needed a haircut. But he had to be back in his office within half an hour for a meeting. The 26-year-old salaryman rushed into a QB House near the subway exit and got snipped in a twinkling.
“Look at that mass of weeds!” Cheng’s colleague teased him. “Come on! I like the styling,” said Cheng.
The barbershop Cheng patronized is the latest 55th Hong Kong outlets of the Japan-based chain QB Net, charging HK$60 for a 10-minute dry hairdressing.
“People in Hong Kong tend to work long hours and want things done in a hurry, which matched our business concept perfectly,” said Kaori Matsuo, senior manager of QB Net.
QB’s debut in Hong Kong came 10 years after founded in Tokyo, tapping into the city’s seven million residents. A single shop could now serve around 100 customers a day.
The business model of QB House was introduced in Mainland China in 2015 when the first quick-service barbershop Xingkeduo opened in Beijing. The Chinese chain received more than 30 million yuan (HK$36 million) from Sinovation Venture, venture-capital fund of the former Google and Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee, and other angel investors.
Competitors continued to flood into the market. QC House, a Chinese version of QB House, spread 300 outlets in big cities. Qinjin even started its online order and onsite service in 2015, in collaboration with local hairdressers working in traditional barbershops.
Analysis institute 36Kr estimated the market in China would break above 200 billion yuan (HK$238 billion) in 2016, while some companies started closing their outlets in second-tier cities.
“The profit of the business is so slim that can only rely on the large volume of outlets to accumulate,” said Li Qiang, manager of QC House.
QB House told the same story but based on the local consumer insight, as it withdrew business off Thailand after four-year experiment. “Different markets have different demands,” said Yasuo Kitano, owner of QB Net.
The sluggish Hong Kong economy has driven consumers to cut daily spending on nonessential categories. Even though the company initially targeted at business commuters, elderly people and children who value a reasonable price more than the full service in traditional salon also account for a high percentage among Hong Kong customers.
Hong Kong was home to 4,000 hairdressing service establishments, supported by a pool of 15,000 professional and skilled workers, said the city’s investment office.
“Hong Kong Market still has a high potential for us to open more shops,” said Willer Choi, outlet division manager of QB House.