Passing down the clippers
Tony Ravina moved to Halifax from Italy with big dreams of finding more jobs and opportunities to give him a brighter future. Though he didn’t speak English 50 years ago, his skills as a barber turned out to be much more valuable than any language. He has owned and operated Tony’s Barbershop since the early 1970s—and now the shop that kept his dreams alive for so many years belongs to two new eager owners, clippers in tow.
Ravina’s first job in Canada was working in construction. He cut his friends’ hair on the side while learning to speak English. He soon realized he could make a living working at a trade that he learned by visiting and admiring the barbers in his hometown. He became an official barber in 1968. “That’s when I dropped the hammer and picked up the scissors, well, clippers,” he says.
The walk-in only shop has been an enormous success for Ravina. With five barbers in every Saturday, chairs are full all day long. Feeling the pressure from his family to “slow down” and sell the shop, he approached longtime employees and friends John Skanes and Trevor Martell with a business proposition. He offered to sell them the shop at a fair price, with the understanding that he would still work at the barbershop part-time.
Skanes says the opportunity was too good not to take. “We wanted to make more money,” he says. “He offered it to us so we decided to jump on it.” The pair officially took ownership of the shop in 2010.
Skanes has been a barber for 16 years. He’s been working for Ravina since 2007, but their relationship goes back a lot further than that. Skanes grew up in New Brunswick and belonged to a military family. When he would visit his grandparents in Halifax, they would bring him to Tony’s Barbershop to get his hair cut. And when his father left the army, Skanes’s family moved to Nova Scotia.
It was in high school that Skanes got his first pair of clippers and discovered his passion for cutting hair. He remembers being a teenager and cutting his friends’ hair. They would take the money they would have spent on haircuts and bought other things their parents didn’t want them to have. It was this experience among others that prompted him to go to the Hair Design Centre. “I decided I wanted to do haircuts for real,” he says.
Skanes says his transition into the management position at Tony’s Barbershop was easy, since they had built a clientele base and the customers already knew him and Martell. However, he has had to adjust to the new responsibilities. “Working for yourself is really nice,” he says. “You have more freedom, but you also have more work.”
“Managing other people is challenging,” he adds.
That’s where Ravina’s role still comes into play. “I find myself as the mediator, trying to keep the peace in the family,” says Ravina. He says he’s seen a lot of kids in his day, but he does remember Skanes specifically. He says it didn’t ever sink in that one day Skanes would be the owner of the shop, but he does remember Skanes’s father telling him about how well he was doing in school and with his hair cutting.
The shop moved into a new Bedford location in December 2012. The space underwent a renovation, and as co-owner Martell sees it, the move works to the business’s advantage. “The last place was too small,” he says. “It was a good space but we kept getting busier and busier.” Martell has been a barber since 1995. After he graduated from hair school, he was working in another shop when Ravina called looking for barbers. He went and worked for Ravina for a couple of years, then moved west to work on the oil rigs and then returned to work at Tony’s Barbershop. He’s been back working with Ravina for seven years.
Martell was excited when the opportunity opened up to become an owner. “It was something I had always wanted,” he says. Martell thinks the shop has been so successful due to the mesh of easygoing personalities of all the barbers. “I took on a lot of Tony’s traits,” he says. “We all like to kid around.”
Skanes agrees. He says for as long as he can remember, Ravina has liked to tease and “smack people around.” The only part of the relationship that has changed between him and his old boss is now he gets to sign Ravina’s paycheque. “Sometimes he still tells us what to do,” says Skanes.
Having had bad previous experiences with employers, Skanes says he can truly appreciate the way Ravina has treated him through the years, especially offering him the business. “It changed everything for me and my wife,” he says. “We have a much brighter future. I’ll be grateful to Tony forever.”
Ravina has been carrying with him a philosophy since opening his first shop, which he believes is the reason Tony’s Barbershop has been kept alive for so many years. “You have to treat the customers fair and you take care of their needs,” he says. “If you treat them right, they’ll keep coming right back.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.