COVID-19 has affected the entire world differently, with variations in case numbers, regulations, protocols and attitudes across the globe. For a renowned international haircare company like TONI&GUY, that’s meant a focus on international connectivity and tailored practices by region, used to weather a difficult year for the brand, industry and world as a whole.
“TONI&GUY is 57 years old and we have survived and thrived through recessions, but this was completely different. It has brought challenges we have never experienced and forced us to look at the business in a way that was unprecedented,” said global creative director, Sacha Mascolo-Tarbuck.
“When it first started, normal ways of working were no longer appropriate; we had to change our leadership and communication,” explained CEO Nigel Darwin. “Our focus is usually planning three or five years ahead; this changed to focusing on the tomorrow. Our number one concern was our communication with our teams, their mental and emotional health. Our partners were worried about their businesses and livelihood and we had to protect them.”
“We rebuilt the way we communicate with our global community and learnt lessons from other markets. Week by week our journey was changing. Every country had its own challenges and rules but the principles were the same – professionalism, social distancing and PPE. Then we focused on client communication and getting ready for reopening,” he continued.
Globally, the brand innovated quickly, uniting the community with informative Zoom calls, gaining real insight into their financially significant services, showcasing top performing salons and having an open dialogue about business, creativity and education. Social media was major and salons were refreshed, while product promotions and retail became particularly important. Shifting out of lockdown in most regions has maintained that same level of care, with TONI&GUY using the opportunity to truly transform their business for the better, rather than just get by.
“The pandemic has given us a rare and unusual opportunity to pause, refresh and prepare,” Nigel said. “Salons being closed was a challenge but we flipped this into an opportunity. We’ve addressed things that were on our agenda and have achieved in three months that would usually take three years. We’ve rebuilt our community globally, we’ve stepped up our client communication on social media, we’ve updated our technology. We want TONI&GUY and the industry to come out of this stronger than ever.”
“We have a global community of 8000 people and we feel more connected than ever before. New friendships and new relationships have been formed. As hairdressers we make people feel better about themselves and you can’t put a price on that,” Sacha added.
We hear from some global brand experts for unique insights into how various regions responded to the crisis.
With a late lockdown and suddenly empty salons and academies, the UK industry had seen the effects across the globe when the pandemic finally reached them.
“For us, the most important thing was to make sure all our teams were OK – there was a lot of uncertainty and fear and we spent the first few days making sure furlough was in place and people felt safe,” explained Cos Sakkas, international artistic director and nominee for British Hairdresser of the Year, UK.
From there, social media initiatives like the training material with TONI&GUY Breakfast Club on Instagram, as well as constant online communication, defined the lockdown. The salons had two weeks notice to re-open in England, meaning exhaustive extra safety measures based on global recon of what had and hadn’t been working, to satisfy both clients and hairdressers.
“I’m proud of the community we have created. I feel as close to my colleagues in Australia as I do to the team I work in the academy with. We have shared our knowledge, our fears and our hopes and this bonding will be with us forever,” Cos said.
In Asia, protecting salon teams with the correct equipment was paramount, and lockdown styles and durations were extremely varied across the region, from seven weeks in Beijing to three months in Delhi and Chennai in India. This meant government requirements were also particularly diverse, with strict action in China and looser arrangements in Japan. The TONI&GUY community across the region had to manage these various expectations.
“From the outset we were concerned for the mental and emotional wellbeing of all our team members. So online communications went from regular emails to Instagram, Zoom, Microsoft teams – we used it all,” said Bill Watson, educational director for TONI&GUY Asia. “Our lack of technical skills was an obstacle to start with, but we researched software and skills to get the most out of all the platforms. Our main challenge was to reach everyone we could in the shortest time possible. The most important thing was we wanted our team to know we were all in it together.”
Bill cites greater global connectivity and interaction as one of the many opportunities that have come out of the crisis, with highlights including twice weekly global meetings with key educators and international education being conducted for the global community online.
“Being part of a global company meant we could all learn from each other as countries came out of lockdown at different times. We swapped key learnings and details, it was amazing,” he said. “During this time TONI&GUY did what it has always done for me, surrounded me with the best people, and helped me to be my best me, and that gave me the strength and drive to help others.”
In this latter phase of the pandemic, the region is dealing with lower foot traffic, but a higher prioritisation of self-care, meaning salons are doing well.
“Wellness seems to be a high priority for spending, a re-prioritising of where your cash goes. Hair in that case is a fundamental, closely linked to emotions or confidence, simply feeling good,” Bill explained.
In the strict initial lockdown of New Zealand, mandated with 72 hours notice, the government stepped in to financially sustain the salon community, easing some of the difficulties of this time period for hairdressers.
