Rocky’s: Pioneering men’s hair care in the mall

Tom Gempesaw, the man who pioneered the barbershops in the Davao malls

Rocky’s Barbershop is the first barbershop to open in a mall in Southern Philippines. This fact may only be known to only a handful. Taking the recognition for this honorific will be the Rocky’s maiden branch at the Victoria Plaza Mall, the first mall to open in Davao in 1996.

Rocky’s Barbershop is the brainchild of a young entrepreneur, Tom Gempesaw, who was 26 when he dared to venture into the men’s grooming business, a field entirely new to him growing up in a family who was into the real estate trade. “I saw the need for it,” was his simple reason for doing so.

“I have always been inclined toward business even as a child selling old clothes and toys to our helpers,” Tom said. Opening Rocky’s Barbershop was the perfect opportunity to tread a new ground, “and I wanted to have a business of my own,” he added.

When the Davao’s first mall opened in 1996, he jumped at an opportunity to fulfill a dream and formed his own company, the TSG Haircutters.

He put himself in the shoes of his male clientele and personally saw the convenience of bringing a grooming service closer to the men. “There were hair salons, but not a single barbershop. Surely the male population would want the same convenience the grooming service in a mall, which the women enjoys, can offer—air-conditioned environment, spacious parking, kill time, run errands, and perhaps dine or shop— and besides there are men who still prefer the barber than a salon stylist,” Tom pointed out.

"There are still men who prefer the barber than a salon stylist," said the young businessman.

Tom oversaw the operations of Rocky’s barbershop with meticulous eye. He chose the best staff— all Davaoeños, who underwent training despite experience, pinpointed the necessary grooming services beyond the traditional haircut, made sure the working space was kept spotless and made courtesy and professionalism the creeds.

Tom’s business insight and practice served him well. With a very positive response to the Victoria Plaza Mall market, which listed the city’s top rank businessmen, he did not hesitate to open another Rocky’s barbershop when Gaisano Mall of Davao opened in 1998, and expanded his venture to include another branch at SM City when it opened in 2001. The latter serviced the former and new clients on the Southern sector of the city.

In 2004, Tom decided to open another brand— Big Tom’s barbershop, at the new NCCC Mall in Matina. “I wanted to broaden my market. I noticed that there was a need for the same quality of service that Rocky's offers, this time to a different demographic,” shared Tom.

Big Tom’s offers the same line up of services that Rocky’s offers, only at lower price points. It became an instant hit both to the frequent mall visitors and residents within the Matina area. The same concept he used on his next branch.

In 2008, Tom extended the quality service of his barbershops southward. Tom opened another Big Tom’s at the KCC Mall in General Santos City. “I want to position myself in the fast developing city in the neighboring region,” said the young businessman.

In 2011, the first major undertaking of the Ayala Land rose in Davao. Included in the project plan was the first Ayala Mall. Rocky’s was able to position itself alongside the major salon brands in the country. It was the fourth branch for Rocky’s the first to outlet to cater to the elite clientele the Abreeza Mall was targeting.

With the steady growth and excellent business background, Rocky’s was invited to be one of the service concessionaires in SM Lanang Premier, one of the few premier malls of SM across the country. Like the Abreeza Mall, the premier brand of SM aims to cater to the upper level of the market.

It was an opportunity to service the existing clients in the northern part of the city with the hopes of expanding the barbershop’s client list. Tom nodded to the offer, and in 2012, he opened the fifth branch of Rocky’s.

Tom believes that the strengths of Rocky's and Big Tom's lie in the quality of service it extends. The homegrown barbers are very reliable and experienced in the craft. To hone and expand the staff’s skills further, it is in the company’s program to enroll them in various trainings available. “New styling techniques come up and the barbers should be updated with these,” said Tom.

“The client's comfort and satisfaction is valued. Every visit to Rocky’s and Big Tom’s should be experiential, a one-stop shop. This is why we go beyond what the traditional barbershop will offer,” said Tom, referring to a menu that lists hair, facial, hand and foot care.

Help yourself to a cup or two. Rocky's serves free coffee to all its clients, a part of the quality services it extends.

As for the future plans for the business, “Expansion is imminent, I intend to have Rocky’s presence felt more and be in every man’s top of mind, around Davao and Mindanao,” Tom said.

“As long as the barbershops continue to provide the excellent personalized service to its clients and adapt to the new male grooming innovations, I believe Rocky’s and Big Tom’s will continue to be the premier male grooming destination in Davao and soon, to more areas of Mindanao,” said the pioneering mind.

About TSG Haircutters

Rocky's and Big Tom’s barbershops are brands of TSG Haircutters created to deliver the essential grooming services for men situated within the comforts of the malls in Davao and General Santos cities.

Founded in 1996, TSG Haircutters currently has seven branches: Rocky's Victoria Plaza, 2nd floor Victoria Plaza Mall, J.P. Laurel St., Davao City. Tel. 222-0888; Rocky's G Mall, 3rd floor Gaisano Mall of Davao, J.P. Laurel St., Davao City. Tel. 226-3000; Rocky's Abreeza, 3rd floor Abreeza Mall, J.P. Laurel St., Davao City. Tel. 2952870; Rocky's SM Lanang, lower ground floor, SM Lanang Primeir, Lanang, Davao City. Tel. 285-2958; Rocky's SM Ecoland, 2nd floor, SM City Davao, Quimpo Blvd., Davao City. Tel. 282-6259; Big Tom's NCCC, 2nd floor, NCCC Mall, MacArthur Highway, Davao City. Tel. 296-2220; Big Tom’s Gen.San., 2nd level, KCC Mall, J. Catolico Ave., Lagao, General Santos City.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 6, 2015.

Also published in Mindanao Times newspaper Business Section on March 31, 2015 & EDGE Davao newspaper on April 17, 2015.