Cut above Barber makes its mark in tattoo market

Seizing opportunities: Barber of Sheffield's Tony and Stephanie Crane.                                                                                                                                               Picture: Steve Parkin
Seizing opportunities: Barber of Sheffield's Tony and Stephanie Crane. Picture: Steve Parkin
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They’ve bucked the recession, just made their first overseas acquisition and are gearing up to tackle new markets in Eastern Europe and as far away as India.

Things are looking good for Barber of Sheffield as the business, founded in 1991 by husband and wife team Tony and Stephanie Crane, comes of age.

Chapeltown-based Barber’s success is the result of spotting and seizing opportunities to gain customers in sectors as diverse as animal welfare, mortuaries and tattoo studios.

It’s a seemingly strange range of clients, attracted by a one stop shop designed to supply most if not all of their needs and provide levels of service they have never experienced before.

Stranger still when you learn why the couple, who met working for confectionery group Mars, came to Sheffield in the first place.

“We decided we wanted to do something for ourselves, looked around at some business opportunities and found a food business in Sheffield that we wanted to buy,” explains Tony.

Unfortunately, the deal fell through after the couple had already moved to the city and, while Stephanie found a job to support them both, Tony started looking around for a business idea.

Barber of Sheffield – the name is a play on the title of Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville – began as a medical products business, supplying suture needles – used to stitch wounds together.

“The nice thing about it was it was a stainless steel product and we happened to be in the city renowned for stainless steel,” says Tony.

“There were people out there supplying suture needles, but they weren’t doing it very well. The key was to understand the customer’s requirements, make sure we have the product and could supply it quickly enough.”

It wasn’t long before Barber found vets, as well as medics, knocking on its door.

At first, veterinary suture needles was a small part of its business, but that began to change when Tony Crane realised that the one – human – size fits all approach of needle manufacturers wasn’t serving the needs of vets dealing with anything from a horse to a hamster.

Surgical instruments and consumables for animal sized patients followed. Then Barber’s came across one of its veterinary customers, which had a small autopsy products business that it wanted to close down.

Tony Crane soon discovered that, as with animals, standard human operating theatre instruments weren’t ideal for pathologists and a new niche business – Barber Medical – was born.

Veterinary products also provided a sideways route into what has become the boom business for Barber – supplying tattoo studios.

“About seven or eight years ago we found that we sold into the veterinary market was being used in piercing,” says Tony.

“Someone approached us and asked if we could supply some products to them. We had them manufactured and then they reneged on the order, so we decided to sell to the body piercing market ourselves.

“People started asking us why we didn’t offer some more products and we have gone on to become the biggest distributor in the UK of tattooing and piercing products.”