28 January 2023

Salon Reopenings: Fostering Professionalism and Consumer Confidence

Amidst all the speculation, Candy Shaw shares her thoughts and experiences about reopening her salon in the state of Georgia, giving rise to a forum on how to meet the challenges arising in the aftermath of extensive nationwide lockdowns.

Candy Shaw is a successful entrepreneur at the helm of three companies: Jamison Shaw Hairdressers, a 50-year-young, third-generation, 50 chair salon in Atlanta, where she works full-time behind-the-chair; a 20-year-young Advanced Training Academy specializing in balayage education; and the popular SUNLIGHTS® Balayage, the maker and purveyor of the world’s leading balayage products and education. With a curriculum of the caliber, it can be safely said that Candy’s opinion when it comes to the salon business has a certain weight. 

So when Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia gave the go ahead to open salons and other businesses on April 24, Candy perceived it as a reckless decision on many fronts and decided to bide her time.

She soon observed that “the salons who opened right away struggled to get staff to return, resulting in many being terminated. Hence many salons were operating at 40-50% capacity and working long hours (with the added fatigue of wearing a mask)“. Some salons raised prices and/or added a “Safe Salon Fee” to cover rising overhead costs.

As she puts it, “I, instead, chose to put Health over Hair and press pause. It has turned out to be a great decision for a number of reasons, the biggest being perception our guests have of the salon (knowing that we are operating safely) and that of my staff! 100% of both guests and staff returned without a blink of an eye because of HOW we reopened.

Indeed, Georgia began to reopen very slowly, although they had the opportunity to do so. Yet supplies were in high demand and fear turned out to be the biggest enemy. Owners find themselves overwhelmed, having to manage a variety of opinions and attitudes. After careful observation, Candy realized there were now 3 kinds of team members:

  1. – Those who are paralyzed by fear.
  2. – Those who are invincible and could care less.
  3. – Those who passively wait to be told how to react.

In addition to adapting the salon structure and layout to accommodate social distancing, an important step to adapting her business model to the Covid-19 Emergency day-after was to change the way she did business with her employees, who were essentially craving two things: regaining their livelihood and convincing leadership.

But good leaders, like Candy, always have a plan, as she outlines below:

After getting our salon prepared, I divided my team and brought them in at 3 different times to train them on protocols, procedures and sanitation objectives. During this time we literally built a new way of doing business by “branding” every aspect! Customized sanitizers, glasses, smocks for us to wear, signage etc… we even took baby wipes and ZEP chemicals to turn them into disinfectant wipes to help overcome an ongoing shortage of cleaning supplies.

After much thought, I decided to hold a dry run on each other, giving each employee the opportunity to get their own hair done! After all, I reasoned, I am managing fear and perception. I felt like the best way to get and keep them positive was to help them feel better! I let them color, cut and get any home use products needed free of charge, as a gift from us! They were all thrilled, and although we were wearing masks, all their eyes were smiling!

Finally, our first practice day on paying guests! I allowed my staff to choose only 2 guests at first. We worked a morning shift and an afternoon shift. This turned out to be an ESSENTIAL period of transition. I am hearing now that many are going in on their first day back and working 10 hours! – only to leave in tears, completely overwhelmed! I recommend you leave staff time to get “warmed-up” – they have not touched their tools in over 2 months and not only are there tons of things to remember to do, they must also begin to get their stamina back! It’s so tiring working in a mask.

To help reduce times and stress, we decided to forego blow drying for the month of May! Best decision ever! Not one complaint! We explain it to clients in terms of timing, duration of appointment and the over 3,000 appointments we have to reschedule.

Also, placing emphasis on haircolor instead of hairstyling has been very profitable. Moreover, we have not discounted any prices, but have added a 5-dollar Safe Salon Fee to cover extra expenses! Apparently transparency is all important. It’s all in how you market it to your guests. They are happy to have an appointment and willing to make small sacrifices to help us.

We recently completed week one and let me just say… WOW! We worked 6 days with shifting scheduling (no stylist worked over 7 hours). When I removed 25 chairs out of my 50 chair salon – my initial thought was that we would make only “half “ of the revenue. But boy! – was I wrong! Our salon did as much as the week before Christmas!

Operating at 100% with fewer people and hours might be the new business model to aim for. On top of that, even though we had a very healthy retail campaign while our doors were closed… (68,000 dollars worth of retail sold in 8 weeks of closure)… much to my amazement, during our first week back our salon did another 10K in retail sales. I am mentioning this only because we have also completely revamped our way of doing retail!
No longer is the customer experience about walking to the front, touching, smelling, experiencing the product… the chair itself is now the hub of the salon experience, also because my salon is cashless and we have eliminated the physical check-out process! All guests are required to have a credit card on file, with retail happening “chair-side” instead of on the way out the door! This places the responsibility on the service provider to fill the order, communicate their needs, and educate on products. After just one week, the results of this NEW approach to retailing are positive, as the Focus has changed and guests are listening to their service providers.

When it comes to color mixing, I wanted to drive this point home as I think you will find this quite interesting. Due to traffic density rates and six-foot distancing, we decided to have our staff members pull all color formulas (as best they could) at the end of each shift for the following day. The goal was to cut down on the amount of stylists concentrated in our dispensary areas. Not only has this system cut down on traffic, noise, movement and wasting time, it has brought a new sense of consultation and professional nature back to the chair! Now before you think we are teaching our guest how to mix Color (I think you know me better than that), what it has done is show them how intricate the Science is, how much education and expertise goes into the process, and actually how they can NEVER do it themselves at home. It’s really given me a time to reflect on how we do color services moving forward.

All in all, Candy confims what most of us have been expecting, or at least hoping: the shift in perception of the hairstylist and our guests’ needs has changed! Many stylists are receiving tips that exceed their overall ticket charge through Venmo. And although no one expects it to last last forever, there is satisfaction in such acknowledgment and it helps boosts morale to feel so essential and appreciated.

Candy also expects to see new hires, shifting an exuberance of front desk employees to help A) keep up with overall demand and B) keep our salons safe and clean.

The icing on the cake is that there has been a huge uptick of new guests to the salon. She theorizes that consumers see larger salons taking things more seriously and go where reputation, professionalism, and safety are guaranteed.

By Marie Scarano


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