With its growing array of independent clothes stores, coffee shops, craft ale bars and hairdressers, Bath Street is becoming one of St Helier’s trendiest shopping spots.
Ian Heath spoke to Kyle Gibaut of KSG barbers and Chris McBurnie of Tib Street clothing about what makes their corner of town tick
When you walk around the south end of Bath Street these days, there’s a certain buzz about the place which you just don’t feel in the rest of St Helier.
The shops are heavily stylised, soulful tunes emanate from the various outlets and there’s that urban vibe you would be more accustomed to in the trendier parts of Manchester or East London.
Two of the local businessmen who are thriving in this atmosphere and driving it forward are Kyle Gibaut (34) and Chris McBurnie (53).
They explained that the area was not just a place for hard work – it has developed into a social community in its own right. And they love it.
‘If we’re not working, we usually sit outside on the street and chat and socialise, basically. That’s what we do,’ said Mr Gibaut.
‘People know where we are and want be part of our little buzz because it’s different on Bath Street. I don’t think you get another street in town where you get that sort of personality and that many independent shops.
‘We are lucky that we earn our livings doing something that we’re passionate about.’
Mr McBurnie was quick to point out, however, that the laid-back atmosphere in the area should not be mistaken for a lack of work.
‘When everyone’s out and the summer season kicks in it’s got a great atmosphere. The Saturday afternoons are buzzing at that time of year,’ he said.
‘We work hard though, don’t get me wrong. I’m there six days a week. We graft. If we sit out there for two minutes, someone will say some job you’ve got. But who do you think does all this?
‘We have financial issues with payments, rents and GST and everything like that so it’s not plain sailing. It’s not easy, but we’re lucky that we’re making a living and we’re enjoying it.’
One of the most noticeable things about KSG and Tib Street is the stylised and trendy shopfronts and decor, which Mr Burnie, who comes from Manchester, explained were key to drawing in the customers.
‘The flash gets the cash. It’s about perceiving a good image to get people in,’ he said.
‘Tib Street is named after a street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester and it’s got a Manchester theme without actually deliberately wanting to do that.
‘You want people to gravitate to you and to do that you’ve got to think outside the box a little bit. You’ve gotta be forward thinking in what you’re doing.
‘If you’ve got good product and got a good customer service, then you you’ll always have a good business but you can’t just sit back.’
Mr McBurnie, who was formerly the area manager for Surf, Dive and Ski, added that developing the image of the shop and the social aspect of retail were two aspects he particularly enjoyed.
‘I can sell clothes, I’m a personable person and I’ve definitely got drive. I have got a good vision with merchandise and I’ve always enjoyed the way shops look,’ he said.
‘That was one of my key jobs in Surf, Dive and Ski – the merchandise in all shops and the way the windows and the interior look.’
Mr Gibaut, who named his shop after his own initials, agreed that image was key, adding that pushing the businesses on social media was a ‘big time’ part of the modern marketing effort.
‘People want to be part of something that looks good already. It’s the same in barbering as it is with clothes shops.
‘If there’s a small village and there’s a terrible-looking barber shop and a good-looking barber shop, which one do you go to? The good one.’
He added: ‘With the social media platforms, you’ve got to be able to draw people’s attention to draw them in the shop as well.
‘It’s a free platform that we pump every day. With Chris, if he’s trying to sell something, while I’m posting pictures of haircuts or even just a bit of our lives going on behind it, it just helps people buy into our businesses.
‘It’s definitely the culture now with Instagram and Facebook et cetera and seeing if you can get a vibe going – something a little bit trendy and a little bit different to how people usually do things.’
Explaining his background, Mr Gibaut, who is Jersey-born, said that the decision to open KSG came after he opted to move away from a career in broadcasting in London.
The barber shop, which now has its own premises in Bath Street, started life above Tib Street six years ago.
‘My dad had this shop before Chris and Chris bought the shop off him ten years ago,’ he said,
‘So, we’ve known Chris through the family. I was coming back from London and I was a barber over there and we were looking for somewhere to set up. Chris’ upstairs was a stock room at the time.
‘We knew the space was up there and it was my dad who approached Chris to see if he was up for it and Chris was just, boom, up for it straight away. That was six years ago now and we’ve just gone from strength to strength and our businesses have aligned together.
‘It’s worked out really, really well.’
He added that he believed the decision to move into the barber industry was in part due to it being ‘in the blood’.
‘I lived in London for ten years, went to university there and then got into barbering in the last couple of years before I came back to Jersey,’ he said.
‘It was just an accumulation of wanting to do something creative. I was working in the television industry before but it was not totally right for me.
‘Coming back to Jersey there wasn’t a lot of options. My mother had a hair salon and was a hairdresser for 50 years, so it’s in the blood. It was a natural progression when I was looking for something to do and it was the best move I’ve ever made.
‘I did a three-month course then I was into the big, bad world of barbering and I’ve never looked back.’
Mr McBurnie said that his recent decision to expand Tib Street into neighbouring premises had been ‘too good an opportunity to miss’, coming more than a decade after the shop opened.
‘I’ll have been open 11 years in April. I opened the next door in November because I was looking for more room to spread the business and it seems to be working,’ he said.
‘I was the area manager for Surf, Dive and Ski for 16 years. I was based on Colomberie and I used to walk past this shop, which was Tramps at the time, and I always used to say I could run this on my own if I wanted to do it.
‘Then they decided to go their own way and I took over. That was more than ten years ago and through a recession and Covid-19 I’m still here, so I must be doing something right.’
Commenting on the impact of Covid-19 on his close-contact business, Mr Gibaut said that it was ‘very tough’ but praised the government for their support during the period.
‘It was a complete shut down with no money coming in whatsoever. To be fair, the States were pretty good with the support scheme but it certainly wasn’t champagne and caviar time for us,’ he said.
‘We were scraping by and it was tough. But we’re moving forward, we’re still here and I think the States played their part in helping us getting by, while we were surviving by the skin of our teeth.’
Mr McBurnie was clear on his feelings about Covid-19 – he wanted to forget about it and get on with the good times again.
‘It was just a worrying period but it’s gone now,’ he said.
‘It’s over. So, let’s move forward.’