Victoria’s second wave has thrown a large portion of the state, including Greater Melbourne, into lockdown 2.0, closing many business such as beauty and personal care services, but leaving hair salons open.
Victorian salons are having a sense of déjà vu as they grapple with increased consumer trepidation, the question of staying open or choosing to close with rising cases and supporting a team, client base and business through another grim phase of the pandemic. We spoke to several Melbourne-based industry leaders about their approach, practices and mentality just a few days into this six-week lockdown.
“For us Victorians, we’ve been through this before. Now we’re back again, we thought we were coming out of it a couple of weeks ago but we’re back in lockdown and everyone has to try and stay positive, listen to what our Premier and Prime Minister say and do what we can do,” said celebrity hairdresser and prolific salon owner Joey Scandizzo. “We’re back to where we were a few months ago, so we’ve just had to revert to doing the same things, same protocols, social distancing, temperature checks, sanitising, no magazines, all paper cups, towel usage. There’s a whole list of protocols we’re following so we’re sort of back to square one, back to where we were.”
A key element of this second wave is that salon owners have a greater sense of knowledge and awareness, allowing them to adapt with more ease and efficiency than when the first lockdown hit.
“A lot of hairdressing salons have just adapted. The only way that we mentally can stay stable and keep going is to adapt to our current situations,” shared Michelle Reiche Anthony, a former salon owner who now manages Fever Salon’s freelance model. “Salons have accepted it more, a lot more are staying open, whereas the first time around I would say half of my friends that own salons closed them out. Most salons are now just ramping up measures in terms of how many clients and looking after the safety of their staff and clients. We’ve adapted to it, the second time around as hairdressers, we’re still grateful that we can still work if we choose to.”
With this greater proficiency in handling the pandemic, a strong sense of customer service and business quality remains. Marie Ricupito, who owns Marie Nahas salon, closed for the first lockdown after only opening last October, but has now remained open. Her commitment to customer service and the client experience remains more dominant than ever in a time where clients can turn almost nowhere else for an escape.
“We’re a feel good industry so we have to provide people with that feel good service while taking all the precautions,” Marie explained. Her salon practices include constant text and social media communication with clients, complimentary Kérastase hair masks, a homeschooling area with free Wi-Fi available throughout the salon, coffee in disposable cups, personalised water bottles, complimentary muffins and biscuits and more, alongside the necessary protocols.
“I didn’t want to change my services and make people bring their own water bottle,” she explained of her distinctly personalised services. “I don’t want to keep charging my clients the same money but not give them the service, so we focus on giving the procedures of social distancing and hygiene, but at the same time still allow them to come in, escape from what’s going on in the world and be pampered.”
“I want to turn the negative into a positive, there’s always solutions, we’re concentrating on the solutions not the problem,” she continued. “I don’t want clients to just come get their hair done and walk out the door, I still want to give them the experience that I’m known for.”
A major theme of the lockdown is also uplifting staff and keeping team morale high at a deflating time for the state at large.
“It’s obviously a hard time for any business owner and you have to try and stay positive for your team and make sure everyone’s staying safe and healthy,” said renowned salon owner Marie Uva of UVA SALON. “We have meetings on a Saturday morning and try and have fun. Everyone’s all so down so I think just trying to keep that team morale and spirit up is important. We’re lucky that we have a job and can work, we all know people who have been affected. The fact that we can work, let’s be happy about that.”
“You need to try and stay as positive as you can, and the more positive we are as leaders, the more the team feels positive. We do feel safe that we are in a good environment. I’m trying to keep positive and keep the team as calm as possible,” Joey agreed. “The main thing is to try and stay positive and make sure you’re following all the right protocols. “
The situation is different for each individual salon and their particular circumstances. For Tom Donato, salon owner of the Xiang Hair salon franchise, this meant closing up shop for a second time. His locations are in the deserted CBD and closer to hot spots in the North-East of Melbourne, which made this necessary, but it was still more seamless than the first time around.
“It’s a little bit easier because we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to pay the staff, we have JobKeeper and the bank loans all set up ready to access, the applications for government assistance are in place and we’ll deal with that when it comes. It’s not a scramble to try and get everything in place and try work out what we’re going to do next,” Tom said. “The first time taught us to stay a bit calm and relax and take it as it comes so it’s not as stressful.”
“A lot of my staff are relieved that we made the decision to close,” he continued. “It was important for staff safety and peace of mind. It’s not just their physical health that’s at stake; it’s their mental health. Knowing that they can stay home and be safe I’m hoping they’ll appreciate the efforts we put in to keeping them safe mentally and physically so hopefully it builds a bit of loyalty and cements that we’re the right company to work for.”
As an industry leader, Joey’s salon sets an example by treating clients with grace and postponing if necessary, relying on client communication and following protocols to a tee. Staff can take time off if they aren’t comfortable coming in and the whole team works to put clients at ease.
“No one’s gone down this track before, no one’s driven down this road,” he said. “We’re all learning, you don’t go to university, or a trade school or a hairdressing apprenticeship to learn how to get through this, neither does the government, this is all new territory to all of us, so you just need to try and stay positive. If you can, keep your business open and keep your clients comfortable and give the best quality service to the people coming in – without them you haven’t got a business.”
Joey’s salons have extra staff on site for all day cleaning and sanitising purposes and are making a commitment to creating their very best hair work a primary pandemic focus, with the ever-paramount significance of morale, quality work and keeping both staff and clients happy front of mind.
“I do think is this is going to be a way of life, it’s not just for two weeks or a month, we just have to learn to live with it and do the best we can to try and stop the spread as much as we can, so whatever measures it takes to do that, we’re all willing and fighting to do that,” he said. “’It’s just massaging the situation as best we can.”
The physical necessities are clear – sanitise, socially distance, stick to guidelines, encourage wearing masks, communicate with staff and clients and make the best instinctive decisions for your business. Beyond that, the mental toll of a second lockdown is the new frontier. Salons are in the unique predicament of having the freedom to make their own decisions – meaning whether they stay open or close, there’s bound to be a little self-doubt.
All salon owners can do is listen to their staff and clients, rely on their knowledge and experience, utilise the industry resources available and back their own individual decisions. Safety, health and mental wellbeing for yourself and your team are vital focuses in an unprecedented era.
“Mentally, you have to take it day by day and breathe,” Michelle advised. “The only way I get through it is I look at it that everyone’s in it together. I know that’s a slogan on television, but that’s what I live by. We’re not here by ourselves and we can all reach out, that’s the only way to mentally stay sane at the moment.”
Deep breaths Victoria – you got this.
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