There’s a little-known rule they teach staff at trendy city centre barbers, reckons Emma Lee: use small scissors, take longer, charge more.
“You never need 40 minutes to get a haircut,” she says waving a pair of trimmers that almost resemble shears. “If you want that, don’t come here. Go and give £40 to Toni or Guy.”
It is a philosophy which has been standing her in good stead since 1994.
That’s when, at the age of 20, she took over Eric’s, the legendary men’s barbers on the corner of Leppings Lane and Vere Road, Hillsborough.
In doing so she became only the fourth custodian of the one-room shop since it opened in 1911 – and, much to the suspicion of generations of gents, the first female owner. More of which shortly.
For now, she’s set to celebrate her 20th anniversary by giving prices a trim. On Friday, April 18, you’ll be able to get a cut for just £2.40 – the 1994 tariff.
“It hardly seems like yesterday,” says the 40-year-old who grew up round the corning in Fielding Road and now lives in High Green. “I used to joke with Eric that I’d buy the business when he retired. Then one day he said: ‘it’s yours if you want’.”
A lot has changed since then. But, also – in the finest traditions of corner barbers – not that much.
The shop has been renamed Emm’s – but customers (and Yellow Pages) still call it Eric’s. The prices have gone up – but you can still get change from £6. And – a shock to several local chaps – they now serve women.
“That was pretty revolutionary,” remembers Emma, who employs two staff Peter Illingsworth, 31, and Alicea Herring, 20. “I knew the men wouldn’t approve, so for a long time I’d do female customers on my day off, sneaking them in round the back.
“That’s how it was. My first week one bloke sat here all morning. He watched me do six blokes before he trusted a woman to do his hair.”
The secret to winning the doubters, she says modestly, was simple: be open.
“So many places don’t do the hours their customers want,” explains Emma, whose first job was at Scott’s on The Wicker. “I used to open at 5am Saturday mornings because that’s when steel workers wanted their hair cut – before a shift. Now it’s not so bad. I start at 7am.”
She even stayed available – using lots of sandbags – during the flood of 2007. “People still want their hair doing when it’s wet,” she notes.
On a good day, the trio will do 80 cuts. Those numbers are testament not only to her speed with her (large) scissors but the place’s enduring appeal.
One hundred years, four owners
It was 1911 when Orlando Gascoigne (pictured) first opened his barbers in Leppings Lane.
He probably didn’t know it but he was starting more than a saloon (cuts 4d, shaves 2d), he was starting a Hillsborough stalwart.
Mr Gascoigne ran the shop until the Thirties when it was taken over by a barber remembered only as Tom. He sold it to Eric Foreman in 1954 who himself sold to today’s owner Emma Lee in 1994.
Her parents Steve and Andrea sold their house to support their daughter, moving into the flat above. The family have never looked back.