Picture the scene: It’s July. After months of attempting to hack at your own fringe with a pair of blunt kitchen scissors, the day has finally come – you’re going to the hairdresser. Your local salon opened alongside other Step Three businesses and is following the socially distancing guidelines spelled out in ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’, the government road map for getting us out of lockdown. What should you expect when you get there? Will it be anything like hair cuts in the Before Times? Well... Not really.
Here’s how it’s probably going to play out.
Giorgia Rossi from beauty booking app Treatwell has been working with salons as they’ve reopened in countries like France, Italy, Germany and Lithuania over the past few weeks. She says that the first thing you should know is that you might be checking in at the salon at an unexpected hour. ‘We saw partners in Paris open up at 5am,’ she says. ‘They were extending opening hours to meet a 1,000 percent increase in bookings month-on-month while still following social-distancing guidelines.’ The earlier opening times meant that they could spread bookings throughout the day, leaving more space between visitors to sterilise workspaces.
‘Customers [around the world] are being deliberate about wanting social distance too,’ says Rossi. ‘Before, more than 60 percent of appointments were booked at lunchtime and the end of the day. Now people are booking 10am appointments.’
The second thing you should know is that you’ll probably have had to book in advance. In the Netherlands and France, walk-in appointments have been banned. It means that you’ll no longer be able to queue for services like men’s haircuts, manicures and fringe trims. ‘Nail bars and barbers have had to adopt a new way of doing business,’ says Rossi.
She says that salons are also rethinking their layouts in order to make it harder for clients and staff to come into contact with each other’s germs. Could a lobby become another workspace? How do you stagger appointments so that there aren’t two blow dries booked next to each other? If you leave the door open, will fewer people touch it?
Ken Picton, president of the British Hair Fellowship, says that as well as implementing social distancing strategies, hairdressers are stockpiling PPE at levels that are far beyond government suggestions. ‘Responsible salons will take it into their own hands if they don’t think guidelines are good enough,’ he says. ‘We were doing hand sanitiser, cleaning things down between customers and using disposable towels even before lockdown. I know salons where they’re not just planning to wear PPE but perspex face masks.’ It won’t just be hairdressers and beauty therapists who are kitted out, either. In France, clients are asked to wear masks, gowns and disposable gloves.
It all sounds much more dystopian than the relaxing salon atmosphere we’re used to. Rossi says that, for that reason, in Lithuania Treatwell is making pre-haircut videos to prepare people for the changes. ‘We’re sharing content about what it looks like to come in [to the salon],’ she says. ‘With instructions like put your phone in a plastic bag and don’t wear jewellery.’
She adds that the connection between hairdresser and client is changing too. ‘There’ll be less physical touch,’ she says. ‘There’ll be no hugs.’ In Germany, hairdressers must talk to clients via the mirror and many salons are considering doing consultations via video call. Alexandra Brownsell, co-founder of London salon Bleach, says that throughout lockdown the salon has been offering online consultations and ‘hair parties’ where they guide clients through doing their hair at home. She thinks that this will continue once the salon opens its doors: ‘What we’d like to do is still have our stylists available to have one on one consultations online. We might end up building an area in the salon for those videos to happen.’
It seems likely that many salons will have staffing changes. Karine Jackson, who runs a self-titled west London salon, says her plan is to open from 7am to 1pm and from 1.30pm to 10pm, with each shift staffed by different team that never come into contact with each other. This is something Picton says will be in place at many salons: so that if one member comes into contact with the virus, only half the team will have to self-isolate. Jackson says that each client will also have the same member of staff wash, cut, colour and blow dry their hair. She adds that increased costs from putting these measures into place (and increased PPE) will mean that hair cuts will get more expensive. Treatwell reports seeing a 5-10 percent increase in prices worldwide.
While Jackson says she has ‘already sorted her client list for when they get the green light to open under social-distancing measures’, Brownsell says that Londoners shouldn’t expect every salon to open as soon as the government gives them the go-ahead. She doesn’t plan to open Bleach while social distancing measures are still in place. ‘I wouldn’t be comfortable with some countries’ attempts at social distancing. It’s hard to know what’s safe or not safe and I don’t want to put my team at risk.’ Picton adds that ‘it won’t be a flick of a switch’ whereupon all salons are open. He says: ‘The reality is to turn a salon around is difficult with booking systems and I don’t think there’ll be mass confidence [from the public about getting a hair cut in the new normal].’
That lack of confidence, plus decreased income from salons being forced to see fewer clients means that the industry’s going to be on wobbly legs as we go forwards. Picton suggests that once the furlough scheme ends many hairdressers might lose their jobs and we could see a rise in freelance mobile hairdressing. He even warns that there’s the possibility that some salons might never reopen. ‘London is a worry from an industry point of view,’ he says. ‘I know some people thinking: I’m better off going bust now than prolonging it, when you might not be able to afford it anyway. My business, for example, needs to be operating at 80 percent capacity to break even.’ Rossi reiterates that point. ‘The biggest concern is that some won't be able to reopen doors on July 4 and a number are going to go out of business on the way to September.’
Basically, if you ever needed an excuse to book yourself an extravagant summer treatment, cut, colour and blow-dry combination, this is it.
Find out when hairdressers and beauty salons will reopen in London.
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