Scroll through the Gram long enough and you’re bound to see a friend’s fresh fade, their latest beard trim, or a celebrity you follow endorsing their barber. Social media is the new word of mouth—someone might see that new look and think they need it, too, and the rest is history.
That wasn’t a choice Patrice Alexander had growing up trying to build his network as a barber. After three decades that have seen him go from having his cousin as a volunteer subject at home to running his own shop The Forum Barber Parlour in North York and cutting hair for the likes of P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall, one of the greatest boxers of all-time in Floyd Mayweather, and Isaiah Mustafa from the Old Spice commercials, Alexander has stayed true to a foundation of engaging conversation, great product, and above all, the freshest of cuts.
“For me, it’s all about consistency,” Alexander said. “My goal is: From the time you think you need a haircut to the time you leave my barbershop, it’s got to be a seamless process. Clients have to know what to expect.”
Alexander was an eight-year-old kid growing up in a Trinidadian household who just wanted to be at his father’s friend’s barbershop. Uncle Conrad, as Alexander calls him, was always dressed to the nines, wearing a shirt and tie, slacks, and dress shoes, and making cutting hair look like the coolest thing he’d ever seen. Uncle Conrad was as smooth as anyone Alexander had met, becoming an instant hero. He would go home and tell his mother Maxine that he wanted to be a barber, and being the motivational speaker she was, there was always some encouragement.
To run a successful barber shop takes serious business acumen, and that’s something Alexander has always had a knack for because of how he was raised. His father Compton was a mechanic and ran a tight ship, waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to set a disciplined example, and always taught his son the value of earning everything that comes your way. His grandfather ran a drugstore in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1950s. As a child, Alexander knew that if he received toys, he wasn’t going to see any new ones for a while. If he really wanted new ones, he would have to get creative.
“Being a kid, I’d be done playing with some toys and I’d go outside and have a garage sale,” Alexander said. “I was eight or nine years old, putting the toys out for sale, collecting the money and then I’d go buy some new ones.”
Working on his craft came out of necessity, too, as Alexander—now bald—had long hair as a 12-year-old but was only allowed to get haircuts once every six weeks. The first day of school was coming up and Alexander wanted to look fresh but the six week interval didn’t coincide with the weekend before school. There was only one choice.
“I took matters into my own hands,” Alexander said. “We had this old clipper at home. I cut my hair and jacked it up. There’s no YouTube or anything, I just picked it up and started cutting. My dad came home and looked at me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ before going out and getting a new clipper to try and fix it.”
From there, Alexander just wanted to get better at cutting hair. He’d cut his own hair, his friends’, his cousins’, and was working at a barbershop by age 14. Having chased down one goal, it was now about learning the tricks of the trade: building a clientele and learning what it would take to have his own shop one day. Working at a community barbershop, finding that connective tissue with clients came naturally and it became evident to Alexander that finding a common denominator was key to success. Young, old, stockbroker, teacher—it was about providing the experience that best suited the needs of the client.
While Alexander has a range of topics he’s happy to discuss, nothing tugs at his heart more than basketball. Having followed the game all his life, Alexander’s always game to chop it up when it comes to NBA conversations and that knowledge and chemistry even earned him a hosting role for a show called The Lineup on NBA TV Canada, where he debates the hot topics of the week with special guests while providing a haircut.
In the early days of operating his own shop at Yonge and Finch, Alexander would try to be as efficient as possible with his time and so would go to the gym down the street. One day, as he was leaving the gym, he heard someone calling his name. It was Kevin Weekes, now a TV NHL analyst but a retired goaltender who was drafted by the Florida Panthers in 1993. Alexander didn’t even used to cut his hair, but Weekes remembered him from the shop in Scarborough where he used to frequent when he was still a prospect hoping to make it big. The two had a quick chat, and realized that Weekes was now living in the vicinity of Alexander’s shop. Just like that Alexander had his first celebrity client.
Doing the hard yards at the community barbershop had already given him so much, but this meeting unearthed a whole new world of opportunities.
“Kevin had a party at his house and this was P.K. Subban’s rookie year,” Alexander said. “His name was slowly ringing, who is this kid? P.K. came to the party because he used to go to Kevin’s camp as a kid, and now he’s asking Kevin who cuts his hair. We started talking, I gave him my business card, he lost it but called me after a month and the rest is history.”
The celebrity list has grown ever since, and so has Alexander’s business. The Forum Barber Parlour is where he’s getting cuts done but he’s also created his own grooming products at The Alexander & Co. When the pandemic hit, Alexander initially didn’t know what to do with himself because he was so accustomed to being constantly busy. He spent more time with his family but he was also thinking of ways to grow the business.
“Listening to my clients over the years, people always ask, ‘Patrice, I’m going out tonight, I need a good hair pomade, what do I use?’” Alexander said. “I just kept thinking to myself I gotta do something about this. Why recommend other places when I could make my own product?”
After some research and testing in a lab, Alexander created some samples for a few clients to try with the incentive of a free haircut. A year and a half in the making, the 93 percent plant-based products are now available and have created another avenue for Alexander. When times got tough, Alexander didn’t lay down. He’s learned the only way to keep going is to keep at it; he’s always known that he’s had to earn his keep.
“There’s no emotion in business,” Alexander said. “There’s no grey area. It’s either you do it or you don’t, you’re either crossing the street or you don’t. People will either come for a haircut or they won’t.”
The game’s different, but the core is the same. That’s how Alexander continues to grow his name.