Illustration: Beth Morris
“I get a call from P.K. on Friday night, civic long weekend two years ago. He said, ‘Listen, I need a favor. I just got a call and I need you to cut Floyd Mayweather.’ I was like, OK, cool,” Patrice Alexander recalls. “That is telling enough for me that he trusts me enough to cut the champ because if I mess up we both get knocked out. That speaks volumes to the relationship I have with him.”
The P.K. in this story is P.K. Subban, the Toronto-born Nashville Predators defenceman. And when you’re his personal barber a call from P.K. could sometimes mean you’re cutting any one of his many famous friends. That’s something Alexander has become accustomed to since being the only person with clippers allowed near Subban’s hair since 2012.
The relationship between a man and his barber is a tight bond. Knowing how a cut should look, the right pressure of a hand on a straight blade line-up or even the confidence to disagree with a request so that the customer looks their best are traits of a great barber-customer relationship. There is a sense of trust that is built over time and that is what keeps any barber as the go-to for anyone. Drake’s has this kind of trust in his own barber Jason “J-Mac” Macaraig (who incidentally once worked in Alexander’s shop) and a primary reason he’s a phone call away, wherever Drizzy may be. The barber-customer relationship is one of the most important for anyone that takes pride in the details of their appearance so when most people find one they like they stick with that person for as long as possible.
Alexander is the proprietor of The Forum Barber Parlour in Toronto. Nestled in the north end of the city on the second floor of a building that overlooks Yonge Street, it’s tucked away nicely in as unassuming a place for a full service barbershop to be. Above an Asian restaurant and below a massage therapy spa it has a feel of walking into a hidden den. To get to it you need to know where you’re going and that was by design. Cutting hair since he was 12 years old, Alexander finally set out on his own in 2008 and made sure his spot was a destination.
“We have a very niche clientele,” he says when asked about his choice of location. “I want to make everyone feel important. I didn’t want a barbershop on the main floor that attracted the average Joe looking for a cut. We want to build relationships with our patrons.”
Lately the appointment-only shop has been turning away some people simply because there is just no time available to dedicate to new clients. This approach to relationship building, as well as his incredible attention to detail, has helped Alexander’s business thrive and it continues to be the guiding principle to his approach. It keeps him busy with 14-hour days, five days a week.
But how does a busy local guy become the on-call barber for an NHL hockey player 1200 km away?
“[When Subban was playing for the Canadiens] he’d have a guy in Montreal and I’d cut him in the summer when he was home,” explains Alexander. “Something happened in Montreal one time and he called me saying ‘I need a haircut. Is there any way you can get out here in the next two days? Whatever it costs let me know I just need my haircut.’ I flew out there and I took care of him.”
From then on Subban arranged for Alexander to be his personal barber, travelling to wherever P.K. is when he needs to have his fade to look clean for the ice, an event or a personal appearance. The challenge in recent years has been to coordinate time to accommodate Subban’s increasingly busy schedule with running the business he has at home.
“We try to do between 7-10 days,” says Alexander of how often he sees Subban for his cut. “If I’m seeing him on a Monday, I’m likely seeing him the following Monday. Or he may have a shoot to do so I’ll talk to his agency and they’ll tell me P.K. will be in these places these days. I’ll check in with the wife at home and make sure all is good and then I’ll check my schedule. I’ll block out my whole schedule and any clients I need to I’ll call to reschedule for a different day. The clients are very understanding. More often than not, the clients think it’s a cool thing.“
Alexander has been on so many of these trips that he’s got his flight routine down to a science. With a Nexus card and tools in hand he’s usually on the first flight out of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to his destination. Once he’s done his work he’s on the last evening flight back home in time for dinner and to tuck his son in for bed.
As glamorous as it may sound, Alexander still has a business to run outside of the weekly trips to Nashville or wherever his star client may be. He’s acutely aware of the precarious balance that can be tipped if the shop is not being paid the attention it needs. Having built his business over 11 years with his current roster of regulars he knows they deserve the same type of attention as any athlete and he tries to minimize the impact his frequent trips may have on his schedule. He tries to keep his travel to single days away and when he can to days that he’s not working in the shop himself. Managing his time properly has been the key to keeping both ends of Alexander’s business in harmony.
Using his relationship approach to growing the Forum, Alexander has been able to create strong bonds with his clients. He’s a slim, stylish man with a quick smile and a clean pair of sneakers on foot. While he does his wizardry with his instruments of fresh, he’s not one to keep the situation silent and will usually look to spur a conversation. I’ve had my cut by Alexander on a few occasions and I’m not one to talk when the barber’s at work but he’s always looking to interact. There was always something to ask about or comment on. That’s his personality. He looks to make genuine connections with the people in his chair, no exception. The relationships form from these interactions.
It’s because of his easy going personality that Alexander and Subban have been able to create a friendship from their business relationship. There may be perks to being able to call one of the highest paid players in the NHL your homie but that doesn’t cloud what Alexander is there to do first.
“When you work with a personality, you can get sent home real quick, you can lose an opportunity real quick. That margin for error is very, very slim,” Alexander says. “As close as I am to P.K., it’s business [first and then] this other relationship. If I screw up once, twice, three times I could be out as his barber. We’d still be cool as friends but I’m not trying to jeopardize that. His hair is the priority for me and everything else comes after that.”
View this post on Instagram
Yup…early morning hotel call for the young man. Great season and congrats on being nominated for the Norris and King Clancy trophies this year. Get er' done!! @subbanator #Trophies #NHL #Nashville #Predators #Tennessee #Toronto #Hockey #USA #Canada #Canadian #Barber #Barberlife #Hotel #Hotelcall #Hair #Haircut #TheForumBarberParlour #Leading
This line that Alexander draws is one that some may have difficulty maintaining when in this type of situation. He’s quick to pull his professional face on when he’s there to work and makes it a point to remember which life he’s living. Alexander always returns to his calling cards when trying to explain the boundaries he imposes on him: his service and the relationships he’s been able to build because of the quality of his work.
Despite the cool factor he’s acquired as an athlete’s personal barber, Alexander is still a small business owner. He never loses sight of that. He’s hands-on in every aspect and is very aware that his name now means a certain level of expectation from his clients. He wants to make sure that all the non-millionaires clients feel as if they’re being treated like one. He knows his clients are his best ambassadors so he makes sure to dedicate the time he feels he needs to his to make them all feel like they’re P.K. Subban when they step out of the chair because a new door could be opening from anywhere.
“(What I’ve learned is) you never know who’s going to call,” says Alexander. “I try to be great at what I do. People are always watching so you always need to perform at the highest level. Someone’s going to notice and you could get a call. What’s the calling card? You look fresh, who’s your barber?”