This past weekend, I drove to the City of Industry to get a hair cut from the same hair stylist that has been cutting my hair since I was 3 months old.
Vincent Chan, also known as Achan, has been a hair stylist for over 25 years. He learned how to style hair at a beauty school back in his hometown, Hong Kong. He speaks English, Cantonese, as well as Mandarin. This allows him to talk to customers of all different Chinese backgrounds.
I remember as a young child, my mother drove me to Vincent’s home to get a hair cut along with my cousins in his garage on a Saturday evening. This was the only time Vincent was free this weekend between working at the hair salon in Roland Heights and spending time with his family. Throughout the years, Vincent has upgraded from a salon chair in his garage to running his own Hair Salon in the City of Industry. Vincent has established a loyalty with his customers because his hairstyles get better with time. I have noticed throughout the years that his hair cuts may not look the absolute best after you walk out of the salon, however, after you wait a week or two, the hair grows into a natural yet carefully crafted look that I have not found with any other hair stylist.
He does have competition and I will admit that I have even personally gone to another hair cutter once before. However the reason Vincent has stayed in business for so long and attracts so many customers is this ability to plan for how the hair will grow in a couple of weeks.
One time my sister and I chose to try another hair stylist simply because we did not like the previous haircut from Vincent. Initially the new hair stylist gave us both haircuts that we loved as soon as we walked out of the salon, they looked great! However, after a few days we noticed that once our hair started growing, the hair style did not grow in a way that looked flattering and we quickly went back to Vincent after two or three weeks. He instantly noticed told us “You went to another hair cutter huh? I can tell because he’s an amateur and isn’t planning for how your hairstyle will look after your hair grows.” After that instance, I have not questioned Vincent’s skills on styling hair. I have asked to keep it shorter or longer in some areas but just as a general guideline because I trust him. Vincent has established customer base in the densely Chinese populated cities in Orange and LA County. The two cities he currently works out of are Irvine and City of Industry.
When the economy hit, he did feel a hit so he had to drop his prices a bit to accommodate for it. He has worked out of salons that charge him for renting the space as well as just hair cutting for commission. The revenue Vincent generates is contingent upon how much the salon charges him for using the space as well as how much he choses to charge his customers for a haircut. The recession did affect his business but not in the way one would traditionally expect it to. More interestingly, his customers asked if he could drop his price rather than them not showing up at all. The request was being triggered by the Chinese’s culture of upholding positive face or status. Many Chinese wives still went to Vincent to get their hair done extravagantly in order give off a false perception that the recession was not as detrimental to their family as it was to others, when in reality it may have been just as bad if not worse. He told me “I guess its just the Chinese culture of wanting to save face, but hey at least that meant I still had some business”. The frequency of visiting customers did not drop but instead the price he charged did because they asked for discounts.
Vincent’s business is actually relatively casual. There are no set prices. After the hair cut is over, you simply ask him how much you owe him and he gives you a number. My haircuts have ranged from $15-30$. It really just depends on how his family is doing or how the economy is doing. While this does seem quite absurd to some individuals, this is quite typical in Chinese culture, or at least what I’ve experienced in my 20 years of growing up in a Taiwanese family. Because my family has known Vincent for so long and has always gone to see him for our hair styling needs, he has kept the price relatively consistent. The only time prices increased was between the years of 2008-2010 and he admitted that he did charge us slightly extra because he knew we were loyal customers and would not mind pitching in a little more which we did not. However since then, he has not increased the price with us as he does with other customers or new customers. With that being said, because we have established that relationship my family along with myself still tip him rather generously. As a result, Vincent has always welcomed walk-ins for us because of how many years we have been going to him for hair styling.
In the past couple of years he has opened his own hair salon called Achan Salon. Achan is his Chinese name translated to English, personally I recognize him through that name as well. He had to get a loan to buy this salon. He got his loan for a relatively how interest rate however he asked me not to include the name of the bank as well as the interest rate because well it is relatively true stereotype that Chinese people are very careful with their money regardless of how trusted of a customer you may be. I can say that the bank is a widely used bank among the Chinese community in the San Gabriel valley area.
At his new salon, he is able to hire an assistant that helps with washing the customer’s hair before they get the hair cut. I was originally planning on asking him when I first visited him but kept in mind the Chinese culture of social respect so reframed form asking him when his assistant was there. When I went back home for the weekend, I made a short visit just to ask how much he was paying his assistant. Vincent explained that the assistant is more interested in learning the hair cutting trade than making money which is why he hired him in the first place. Technically, Vincent doesn’t need an assistant, he can wash the hair himself or not wash it at all if they don’t need it, however his assistant came to him and asked if he could simply work for minimum wage to shadow Vincent while he was styling people’s hair. Vincent agreed and is paying his assistant 12$. He started by paying him 8$ an hour because it was before they raised the minimum wage, however the assistant has done good work and Vincent has naturally raised his wage to 11$ in just a couple of month.
Achan, or Vincent Chan has not only survived the economic recession but has thrived and established a loyal customer base ranging from the southern ends of Orange Country to the northern tips of Los Angeles County.