Close your eyes… Wait! Don’t. If you do, you won’t be able to carry on reading.
Fast forward a few weeks and imagine the scene: It’s July 4. After weeks of attempting to manage your fringe with a pair of blunt scissors, the day has finally come – you’re going to the hairdresser.
Your hairdressing salon reopened alongside other Step Three businesses following the socially distancing guidelines spelt out in ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’, which is the government road map to get us out of lockdown.
What is it going to be like there? Will it be precisely like as it was before Coronavirus? Not quite.
Here’s how it’s likely going to be.
Giorgia Rossi from the beauty booking app Treatwell has collaborated with salons as they have reopened in countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Lithuania during the last few weeks.
The first thing you need to realise is that you could be checking in at the salon at an unexpected hour. ‘We saw associates in Paris open the salon at 5 am,’ she says. ‘The earlier opening times meant that bookings could be spread through the day, leaving more room between visits to sanitise workspaces.’
‘Clients [around the world] are being careful about requiring social distance too,’ says Rossi. ‘Before, more than 60 per cent of treatments were booked at lunchtime and the end of the day. Now people are booking 11 am appointments.’
The second thing to note is that you definitely will have to book beforehand. Walk-ins have been banned in the Netherlands and France.
It implies that you’ll no longer be able to queue for barber services, manicures and fringe trims. ‘Nail bars and barbers had to embrace a new way of doing business,’ she says.
Salons are also rethinking their layouts to make it more difficult for clients and staff to get into contact with each other’s germs, she adds.
Could a lobby be converted into another workspace? How do you stagger appointments so that they don’t have two blow dries one next to the other? Leaving the door open, will fewer people touch it?
President of the British Hair Fellowship, Ken Picton, says that as well as fulfilling social distancing procedures, hairdressers are stockpiling PPE at levels that are far beyond government plans. ‘Responsible salons will take it into their own hands if they see guidelines as not good enough,’ he says. ‘We were doing hand sanitiser, cleaning everything down between clients and using disposable towels even before lockdown. I know salons where they’re not just thinking to wear PPE but perspex face protection.’ It won’t just be hairdressers and therapists who are kitted out, either. In France, clients are required to wear face masks, gowns and gloves.
It all sounds a lot more dystopian than the relaxing atmosphere in the salon that we had before. Rossi says Treatwell is starting to make pre-haircut videos in Lithuania for that reason, to best prepare for the adjustments. ‘We ‘re sharing videos about what [at the salon] looks like arriving,’ she says. ‘With instructions such as putting your phone in a plastic bag and wearing no jewellery.’
She adds that the connection between hairdresser and client is changing too. ‘There’ll be less physical contact,’ she says. ‘There’ll be no hugs.’ In Germany, hairdressers must talk to clients via the mirror and most salons are considering having consultations via video call. Alexandra Brownsell, the co-founder of London salon Bleach, says that throughout lockdown, the salon has been offering online meetings and ‘hair parties’ where they guide clients in doing their hair at home. She thinks that this won’t stop once the salon reopens its doors: ‘What we’d like to do is still have our stylists available to have one on one consultations online. We might end up creating an area in the salon to make those videos.’
It seems likely that many salons will have staffing changes.
Karine Jackson, who runs a self-titled west London salon, says she plans to open from 7 am to 1 pm and from 1.30 pm to 10 pm, with each shift staffed by a different team that never come into contact with each other.
That is something Picton says will be in place at many salons: so that if one staff member comes into contact with the virus, only part of the team will need to self-isolate. Jackson says that all clients will also have the same member of staff wash, cut, colour and blow-dry their hair. She adds that more costs from installing these measures (and increased PPE) will mean that hair cuts will get more expensive. Treatwell reports seeing a 5-10 per cent increase in prices worldwide.
While Jackson says she has ‘already sorted her client list for when they get the green light to reopen under social-distancing measures’. Brownsell says that Londoners shouldn’t assume every salon to reopen as soon as they get the go-ahead from the government.
She doesn’t intend to reopen Bleach while social distancing is still in place. ‘I wouldn’t be comfortable with some’ attempts at social distancing. It’s difficult to know what’s safe or not safe, and I don’t want to put staff at risk.’ Picton adds that ‘it won’t be a flick of a switch’ after that all salons are open. He says: ‘The fact is to turn a salon around is complex with booking systems, and I don’t believe there’ll be mass confidence [from the public about getting a hair cut in the new normal].’
That loss of confidence, plus reduced income from salons being forced to attend fewer clients anticipate that the industry’s going to be on shaky legs going forwards. Picton suggests that once the furlough ends, many hairdressers might lose their jobs and we could see a rise in freelance hairdressing. He even suggests that there’s the chance that some salons might not reopen. ‘London is a worry from an industry point of view,’ he says. ‘I know some people are thinking: I’m better off going bust now than holding it when you are not able to afford it anyway. My business, for instance, needs to be running at 80 per cent capacity to break even.’ Rossi restates that point. ‘The greatest concern is that some won’t be able to reopen their doors on July 4 and a number could go out of business before September.’