Once considered to be the epicentre of COVID-19 in Canada, Quebec began reopening hair salons in June.
In Montreal, salons were allowed to reopen as of June 15. Among them was Monokrome Salon, which began with a soft opening to make sure their team was comfortable with all of the new changes.
We caught up with the salon’s co-owners, Marek Whitechurch and Katia Jananji, to find out more about their pandemic experience.
Tell us about how your salon has been impacted by the new safety regulations.
Marek Whitechurch: Our salon used to have five chairs with five hairdressers and we would work to try to get in as many clients as we could. But now with the social distancing, we’re down to three chairs with five staff. We’ve had to open our salon for an extra day and work longer hours with less money coming in, while trying to accommodate all of our staff so everybody gets some hours for their clients.
Because of the social distancing, the salon is a lot more open, so it looks more empty and colder. Also, we’ve taken out our waiting area.
How have you adjusted your bookings to make sure you have enough time to adhere to the new regulations while still accommodating as many clients as you can?
MW: It’s very structured. We work in shifts, so Katia and I work two longer days—9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.— and the rest of our staff are on shorter shifts. We’re booking an hour and 15 minutes for a women’s cut and 45 minutes for a guy, just to give our team enough time to get everything done and cleaned up. It’s a good transition and has been working really well. Everybody is looking after their own station. People are always wiping things down so everything is clean. We all make sure that, as a team, things are clean. It’s a good thing, especially in the backwash area where [before COVID] there would be bowls or brushes, but now they have to be washed and put away. There are no dishes left in the sinks or cups around the salon. In a way, it’s made us more efficient.
Katia Jananji: Hairdressers are already used to disinfecting their tools and cleaning their stations after clients. It’s not something really new, it’s just more now.
How have these changes impacted your service?
MW: We always had a good amount of time to work on clients. We weren’t the type of people to say, ‘You have to do things in 30 minutes.’ We always gave our staff the opportunity to know how much time they have to work on a client, but not be so worried about time. But now we’re shifting away from that. When a stylist finishes their shift, and another hairdresser is coming in with their client, they need to be ready. Everyone has to be a bit more weary of the time, even more so now, so the next client doesn’t feel like they are being left behind. They have to use their time very strategically so they finish on time.
How have these changes affected your client’s experience?
KJ: We’ve always been focused on service—that was our main goal; for the clients to feel at home. We used to have a big waiting area with books and coffee. People would just come in to chill. I find it sad that we’ve had to cut down a lot of our services that make people feel welcome. When people come in now, I’m wearing a mask, and [telling people] to sanitize their hands, et cetera. But keeping everybody safe is our main goal—for us, the staff and our clients.
We’re hoping there’s not a second wave. If a second wave comes and it’s not as bad, I think things will come back to normal, and service will come back. Right now, we’re focusing on giving a good service while making sure everybody is safe.
Some salons were asking clients to arrive with clean, dry hair, and were not offering shampoos when they first reopened. Tell us about your salon’s approach.
MW: Because of COVID-19, we felt that it was important to wash the hair because you want everything to be clean. When you’re washing their hair, you’re also washing your hands, so everything is clean and sterile. If you’re doing it yourself, you know you’re doing it well. But sometimes if a client washes their hair, it might still be greasy, so when you try to cut it, it doesn’t work out quite as well.
Using blow-dryers has been another “heated” debate. What was your take on that?
MW: When you’re blow-drying, hair is clean since it’s already been washed. I don’t see the problem with blow-drying. Plus, we have air conditioning and we’re on the ground floor, so we have an open door to the street and we have a window open.
What are some tips you may have for enhancing the experience for guests?
MW: We already feel so bad that we can’t offer them [beverages] or the at-home vibe that we’re used to having. We try to do as much as we can within the service to make them feel comfortable. I don’t want them to feel rushed, even though everything is strategically planned. I think we still have to give our love and support to our friends and clients, because that’s what we’ve always done.
KJ: For me, I’m focusing on head massages. Every time we shampoo, we focus on giving a bit of a longer massage.
MW: So they can relax and [let go of] their anxiety. They still feel pampered and not like they’re [being rushed] in and out of the salon.
What are some of the ways you’re helping your team avoid feeling overworked or burnt out?
KJ: Hours are cut down and now they have lunch breaks—which is new for hairstylists—since wearing all of the equipment is new, so having breaks is important. While a client’s colour is processing, they can go outside or to the breakroom, with more time to breathe, relax, eat, et cetera.
MW: Wearing a mask all day long for six to 10 hours a day, it’s important mentally to have a little 20-minute break to go outside and get some fresh air, and just breathe.
What are some of the things that have surprised you about this entire experience?
MW: How much we have to trust our clients to tell us the truth [about their health], and how important it is to ask them the right questions—about if they have symptoms, if they’ve travelled, et cetera.
KJ: When we first opened the salon, we started small and wanted to grow. But now that [the COVID-19 pandemic] happened, I’m kind of glad we’re not a big salon with 30 chairs. I think having a small shop with a strong team is the way to go now, especially with this situation, because I’ve heard some salon owners are freaking out because they’re losing staff or losing a lot more money, so it seems to be very hard on them.
What has the feedback been like from guests?
MW: As soon as they’re in [our chairs], we start talking and it’s more like business as usual. We’re talking to them about COVID—how it’s affected them and how it’s affected us. It’s interesting because everybody’s got a story—whether they knew someone who’s had COVID, lost jobs, et cetera—and it’s quite nice to go back and hear it, and not feel so alone in this situation.
People are excited to be back and see us, and get their colour fixed and hair cut. They feel more confident.
As business owners, clients are telling Katia and me how happy they are to see us still in business. They were worried about us and thought about us, which is nice to hear. You don’t think of that. You think that clients just come in for the service, but after 10 to 15 years of doing their hair, you become friends and they want you to do well. The elbow bump has been different—there’s no more kissing, hugging or shaking hands or high-fives. We’re all waiting to be able to cut hair with a smile on our face again—without a mask on.