The list of businesses being crippled by the coronavirus is seemingly endless. You just have to look at the furlough stats to know that – more than 9 million are expected to take up the government’s job retention scheme in the UK, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). However, it’s undeniable that customer-facing businesses will be amongst those hit the hardest, which is most definitely the case for the hairdressing industry.
In the UK and the U.S., and previously China, hairdressers and barbers have been immediately shuttered as ‘non-essential businesses’, and with empty chairs comes the inevitable empty tills – revenue dropping almost instantly to zero. And while governments across the world are doling out small business loans to try and keep companies afloat, there is fear it won’t be enough to match the level of crisis in the short term. Indeed, many business owners are struggling to find the level of cash needed to pay employees and bills in the interim period. And, as ever, it seems that it’ll be the smaller guys, with less capital in the bank, that will be unable to weather the storm and will lose out to the larger corporations that are more financially stable. Stephanie Wissink, Managing Director at Jefferies, told WWD.com, “It’s going to be a bit of a cascading effect — big corporate salons will survive, but it will be independents that feel the pressure. We’re talking about a quarter of the year going away.”
However, while hairdressers and barbers in some countries are fearing for the long-term viability of their businesses as lockdowns and social distancing measures roll on, at the time of writing Australian salon businesses have their own worries. Indeed, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government have put places of worship on the list of non-essential businesses ordered to close, as well as hotels and restaurants et al, hairdressers are, controversially, being allowed to remain open. Apparently, root touch ups and restyles are more essential in the face of a deadly virus pandemic than being allowed to pray and soul search in churches and religious buildings – go figure.
And it’s not just me that’s confused about the decision. While some in-salon social distancing rules were put in place (although the 30-minute appointment rule was later reversed, can’t get a full head of highlights in that time can you Morrison?), the Hairstylists Australian Union has advised hairdressers they have the right to refuse to anyone with symptoms, while Australian Hairdressing Council Chief Executive Sandy Chong stated the government was ‘killing small businesses slowly’ by exempting the industry. Speaking to SmartCompany, Chong said, “It’s extremely frustrating that the chief medical officer just does not understand how he’s putting our industry at risk. The pandemic is escalating so we’re going to close at some point.
“As a small business, here we are making appointments, cancelling appointments, remaking appointments, no one knows what’s going to happen in the next 48 hours.”
So, is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, in a word. However, the endurance of smaller businesses undoubtedly rests on the duration of lockdown periods, and salon’s and hairdressers’ ability to adapt. Many within the professional haircare industry are following the lead of Mane Addicts and Ouai, with Founder Jen Atkin reaping in thousands of views on her ‘how-to’ DIY hair cutting YouTube videos. Atkin is engaging her audience more than ever before by re-posting follower videos, in-turn building a wider community. For those with smaller audiences, the offer of long-life hair vouchers is also keeping some cashflow coming in while many are doing virtual consultations and mixing up colors to send to clients.
However, what is undeniably keeping spirits buoyed is the promise of a revitalised market post-lockdown. While some industries are worried about the long-term effects of some changed consumer habits being permanently embedded (will the upsurge of home workouts affect the health and leisure industry indefinitely?), the rebirth of the salon sector will no doubt kickstart as fast as it shut down. Because, let’s face it, we will all be craving human interaction, and wanting to fix our self-isolation haircare mistakes. You can create all the DIY hair tutorials you want, but those highlights, hair transformations and personal hairdresser/client relationships simply can’t be replicated at home.
As we imagine will be the case for many business success stories following this unforgiving pandemic, it’s about the survival of the fittest. Celebrity hairstylist Oscar Blandi told Fox Business, “Stylists want to work and clients will enjoy the experience more than ever. As a country, we will become stronger but this will be a struggle for right now for a lot of people.”
And its those that can withstand that struggle that will no doubt be first in line to reap the rewards of the glorious post-lockdown salon revival.