Barbus: A Van to Mobile Barber Shop Conversion
Early in the Vansformation journey, even before Vansformation was named ‘Vansformation’, I came across a Mercedes Sprinter van creatively converted into into a charming barber shop. The man responsible for this is the hospitable Darren Flower, the owner of the ‘Barbus’ van in Cardiff.
Darren and the Barbus van show that van conversion is not just for camping or travel, but can be a practical option for a mobile business. Darren accomplished this with no DIY skills at all but kept asking the right questions until he found how to make the Barbus van vision was a reality.
Why convert a van into a mobile barber shop?
Darren is an experienced hairdresser who was working as the manager of a local salon before the genesis of Barbus. After years working in a more typical shop, Darren confided ‘I’m that age now, will be 37 next birthday’ and was in need of a more flexible working pattern, including supporting a family member with regular medical appointments during the day. There was ‘a lot less risk with the van than getting a premises’, so the idea for a shop which could open and move flexibly was born.
Darren found the base Mercedes Sprinter vehicle at a local garage, after several weeks of internet crawling and even a visit to a couple of auctions.
His design process started the day he found the van. Armed with a mobile phone stuffed with photos of the van, he started ‘looking through them every night, imagining what I would do.’ Over time he collected images of other converted vans and buses online and used Pinterest to gather things together. The classic barber chairs in the van were an Ebay find.
Darren doesn’t have experience in self-build projects, but found this actually very freeing, allowing the van converters get on with the methods they felt would work best to achieve the desired outcome. Darren was clear on the features needed in the van and used his stash of photos to communicate with the van converter.
The Sprinter Van Conversion
Initially Darren ‘wanted to go more locally, but there was a 12 month waiting list.’ Fortunately the first converter had a recommendation not too far away – a sign maker who also did van conversions. After a look through photos of previous jobs, Darren went with the second converter, D & S Signs Limited in Blackwood, Wales.
This had advantages as Darren was able to get the folding sign and all the vinyl van decals for Barbus made at the same time.
With the design decided, and the materials sourced, Darren said the actual conversion took a blisteringly fast two weeks. Although much of this was undoubtedly down to a barber shop being a much simpler conversion than a full campervan, it is still extremely impressive Darren went on holiday and came beck to a barber shop on wheels!
He has been very happy with the conversion, finding it all works well and is easy to clean.
So what’s in Darren’s van? Notably, it has that most precious of converted van features – a sense of spaciousness. A wide central aisle easily large enough for someone to walk past clients in the chairs, wipe-down white walls and a huge mirror it feels as open as any city centre compact corner barber shop.
There is a small sink and several 240 v household outlets powered by a leisure battery and inverter. A long narrow shelf provides needed space for the two barber stations, each with a plush vintage style chair. Storage is hidden underneath the sink and the waiting area sofa near the side door entrance. So much so, there’s still plenty of space unused as of yet.
The Barbus name
Whilst not directly related to van conversion self-builds, I was admittedly curious about the name. It has a distinct classical ring, but the few words left in my head from 3 misspent years of secondary school Latin weren’t offering any confirmation. It turns out, the Latin for beard is, somewhat surprisingly, the feminine ‘barba’. French gets closer with the term ‘barbu’ meaning a man with a beard.
Darren responded to my floundering lexical queries by informing me the name came about after days of considering options. He had asked on Facebook, still having had no particularly inspiring suggestions. The name came to him, he liked the sound of it and went with it. He has had punters who are a expecting a mobile pub (Bar Bus), but takes it in good humour, sharing that he has had the odd cider in the van after hours.
During our (early autumn) interview I asked Darren how he finds working in a converted van barber shop versus previous fixed locations. He responded that it has gone well so far and has been easy to communicate regularly on Facebook with his customers.
He then laughed and added ’I’ll tell you in the winter.’ Getting a heating system together is the next major upgrade; he has been talking to the local LPG supplier but may use a small radiator and mains power in the meantime.
He is hoping to expand to a second van, expanding his team and potentially a tattoo artist on board.
The Barbus van shows how much the blank canvas of a van can be sculpted into a almost any small space design need, and that skilled converters can be excellent partners.
You can find Darren at the Barbus Facebook page, where he posts the van’s current location.
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