With Alberta as the third province to allow salons to reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown, we chatted with Contessa-winning hairstylist Beverly Robertson about her salon’s reopening experience.
How has it been for you and your team since the salon reopened?
It’s good! We’ve been working more days and shorter hours. Everybody has six-hour shifts, five to six days a week, and because they’re fully booked it condenses any kind of spacing [between appointments]. It’s been hard not seeing our entire team; some of us are working mornings and others are working nights. They still get about 36 hours per week, and we’ve left Sundays open for any mega corrections—for anything that they don’t know how long it will take, or how long to schedule.
During the first week we were a little more generous with our timing, just to make sure there was more than enough time. But then we noticed we could condense things more as we’ve been getting into our groove. We’re learning where we can tighten things up so it doesn’t have to be this way forever.
The layout of your design has changed due to the social distancing guidelines. What has that been like?
It’s actually been so nice. I’m realizing that I like the space more minimal. We had an area rug where our fireplace was, and we took out the chairs. But the best thing that we’ve done is put the reception area outside. It keeps everyone that needs to be out, out and everybody that needs to be in, in, and kind of creates a bodyguard for us. Before clients go in, they use hand sanitizer and they wear their mask. It’s prevented lineups and congestion. It has a nice flow—in and out. It’s a lot of work to set it all up and take it all down, but it’s by far the best thing we’ve done. It’s rained a few times but it’s tented.
When your salon first reopened, you eliminated blow-drying services. Why did you make that decision?
We decided not to offer them because [in Alberta], salons opened in stage one. We consulted with a doctor and he mentioned that when you blow-dry, you’re definitely reaching more than six-feet and you can have a wind tunnel of particles getting blown around every person. The person getting a blow-dry is not the problem; it’s the person beside them. Everybody has a different viewpoint on it, but we wanted to err on the side of caution.
Some salons were not offering shampoos, and were asking clients to arrive with “clean, dry hair.” How did your salon approach this?
The doctor we consulted with wasn’t as worried about shampoos because for our sinks, we’re behind [clients]. For cuts, we asked for them to arrive with clean, dry hair and would cut the hair first, but we could give them the wash if the scalp massage was the most important to them, or we can just style the hair for them—still using hot tools, just no blow-dryers.
For colour, we bought scrunchies and were giving out scrunchies and samples. We’d do boxer-braids or top-knots, and it was OK. It’s just been important for them to know prior to the appointment, or they chose to book [a blow-dry] after June 12 [when Alberta entered stage 2].
It was hard not to do half of our job, and it didn’t have the same gratification when you don’t see the hair [styled] after. I would blow-dry a piece in the front, just to check the colour, and we would call them two days after just to check in.
Other than wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), how else has the experience changed for clients?
We’re still offering FaceTime consultations, and they have been really well received. People are asking for them. The mask changes your consultation. It’s just so different; it’s like creating a barrier. I find that the FaceTime consultations have been great if they haven’t been a long-term client, if they are a new client, or if they want something completely different. They can ask a lot of questions, one on one with you. It really personalizes it.
Clients aren’t using their hands the same way. Usually when someone grabs their hair, they love their length and don’t want you to cut it off, or when they touch their fringe or problem areas. Nobody is doing that anymore. It’s a very different way of meeting someone.
How has your team adjusted to the new protocols and having to wear the PPE?
It took some time to get used to. We’ve had our door open and the air conditioner on. Also, we noticed when wearing the masks that you forget to eat and drink. It’s really strange. We’ll remind each other to make sure everyone is hydrated.
For everything else, we’ve made it very “in your face” so you remember to do them.
Have you been surprised by anything since reopening?
No, but I think more recently some people are taking COVID a little less seriously. It’s weird how everybody was so cautious and self-aware in the beginning, and now we’ll have clients ask if they have to wear a mask, and we’re like, “Yes, nothing has changed.” We’re constantly reminding people of our protocols, so it’s important for us to be on top of meetings, check-ins, debriefs, et cetera.
The hardest transition has been getting our ordering back on track. We’re going through so much product! At first, we were doing smaller orders to make sure we had [a specific number] of colours, and then now we’re putting in huge orders. It’s like we’re a brand new salon. It’s like starting over again. It’s crazy!
What have you learned from this whole experience?
Because it’s a global issue, everybody is on the same playing field. [As a team], we’re all on the same page. We know we can’t leave anything out—we have to be actively cleaning for people to feel comfortable. These are all really important things, so even as clients are processing, we’re always cleaning. It makes everybody feel better. All of those little things, everybody is working together and there’s so much to do—there’s a lot of work. There’s always something to do and there’s always someone to help. Since everything is so timed and so structured, which I think is good. It’s not hard, it’s just different.
How do you think the pandemic will impact your business moving forward?
It’s definitely impacted me as a business owner, and the most important thing is that it will impact our business in ways of the personal touch—getting a feel for what people are comfortable with. For example, do you open a salon with individual rooms? And will clients want to pay a premium to have a personal room?
If COVID does come back [in the fall], what if we’re shut down again? How are we going to deal with that? It’s impacting my business for sure, but it’s about making sure you have a rent you can afford, making sure you’re only ordering what you need, and don’t have a ton of inventory. Those are some of the things I would change as a business owner, but it also comes down to having regular meetings, and maybe bringing in financial experts to meet with your staff and making sure they’re prepared.
I had a client who looked at me and said, “You made it!” We don’t hear about those salons that have lost out during this. There are people who haven’t come back out—how two months [of being closed] can ruin your business for years. We’re not all out of the woods yet, but I think about things like, how will reception look like now? Is there even a reception? Maybe all of this will go virtual. All of these businesses are realizing they can save money and get the same result, with people doing the same things at home.