THE small shop that gives the freshest looks to some of the top basketball players in the country just got a fresh makeover.
It’s such an impressive transformation that even gets seasoned PBA pros like Blackwater guard Denok Miranda, one who has seen up close some jaw-dropping feats on the basketball court, stunned soon as he walked in the new home of his go-to barber shop, Lar’s Republic.
“Ang ganda, paps,” the long-time regular client, his two sons in tow, said to the barber fondly called Lars.
One who’s been to Lars’ old place will surely have the same eyes-wide-open reaction, as the small, crampy room flocked by some of the tallest people in the land just got a lot homier. Those new to the place won’t feel like they’re in a barber shop at all, even with a few familiar sights like the barber’s pole out front and the three barber chairs in front of three huge mirrors.
“Dinesign ko talaga na hindi sya mukhang barber shop, yung bahay ang dating,” said Lars, who’s as detail-oriented with the choice of floor tiles for the entrance area or the wooden bench in the lobby as he is with the clean cuts he’s been known for not just among PBA players but fans as well.
“Ayoko kasi yung pareho ka lang sa iba. Gusto ko level up, iba ang feeling pagpasok mo sa shop,” he added. “Pamilya ang feeling tulad sa dati pero di na masikip.”
Minutes after Miranda came in, Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia along with forward Marvin Hayes, one of Lars’ earliest clients, arrived and then came the bantering, a fixture inside the shop considered neutral grounds where opponents on the basketball court turn into pals ribbing at each other, no-holds barred.
“Si Hayes ang nag-recruit sa akin dito,” said Vanguardia, who now frequents Lars before games for more than just a fresh look. “Dati pag panalo, di ako nagpapagupit. Ngayon iba na ritual before games, kailangan fresh. Nakaka-relax din kasi lalo itong bagong open na Lar’s Republic, malinis, maaliwalas.”
“Alam nya ginagawa nya, hindi lang basta gupit. Meron dati medyo mahaba, ngayon pinapaiksi at pinapapayat pa ako para mas bagay. Pati goatee may ayos para mas maangas. Nakuha nya kung ano bagay na gupit. Si Marvin Hayes nga nagawan nya ng paraan eh,” he added before laughter filled the room.
The favorite barber of some of the biggest PBA stars like Marcio Lassiter, Paul Lee, JC Intal, Chris Banchero, among others has also expanded his reach beyond taking on coaches in his clientele and building a cozier shop. Lars now has two 'guest barbers' helping him out on a part-time basis, handling the growing number of walk-ins from Saturdays to Tuesdays.
“Parang guest barbers ko, dumikit sa akin, kumukuha ng style ko paggupit. Tine-train ko rin,” he said, following through on his plan to share what he knows to aspiring barbers.
Lars points out, though, that he’s not expanding his shop or sharing his expertise for fame in what’s quickly becoming a competitive business in the metropolis. His purpose is a lot more personal, and purpose-driven.
For one, he wants to bring haircuts back to basics. More than giving clients the trendy cuts, he gives a more personal touch. No fuss, no frills, all fresh.
“May sarili akong style. Hindi naman nila makokopya yung passion mo. Sila iisa ang galawan nila, combover fades, yung uso. Kaya ko naman combover pag yun ang sabi ng client, pero lalagyan ko ng sariling style ko. Bakit ka pa pumunta dito kung hindi dahil sa sarili kong style, di ba? Number one sa akin yung different style ko,” he said.
Try it out first hand, sit on his chair, and don’t say a word, leave your look to Lars, and satisfaction is guaranteed, as Vanguardia attested.
“Masubukan lang ang serbisyo ni Lars, I’m sure babalik-balikan nila,” the Phoenix coach said, drawing from his own experience.
“Nagiging katatawa-tawa na kasi yung iba. Iisang style lang gagawin kahit hindi bagay sayo, sa korte ng mukha mo o sa pagkatao mo,” added Lars, explaining why his style stands out. “Hindi yun dahil sa experience, art ang tingin ko sa ginagawa. Ang pagka-barbero ko parang sculptor kaya ganun, mas personalized.”
Lars also displays a unique marketing strategy: He chooses to go organic rather than making noise on digital platforms, the path other barbers choose. His main selling point is the quality of his cuts and the satisfaction of his growing number of clients is just the word-of-mouth marketing he needs.
“Oo dumami, mga UAAP, NCAA, kahit high school players, La Salle Zobel, andami kong bago. Word of mouth, organic, mga walking billboards,” he said, pointing to sons of PBA players who bring in their friends to add to the many new citizens of Lar’s Republic.
The growing number of clients, walk-ins and regulars from here and abroad, also takes a toll on his body, especially since he cuts solo for most days of the week, taking in at least 10 clients daily. The man, though, won’t take it any other way, ‘kayod kalabaw’ as he puts it to secure his future.
“Aasenso tayo dito, kailangan grind lang ako. Dapat kundisyon ako. Pagod kasi minsan naninigas balikat mo, pero syempre dahil gusto ko ginagawa ko, hindi ako napapagod kahit na gabi na, cut pa rin ako,” the barber who’s turning 40 said.
His long-term plan to rise out of his humble provincial beginnings is simple: hustle and grind while his body can carry the brunt, then ease into retirement and enjoy the fruits of his labors.
“Kailangan hindi tayo maghirap pagtanda natin. Kaya binuo ko na rin ang shop para dun sa plano ko na 10 years, work, ipon, grind. Dapat after 10 years, millionaire na ako nun, mga P10M. Yun ang target ko, tapos pag 50 na ako, farming na ako sa province,” said the Pangasinan native.
While he looks forward to the endgame, Lars keeps his focus on the grueling task at hand. And even in his ‘retirement,’ Lars guarantees one thing: he remains a barber for life.
“Ang mga player mawawala sila, nandito pa rin ako. Kahit matanda na ako, gugupit pa rin ako pero hindi na buong week, katulad ngayon, kasi I hope you have your money naman na by that time. Hindi mo na kailangan grind ng grind,” he said.
“Pero ngayon, kailangan. Young ka pa eh, kailangan kalabawin mo, habang malakas.”