“I put all my focus on inspiring, motivating and getting my team super excited about coming back to work,” explained Bronwyn Illingworth, director TONI&GUY New Zealand. “During lockdown we looked at the whole situation through our clients’ eyes, and really kept in touch with them. We did some marketing on tips and hair hacks and kept everything upbeat and positive. We did this as a team and came up with some really strong ideas. It was important the team was kept busy with their education plans; we all wanted to come back stronger. It also gave us time to sit down and look at the financial side of the business.”
New Zealand came out of lockdown to no new cases, which meant legal approaches to social distancing, sanitisers and client contact tracing in salon was loose, but salons went above and beyond to show true care and present their impeccable approach to hygiene.
Bronwyn credits the leadership of a global juggernaut like TONI&GUY, with constant meetings, education sessions and advice across the globe, ensuring peak connectivity and the ability to share knowledge across the world. With that, and New Zealand’s approach to the pandemic overall, the salon community has flourished.
“Even though we were hit financially because of loss of turnover, we actually had a 22 per cent increase on clients year on year, and had our busiest week in history the second week out of lockdown. We spent a lot of time preparing the team and the salon environment and it paid off,” Bronwyn said. “Everyone knew what was expected of them, so the long hours and extra pressures didn’t have a negative effect. I could never afford to take my whole team to England but throughout this pandemic they have experienced so much and understand who we are. It has been very powerful.”
“When lockdown was announced initially the Spanish Government wanted salons to stay open because we were considered key to society,” said Jose Boix, head of TONI&GUY Spain. “However, it wasn’t long before we realised we were going through a big health scare and clients were staying home, so it didn’t make sense to open. The lockdown has been very difficult for some people – many people were depressed and the uncertainty of jobs, families and the economy effected a lot of people.”
“For me, it was the uncertainty of what was going to happen to my life – I had spent fifteen years building up the business and every day brought mixed feelings. We had to consider our expenses, our team members and our clients. Being positive was the only way to get through it and we spent a lot of time talking as a team, connecting with other people in the industry and looking after ourselves mentally as well as physically,” he continued.
Jose explained that confusing communication from the government necessitated even stronger and clearer communication from the salon community itself. A sense of international community camaraderie was also key in a difficult time
“While I was looking after my team’s wellbeing, I felt the international team were looking after mine,” Jose explained.
Spanish salons came out of lockdown after nine weeks with a maximum allowance of 30 per cent of the team working at the same time and one hairdresser per client. Salons were fully booked and the client experience took precedence, with safety measures including masks, social distancing, increased working hours, cleansing gels and anti-virus sprays.
“Everyone has had to adapt to the new normal – nothing is going to be the same and we have to get this message across to both teams and clients. The first month was hard as people were nervous, but after a few weeks everything started to settle and now, life is back to a new normal,” Jose said.
Care for and clarity with clients was immediately key for Italy, with daily tips on how to care for hair at home through virtual consultations, video tutorials, weekly Instagram Lives and a focus on positivity. Digital training, Zoom meetings and international connections fortified the TONI&GUY teams through a two and a half month long lockdown.
“From the outset, we made sure we connected with our team and our clients – we constantly communicated in a positive and empathetic way and helped them navigate the ever-changing scenarios,” shared Charity Cheah, co-founder TONI&GUY Italy. “We used the lockdown time constructively to strengthen our teams’ training needs with cutting and styling sessions, consultation skills and updating their education and soft skill needs so they felt that they would come back stronger than ever. The biggest challenge for us was bridging the physical distance between clients and hairdressers and we made it a priority to keep these relationships alive. We kept everyone connected and well-supported through various social media platforms.”
“Mental health is as important as physical and emotional health and it was our focus to provide true support and efficient tools to help everyone stay positive,” she continued. “Our international community was incredible and the support we had was phenomenal. We really felt connected with colleagues in other countries, shared our stories, learnt so much and never felt alone.”
Re-opening into Italy meant a nervous first few weeks and long waiting lists, supported by constant client communication and materials focused on comfort and safety. Salons adhered to strict protocols and top-tier standards of service, from temperature checks, to longer opening hours, sanitised salons and individual sanitisation packs with masks, disposable towels and gowns.
A new TONI&GUY salon, Milan Brera, opened two weeks after lockdown, launching with success due to the clear commitment to health, wellbeing, safety and communication the brand has showed.
“Consumer behaviour has changed; they now appreciate brands and companies stepping up even more in service excellence and professionalism with an eye on health and wellbeing,” Charity said. “Average spend is 30 per cent higher and clients are purchasing more products than before. It has been a most unprecedented experience but an important learning curve too.”
“As a global company we have fostered stronger relationships in our network, our team and our clients. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow, both with our clients and also as a global team. It has all been an opportunity to expand and this has definitely made us more resilient and united,” she continued.
This global case study makes several things abundantly clear – we have so much to learn from each other, we’re stronger together and, despite the differences in our situations and struggles, we’re never alone.
For more information visit www.toniandguy.com.au