From a Distance: Lessons Since Reopening
In the months since reopening, what have ISBN member salons, spas and barber businesses learned in the course of going socially distant and adapting required protocols? What opportunities surfaced? Where have leaders found efficiencies or improvements? How did members accelerate digital and e-commerce initiatives? ISBN members recently shared insights.
2020 has been such a rough year, for people in general and for business, says Emily Brown, COO of V’s Barbershops with about 50 franchise locations throughout the country. “At the end of the day, a lot of what we are all doing is to just get through, just survive.”
“The most important thing was focusing on the impact to the people in our organization first, who we care about very much,” adds Sport Clips CEO and President Edward Logan. “The next most important thing was facing the brutal facts. It was important to learn and act quickly.”
Here are some of the key lessons Brown, Logan and other ISBN members shared:
Lesson # 1: To survive, elevate and work to unify. “We don’t know what the percentage will be, some say as high as 30 percent, but it has become very apparent that over the next 12 months or so, many more doors in the professional beauty and barbering market will close,” Brown speculates.
“As much as I hate watching that happen, there are also some positives for our industry,” she notes. “Coming out of the shutdown, we found so many barbers who had been working on a 1099 all of a sudden woke up to the reality that they need to start following the rules. More barbers are looking for stability, and that comes in the form of gainful employment for a stable organization.” So, V’s Barbershops franchisees suddenly face an unexpectedly high availability of staff.
Brown attributes this “good problem to have” of attracting new barbers and patrons to the fact that V’s has been successful in amplifying what were already core strengths: a “licensed, clean and pristine” environment and caring culture. With more mindset shifts and shared experiences in challenging times, Brown hopes, “Maybe we can unify as an industry a bit more.”
Lesson #2: Time to take a risk, try something new. For many ISBN members, “not wasting a good crisis” translated to diving into new technologies they had been hesitant to try before, or only became a need during the crisis:
- “We turned on prepay in many of our V’s Barbershop stores,” Brown says.
- “We were able to roll out an enhanced guest booking experience while on an appointment-only basis due to regulations,” reports Nick Stenson, Ulta Beauty Sr. VP, Services & Trend. “We coached our teams to encourage guests to book online or through our app, saving much-needed onsite time with guests.”
- Online and app booked appointments also surged at PENZONE Salon + Spa in Columbus, Ohio, says President and CEO Debra Penzone. “There were over 2,000 online appointments in a single day when we resumed online. By September 1, we launched shoppenzone.com – an e-commerce store that offers our entire assortment of products that can be shipped or picked up at any of our salon and spa locations.”
- “We found better ways to provide a convenient, top-notch digital experience to Sport Clips clients, and advanced our ability to train and communicate virtually,” adds Logan.
- Great Clips launched Ready Next, a system that communicates to the customer when the salon is ready for them to enter, says Rhoda Olsen, Vice Chair, Board of Directors.
Lesson #3: Adjust (and readjust) schedules, processes: “We initially went above and beyond in expanding hours to accommodate artists and guest schedules while being socially distant,” says Penzone. “Once we were comfortably working, we evaluated overall hours and adjusted them to be more operationally efficient, improve utilization and meet guest demand, keeping the new 7 a.m. early bird time during the week. Guests love it!”
Penzone says they also revamped processes to align with new protocols. “We removed self -check-in kiosks to reduce surface area touching. Temperature checks are required in Ohio so an extra layer of guest service, plus welcome experience made sense.”
Lesson #4: Standardize where you can, pivot when you must: “We took a holistic approach for health and safety protocols, meaning we took the most consistent regulations across all 50 states and applied them to our entire Ulta Beauty organization,” says Stenson. “However, we learned early on that some states or counties took a more stringent approach (for example certain counties in Florida or California allowing only 25% capacity versus the more common 50% capacity), so we had to create and act on a state-specific process for anything outside our standard protocols.” The team also had to adjust guest health screening questions several times due to state and CDC updates.
Finding and distributing the right balance and quantity of health and safety supplies (gloves, face coverings and other PPE) was a challenge almost all salons faced, multiplied for larger groups like Ulta Beauty.
“It took some refining to get right,” Stenson say. ”Sending too much to one market early on would have limited our ability to expand into more markets during the reopen process, but not sending enough put stores at risk of having to stop services. That was challenging.”
Lesson #5: Never again underestimate the power of touch or the ability to multi-book. We have to reevaluate our vulnerabilities and not take our strengths for granted, observes ISBN President Scott Missad. “We are the highest of touch industries that all of sudden was barely allowed to touch,” says Missad, Chairman of Gene Juarez Salons and Spas in Seattle.
“In my experience, most salons leveraged their very existence on building a great team of hairdressers who excel at managing all the touchpoints, juggling multiple clients professionally at once, delivering incredible person-to-person interaction throughout the salon experience. Now it’s like these incredibly gifted hairdressers who do all those things so well have to keep performing, but with one hand tied behind their back.”
The biggest lesson the industry learned–at least companies like ours, Missad says,–is how dependent we’d become on developing highly skilled hairdressers who are able to deliver exceptional service doing multiple clients at once. “Now that they can’t do that, we realized we didn’t have a backup plan other than pushing for even more efficient, quicker services,” Missad says. “That’s where 90% of our energy has gone,” wrestling with that challenge.
“If a stylist was typically double-booked, we can’t just double prices to replace revenue,” he says, adding that nobody wants to be at the salon 12 hours a day anymore. “Our big next step industry-wide is figuring out how we handle that problem. Do we actually end up with some people charging $700 for a balayage service? Probably not. But it’s going to be awhile before we know what evolves.” As challenging as the situation still is, Missad is excited about what creative solutions could emerge out of it.
Lesson #6: Keep going. “One silver lining of the stress test we all faced and are still working through is that it helps you improve yourself and your organization,” concludes Logan.“While we expect the recovery to be gradual, we also see a lot of opportunity in the future,” all accelerated by the steps taken now, like advancing digital capabilities and improving communication. “At Sport Clips and throughout ISBN, we have seen amazing people reaching out, connecting and supporting each other, and that is really what keeps us focused and optimistic.”