ISBN Vice President Debra Penzone and the PENZONE team know what it’s like to navigate change. Two years ago, they reinvented their high-end salon, spa and barber business of 50 years with its six diverse, Columbus, Ohio locations into an innovative brand with a bold identity, culture and experience.
Along with new energy and a future focus, the transformation earned the PENZONE team SALON TODAY Salon of the Year design honors, both for the grand prize-winning Dublin location in 2019 and as a Salon of Distinction for the Polaris location in 2020 (see salontoday.com).
“Our team is in the best possible mindset to adjust” Penzone says, referring to the COVID-19 closure and reopening phases. “We had just turned everything in our brand upside down, with success. They are now able to see and trust that, okay, we’ve got to keep changing, even after the reopen.”
The Polaris group are especially primed to manage a new flow. “I’m so confident in our team because they have already been through a lot,” Penzone says. “We gut-rehabbed a building that had been their home for 17 years and they had to spend 14 weeks working in a temporary makeshift situation.”
“It’s the ultimate compliment to be in Salons of the Year for the second time in a row,” agrees Jena Huffman, PENZONE director of marketing and communications. “It validates that we are still evolving and able to propel the brand.”
Staying connected: Central to the PENZONE vision is amplifying the opportunity for guests and team members to gather and connect. Communal spaces and engagement are at the very heart of the physical locations and the reimagined PENZONE philosophy.
While the salons will likely need to push pause on some uses of space, Penzone believes the demand to gather in groups won’t be gone forever. The forced separation may strengthen the need for social and human connection even more.
“We are such people-people,” she says. “We won’t take it for granted that we can hug someone again or just see them in person. A silver lining will be the true community, stronger relationships and support we have shown each other. We have tweaked some processes in the salon for now, either mandated or as best practices, but as we move forward, we intend to create an even better future because of what we have learned.”
Sharing that future is a core value for Penzone, who was chosen to chair the Personal Service Advisory Group for Ohio, a working group with representatives from all types and sizes of salons, spas, nail care businesses and barbers who collaborated to make recommendations to Governor Mike DeWine on how reopening safely in Ohio should look. Ohio salons were given the green light to reopen with protocols in place on May 15. PENZONE opened on May 17, after two days of extra prep with team to get ready.
“I was impressed with how this group came together to work as one industry, not leaving anyone behind,” Penzone says. “It has also been enlightening to have ISBN as a resource. We can see what is happening across all states and get different insights, including those from larger groups and members with franchisees, to see how they organize and take action.”
“We’ve been on many calls with other salons across the country to just ask questions and share ideas,” adds Huffman. “It has been great to have that open conversation and dialogue.”
Engage and learn: “While we weren’t able to be together physically for two months,” Huffman says, “we really leaned on our team to engage and help us. They stepped up to create content for social channels and email, artists sharing makeup techniques, hair styling hacks to hide roots, easy self-massage for stress relief, and more. We’ve even held Zoom events for consumers that our team members have led, with quick tips and tricks like quarantine skin care routines and guests submitting questions.”
Our virtual community has just exploded, Penzone adds, both with consumers and within the salon group. “This will be a huge opportunity in the future to continue to get to know each other. We really have had to connect on a much deeper level, sometimes seeing inside each other’s homes, meeting pets, maybe a child pops up onto a lap or into the screen. We really see each other, and that can be a good thing.”
PENZONE also used Zoom to launch “Safety 1,” its first sanitation and reopening training session, to the team, and added a “Safety 2” segment for all associates to complete prior to the final prep before guests returned.
“It has been and will continue to be so important to proactively prepare and to get feedback every step of the way,” she says. “We really need to hear from the front lines and go through all of the things we will do to welcome guests back into PENZONE locations as safely and comfortably as possible.”
And the PENZONE brand has been a visible part of that welcome back experience.
“We have our own branded PENZONE face coverings, masks,” Penzone explains. All the preliminary designs are customized with the PENZONE logo and some with positive, smile-inducing statements that match the PENZONE spirit and vibe. One design reads, appropriately, PENZONE STRONG.
“Our team knows we are serious about their health and safety,” Penzone concludes. Little things like this build excitement and show we are still investing in them and maintaining our PENZONE brand in all the details.