It’s been three months since hair salons started to reopen across Canada after the COVID-19 shutdown. While things have slowly begun to return to a sense of normalcy, it’s still as important as ever to make sure you’re keeping yourself and your team as safe as possible.
Since Manitoba was the first province in Canada to allow hair salons to reopen (on May 4th), we chatted with Roberto Sinopoli, owner of Verde Salon in Winnipeg to hear how his team has persevered through the pandemic.
What did you think when you first learned that Manitoba would be the first province to allow salons to reopen?
Manitoba had a pretty short notice—it was a five-day notice. I think for a lot of salon owners it came as a surprise. For me, I have a really great team so two weeks after the pandemic started and we were shut down, we jumped into action to start our reopening plan. When they announced [that salons could reopen] we were ready.
Manitoba’s guidelines were surprisingly loose, so we stepped them up in our salon. We supplied our staff with face masks and have one person on staff who is responsible for cleaning and sterilizing all day. We removed a station to create more social distancing and we have guests wait in their cars—it’s all pretty standard. As a salon owner, it’s important that I’m communicating that my top priority is my team’s safety and guests’ safety.
What was it like for your team when the salon reopened?
The experience looks very different for guests and staff, but the response has been amazing. We saw a record-month in our first month back.
Our COVID plan rolled out really well. Our stylists were really eager to come back to work and to be with people again. The changes we had to make were necessary and our team really owned it. We extended the hours in the salon so our team would work the same number of hours as before—but not more than eight hours. We wanted to take more of a conservative route while getting more guests in the door, but not pushing it. The last thing our stylists need, on top of the stress of returning to work during COVID, was to get burnt out.
Once your salon reopened, were you surprised by anything? Was there anything that you weren’t expecting or didn’t plan for?
It’s been interesting to see people’s different perspectives on COVID. Some guests don’t think twice about it; in their minds COVID is done, while others are hyper-sensitive to the situation right now. To navigate that, it’s important to meet everybody’s needs and make sure all guests feel comfortable regardless of their standpoint on COVID.
Since reopening, have you or your team has any experience with “difficult” clients and how have you handled that?
I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about guests that have given salon owners a hard time about having to wear protective equipment or not being diligent enough. We’ve been fortunate that our guests have been great about it. I think they see the efforts that we’ve put forward going into this and I think they respect what we’ve done. I think we’ve had a great relationship with our guests beforehand as far as delivering a good experience. What we did have a bit of pushback on was our sanitation charge that we implemented. It’s a fair concern that people may think some businesses may be trying to take advantage of consumers right now, and “mask” additional charges under COVID. Our sanitation fee is $3.50 and we explain what that charge covers so I think most people can appreciate it.
What have been some of the changes to your business that you’ve noticed as a result of COVID?
Our consultations have shortened a bit because we’re doing more consultations over the phone. Our frontline team has a list of questions to ask that will help lead us in the right direction, and give the stylists more of an idea of the type of appointment.
What really changed is that we’re doing almost all of our pre-booking in the chair—through our software system on a tablet. We’ve seen our prebooking go up significantly—it’s at least doubled, if not more. A majority of our retail is being done in the chair. There’s a lot more conversation and education happening in the chair, which allows the guest to have more time and to feel comfortable asking questions. We didn’t see an increase or decrease in retail, which is interesting because we pulled all of our products off the shelves so people wouldn’t be touching stuff or lingering around. I thought our retail would drop by at least half, but it’s at par, which I’m happy about.
The conversations between stylists and guests are even more relevant now. I think that hairstylists are a great outlet for people for mental support and wellbeing. There’s a lot of great stories coming out of COVID on how people have persevered through it, but there have also been some really hard stories from people who have gone through some dark times. A lot of times we will sit down as a team after work, and some people will have a cry over what they heard. It’s an eyeopener to what’s happening to some people during this time and hairstylists are the people they’re going to tell. I feel for the stylists that have to bear that, but on the flipside it’s also great to be part of that healing process for our guests.
You just have to be supportive to everybody. It’s more important than ever to take your staff’s temperature about COVID. Know where they’re at and how they’re feeling. They are hearing a lot of stories right now and are going through it themselves, and those stories can bring up their own personal feelings. So there’s been a lot of conversations, a lot of support and a lot of fun now that we’re back.
How do you think COVID will impact your business and the industry?
I think it’s going to affect us in a lot of ways, but financially I really do believe the industry is going to stabilize in terms of revenue-generation. I think what COVID has changed is a lot of our processes that will stick afterwards, especially the sanitation and cleaning processes. We look at it as overkill right now because of how loose it was before—not that we weren’t doing a good job before, but not to this degree by any means. Even when this is done, you have to take a step back and ask yourself why would you change it? Guests are safe and staff are safe. A lot of cleaning processes will stick.
I foresee it only getting better as more restrictions begin to be lifted. If people can take advantage of what we have to work with now; our pre-booking numbers have doubled, our retail has been on par and all of that has been happening in the chair.
With the chance of a second wave of COVID in the fall, what are your thoughts on that? Is there anything you would do differently?
It depends on what a second wave looks like. If businesses have to shut down again, we’ve gone through it once already so we’ll figure it out again—even though I hope that’s not going to be the case. As far as a second wave is concerned and being hyper-sensitive, we feel pretty confident in our practices.
In Manitoba and in Winnipeg, we’ve had few to no cases. People have been really cautious and responsible, so if a second wave does hit, I think we’ll be in good shape to weather it.
I think people are going to be a lot more prepared to deal with whatever comes. They might not have all of the answers, but we’ll be in a mindset to take on a lot more challenges than we were used to in the past.