Disabled elderly get free haircuts at Indian Barber Shop, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Disabled elderly get free haircuts at Indian Barber Shop

When customers visit the Indian Barber Shop, which has 10 outlets islandwide, they are greeted by a rather unusual sign: Free Haircut Services.

The franchise is helmed by Mr Veerappan Muthukumaran, an Indian immigrant who believes it is his duty to give back to society after overcoming difficulties in starting a business in Singapore. The free haircuts apply to wheelchair-bound elderly people.

“I am doing this as a volunteer service rather than a business that gives me income,” the 46-year-old told English-language Indian weekly Tabla.

A migrant from Chennai, where he used to work in the banking sector, Mr Muthukumaran accompanied his wife, Dr Seduraman Abirami, to Singapore in 2010 as she hoped to seek better job opportunities.

While she found a position at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), he struggled to find a job that matched his qualifications.

For some time, all he did was take care of their children, aged 11 and 9, before finding work as a temporary business consultant.

Then, in 2014, a friend told him about the owners of a barber shop near a workers’ dormitory in Jalan Kayu who were looking to sell their business.

He soon bought over the business and renamed it Indian Barber Shop.

“My family members were not happy about me running a barber shop, but I was undeterred,” said Mr Muthukumaran, who employed experienced barbers from Singapore, India and Malaysia.

From 2015 to 2019, he expanded his business to 24 outlets across the island. During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, he had to shut 14 of those outlets due to the rising rents.

While running the shop at Jalan Kayu, Mr Muthukumaran received suggestions that he should provide free haircuts to elderly residents in the area who come from low-income families, some of whom are bedridden.

“I then told my employees to go down to the senior residents’ homes and give them free haircuts,” he said.

Apart from elderly Jalan Kayu residents, seniors from AWWA nursing home and Bethany Nursing Home also began receiving free haircuts.

“It became a monthly affair for my team,” said Mr Muthukumaran. “When other organisations approached us, I told my boys to go and serve those beneficiaries as well.”

To date, the Indian Barber Shop – across its 10 outlets, including in Pasir Ris and Bukit Panjang – has provided free haircuts to more than 11,000 people.

“Even though rent keeps rising, I make sure my customers view my shop as affordable,” said Mr Muthukumaran, who gets about 40 customers a day. “I want them to patronise my shop. It should give them a comfortable neighbourhood vibe.”

The haircut and shaving services at the shop are priced from $5 to $25.

“People ask if I find this business profitable as my rent ranges from $1,800 to $7,000, and I do not charge the elderly,” said Mr Muthukumaran. “I am still able to thrive, which shows that a big profit is not my motive. No matter what, customers always come first for me.”