Covid-19: Serving clients from a closed salon.

One of our stylists recently came across a post in her facebook feed that has been widely circulated among panicked stylists. The post read: “PLEASE STOP ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO DO THEIR OWN HAIR. THIS WILL DESTROY OUR INDUSTRY”

While our salons tend to see evolution and possibility in all types of situations, this one line panic post brings up some great questions that salon owners everywhere are dealing with right now, which all boil down to this: How do I best serve my clients during this COVID-19 closure?

It would appear there is a wide range of responses. On one end of the spectrum, we’re all hearing of stylists who are providing in-home services (which in Ohio violates both the rules of the State Board of Cosmetology and the Governor’s stay-at-home order). On the other end of the spectrum there are people like the creator of the aforementioned post. The former group seems to be unconcerned with anything other than their own income and appears willing to put others at risk in the process. The latter group seems to consider finding ways to meet your clients needs to be the equivalent of being a “Strikebreaker” or “Scab” crossing a picket line.

I have compassion for all you salon owners out there trying to figure this out. If you’re anything like me, determining the best way to take care of your staff, serve your clients, and keeping your sanity in these times feels less like a moving target and more like a sprinting one!

I don’t have a lot of answers for you, but I do have an analogy that might help. Providing no options for your clients is a bit like expecting abstinence to work as a viable birth control method…and truly, sometimes abstinence does work! Just like there are clients who will be so devoted to you that they will wait for 4, 6, 8, 10 weeks if they need to. They will proudly return to the salon with a two-inch stripe at their roots and you can laugh together about how much they missed you.

But let’s be real. Abstinence is not foolproof for teens and expecting your clients to just wait is not going to work for everyone either, especially if you cater to high-visibility clients. Granted, the reasons for not waiting are likely very different from the analogy: it’s not that your clients are hormone-crazed with partially developed frontal lobes (at least not most of them!) — It is that your clients still have lives! They may be quarantined or sheltering-in-place, or staying at home, but weddings and funerals still happen. Many are still working in essential jobs, and most are connecting with someone via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or whatever social media platform is working for them.

This industry will continue to evolve, and if the feedback we’re getting from our clients is any indication, we are worth a lot more to them than just a steady pair of hands to slather on a retouch. Our clients come to us for our skill, our vision, our formulation, and for the way we make them feel.

Imagine if Bob Ross had kept his painting to himself! Our in-home paint-a-long sessions were nowhere near the masterpieces he created, but he shared his gifts and gave us guidance. Our clients aren’t artists, and we know that. And we, as professionals, know better than anyone that a tiny bit of glamour, like a little happy tree, can bring brightness back in someone’s life.

So, after reading all this, if you’re still fearful of helping your clients out, there’s no reason to read more. However, if you have decided to provide some sort of support to clients, I would ask you to consider one more question: Are you willing and able to provide any client support in a manner that will ensure safety for any staff and for your guests? In our case, that means meeting or exceeding the guidelines by your state and local officials, but you create a standard that works for you.

If you are certain you will provide a safe environment, here are some potential offerings to help your guests through this closure.

  • Retail items like root touch-up, color conditioners, and styling aids.
  • Video guidance for at-home services
  • At-home color kits.

If you are considering the ever-controversial at-home color kits, you’ll have some additional things to consider, like your relationship with your manufacturer and any agreements you may have with them (for example if you carry Aveda products, selling Aveda color could arguably put you in violation of the non-diversion agreement).

And in considering any of these options, we would suggest that you look into all of the following:

  • Check with your state board of cosmetology to ensure that you are not violating any laws or rules.
  • Check with your insurance agent to verify that you have appropriate coverage (particularly for color or for deliveries if you are offering such services).
  • If you or anyone delivering any items is being paid W-2 wages, you may need to change your designation for BWC, as your current coverage probably does not cover driving.
  • It is also important to understand any orders that may be in place that are particular to your city, county, region, or state.  Some things we had to consider:
    • In Ohio, one order mandates that “all business operations” at salons must cease. So we have chosen not to do any business at all, (even online), through our salons. (All our client support is happening through our salon services enterprise).
    • That is not to say our neighbor salons couldn’t though! One Ohio attorney told us that “Nothing in the Stay-at-home order would prevent selling by phone or web if there is no customer contact.” He said “that type of ‘remote work’ is expressly encouraged” so just because we’re not operating such a business out of our salon may not mean you can’t. Work with your attorney to create a plan that works for you.
    • What is “essential.”  In Ohio, we are lucky, the retail sale of personal care products is considered essential, but each state has different laws and different levels of oversight, and your attorney is better suited to advise you as to what is permitted under the orders in your state.

Finally, there’s the question of whether to provide services only for existing clients or to accept new clients.

We see both sides of this. On one hand, we have always advocated for our salons and salon clients to market with a healthy respect for any existing client/stylist relationships. In our salons, our code is to never throw any other salon or stylist under the bus, even when we have a client in our chair from another salon for a cut repair or color correction.

On the other hand, if a competitor is not taking care of their clients, someone will and it may as well be you.

For the time being, we’ve decided to communicate Phia Concepts offerings only to the email lists of our member salons and through those salons’ social media accounts. That could change as this stay at home order is extended, though. But rather than marketing outside of our own client base, what we’d rather do is help other salons set up ways to ensure their clients are cared for through this challenging time.

At the end of the day, how you feel in response to this salon closure challenge is a good measure of where you are in your career. Our stylists are reporting that they feel supported, stable, safe, and excited to get back to work as soon as we can reopen.

If you find the current challenges have made you doubt the value you provide to your clients, or you have fallen into a mindset that reduces you to a pair of hands doing what you think your clients could do at home it may be time to invest in some top-quality education.

If you find that you feel you have to withhold valuable information from your clients to continue to provide value, or that the current challenges have moved you to a place of fear, it may be time to find a great coach!

Either way, we’re here to help!