From an interview with Hussain that has been edited.
But, the economy was no good after the war so my wife, daughter, brother and I moved to Jordan in 1994. I worked as a barber for five years as we waited for the situation to improve. It didn’t, so we decided to come by boat to Australia in February 2000.
We were sent to Christmas Island before receiving a visa on October 10 that year. We stayed in Wimmera for about eight months before moving down to Melbourne.
It wasn’t difficult finding work as a barber here. I went to college and got a certificate. Then I called someone in 2001, and he said “come try.” He gave me a job straight away because I was experienced.
After a few years I decided that I wanted to start my own business. I looked in The Age newspaper every Saturday for a barber shop to buy. I didn’t want to open a store from scratch, because getting new customers would take too much time. I found this one on Hawthorn Road and called the owner, who was Macedonian.
He had a staff problem so he temporarily closed the shop. He said to me “come, open the shop and take $100 a day. After that we will talk about the sale.” I couldn’t buy the business until I saw how it worked, and whether it was healthy. But, after two weeks I thought it was good, so I bought it for about $17,000.
At my age it is not easy to work for somebody.
I was almost forty-three when I started. Being a barber is a good job but you don’t get a good wage, so starting my own business is better. If I make ten customers on my own, it is better than if I make twenty customers for someone else.
In the beginning I was a bit nervous. The previous owner told me that this is a Jewish area, and asked me why I came here. I said “I’ve been here for three years, and there’s no problem between me and Jewish people.” I was sure that the business would succeed because I am a good barber.
Jewish people talk to their family. If someone thinks they got a good haircut, they will tell their parents, cousins and friends. Then you get ten new customers. One tells another, and the business goes well.
In 2007, someone wrote about us for the Herald Sun. If you search Cruzin Cutz on Facebook, you can see a bit about our history. I’ve also been written about in The Telegraph Arabic but it’s not in English.
I’m waiting for the lease to finish before I open a new shop in Caulfield.
I’ve been here twelve years and I have a good relationship with my neighbours, so it has to be in this area.
My success has been up and down. It all depends on competition. My best years came when the hairdresser across the road charged $50 for a haircut. Not everybody could afford that, so they came to me.
But, when they were taken over by new owners, they reduced the price and some of my customers moved there. I have seen that two hairdressers have recently opened down the road. It increases the competition.
Mostly, people look for a good job, a good face and a good price. The face is important but it depends on the person. It’s like with haircuts. Some people want style, and others want the classic. Different people want different things.
If I did it all again, I would have three chairs rather than two.
I would have new hair wash and a new design. This is an old design. The biggest mistake I made was not renovating years ago. But I think it is too late now, because customers might think we are a different barber.
Being a barber is the same around the world. In Iraq, more people have beards and they want to clean their face, so they need a bit more service. It takes a bit more time there, but it is largely the same.
There are a lot of people who are always looking for a good barber, and it’s not easy to find a good one. But I think I’ll retire in the next ten years and rest. I don’t think I will move again.
Written by Aron Lewin.