Salon and Barbershop Owners and Stylists Struggle to Catch Their Breath as the COVID-19 Shutdown Continues

But what if it is a huge opportunity in disguise?

If you’re one of the 1.7 million Americans who own or are employed by a hair and nail care business, you may feel like you just lost everything. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, IbisWorld forecast that the industry would generate $64 billion and take in about $5.2 billion in revenue in 2020. Now that the economy is in an induced coma, those numbers seem like a cruel joke.

The coronavirus has left most small businesses struggling to breathe, and the salon and barber industry has been particularly hit hard. Used to being concerned with what their patrons look like, they are now uncertain about what their future business will look like. The practice of social distancing has in an instant distanced them from their primary source of income. Because the hair profession involves one-to-one contact this makes their jobs an impossibility. In a nutshell, hairstylists all over the country have been displaced, because if they’re not behind the chair they’re not making money.

Social distancing is in full effect, and beauty is not considered an essential service. But try telling that to the millions of social media posters lamenting the loss of their stylists. Many still have to attend video meetings with coworkers and clients whether their hair is ready for a closeup or not. And a lot of people, desperate for normalcy, are trying to do the job themselves—often with disastrous results.

All of this might be funny if it were just about egos, but it’s not. For many people, their connection with their stylist goes much deeper. They may have a relationship that goes back decades, and they depend on once-a-week visits for their personal well-being as much as their personal appearance. Hairstylists often deliver a side of therapy, friendship, social insight, gossip, and even product and entertainment recommendations along with their services. They listen when clients need to talk. They talk when clients need advice. And they bring people together in a unique setting that can’t be replicated by any other business.

If you are among this group of unsung heroes, you are probably trying to stay afloat piecing together your contingency plan for surviving COVID-19. Take heart. Your business may be in critical condition, but there is plenty you can do to triage your business, survive and come back stronger when the crisis is over.

Consulting

As the country self-isolates, there is a greater reliance on the internet, and early estimates show that usage has sky-rocketed by as much as 70%. Hair professionals shouldn’t overlook the opportunity to make their businesses more digitally consultative during this time. If you were a restaurant owner with signature plates, you might weather the pandemic by offering one-on-one video sessions with patrons during which you demonstrate how to prepare their favorite meals from your menu. It is no different for hair stylists. Women need guidance on how to properly cut, color, and style their own hair, and men who are now forced to use clippers to stay groomed need explicit information about which guards to use and how to keep their beards and mustaches looking tight.

Just because you aren’t standing behind a chair doesn’t mean your expertise isn’t needed, and there are hundreds of ways to share it online. This is an effective way to stay connected during the crisis. You can create tutorial videos in which you demonstrate how to braid or detangle hair and monetize them on your own website. If you have regular clients that always want the same style, you can offer them a live, step-by-step video sessions showing them how you do it. You can still make product and tool recommendations and even set up your own online beauty shop with a digital POS system such as PayPal, Square, Venmo or Zelle. This is actually a great time to sell customized packages of professional products that are personalized for your client’s needs. You can even tailor them to easy to maintain/low maintenance hairstyles that clients can do themselves. There are ways to maintain an income. It just takes some creativity to find them.

Restructure

You may feel a loss of structure both in your personal and professional life, but this is no time to give up. You must restructure your business model to survive. The world has changed, and EVERY business owner is having to pivot during this pandemic to stay afloat. Before you resign yourself to binge eating and watching Netflix all day, consider how you can repackage your services during this unprecedented time. You may have been looking at pricing changes. This is a time to reevaluate your pricing schedule. Just a slight increase on services can dramatically affect your bottom line.

And, what about focusing on product delivery? According to CBS, sales of Madison Reed’s at-home hair coloring kits have soared 750% in recent days, while demand for Color Wow’s root cover-up product is also through the roof. Many customers who color their hair regularly need the magic formula for their particular salon color because it can’t be bought off the shelf. You can mix the color for them and deliver it to their doorstep along with any other products they need to maintain their looks.

Find Your Niche

Having a niche is important for any business at any time, but right now it is more critical for survival than ever. You can begin to discover and redefine your niche by asking two questions: What service or product is your industry missing and what is the DNA of your business—the thing that makes it not just better, but unique? (Because unique is better than better.) Hopefully, your answers will intersect in a way that sparks a brainstorming session and leads you to a fresh idea that no one else is acting on.

For inspiration, look at some of the ways people are responding to social isolation. For instance, did you know that single men and women are dating via video chat with no intention of meeting up until this threat subsides? What if you offered professional hair and makeup consults to women to help get them camera-ready, so that first date becomes a second? Believe it or not, weddings are still happening, too, though they are now being limited by mandates that prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people. How will brides prepare without a day at the salon? What could you do to help without actually being there to do the work for her?

My point is, your skills are still needed. You are needed. You just have to be creative about how to safely meet that need. Having a niche is one way to do it.

Apply for an SBA Loan

There is no denying that even as you reinvent your business, you still have bills and other financial obligations. Just like we’re trying to mitigate the spread of the virus, you have to mitigate the loss of your revenue stream. You’re definitely not alone. In a single week, a record 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits due to the economic impact of coronavirus. If you are an independent contractor, you can file for unemployment as well. If you categorize yourself as self-employed or are a business owner, you can also apply for the COVID-19 disaster loan with the Small Business Administration. The available money may not come close to replacing your income, but it will help keep you afloat while you plot your new path.

Build Your Skills

Lots of business owners that have been in business for decades have hit a revenue ceiling and are struggling to scale up. This may be the perfect opportunity for them to distill their services down and stop being generalists. If this sounds like you, look at the services you offer, consider which ones generate the most revenue, and then hone in on how to improve the way you deliver those services.

This is also a great time to catch up on hair care trends that you haven’t kept up with and inventing some new styles of your own. This is no time to pull back! Other stylists out there are taking time to build their skills too, so think about offering online workshops to teach your peers specialty hairstyles and drive revenue at the same time.

Strengthen Your Brand Identity

One of the biggest losses we’ve all suffered is not being “out there” where customers can find us. It’s time to reposition yourself. Taking the time to build up your image and your online identity will pay off in the short and the long term. If you haven’t already, think about creating a media kit and hire a publicist that can get you featured in hair magazines or on local tv morning shows, and get your name out there. It’s no longer enough just to be considered good in your community you have to be recognized as being good through traditional earned media opportunities.

You can also spend more time updating your website and adding meaningful content that will drive traffic and get you noticed. For instance, you could host a weekly show during which you host a Q&A or share haircare advice. You could write and share articles based on what you know and share them through your social platforms. You could reach out to clients (especially your virtual consulting clients) for testimonials to build up your reputation. And through all of it, remember to project the attitude that all will be well because this will end at some point and you need to be ahead of the curve when that shift starts to happen so that your business bounces back as quickly as possible.  

Help the Community

We are fighting a virus that has infected celebrities, athletes, and even members of the royal family. But it is the everyday, working-class citizens that have the most to lose. Some had so little to start with that they have been completely devastated by the impact of COVID-19, forced farther into poverty and sidelined by society. It’s time we all consider how can we help one another through the crisis.

While it’s normal to become consumed by our own problems, it is also good for the soul to turn outward and see how you can help someone else. When we put out good energy, it comes back to us. We all need a little more grace right now, so why not focus on extending yours to those who need it most by giving to a food pantry, shopping for someone who is high-risk, or simply checking in on your long-time customers to let them know you are thinking of them? When the crisis subsides—and it will—those customers will remember your kindness, and they will be more loyal to you than ever before.

Emotional Strength 

When every corner of your mind is filled with fear and uncertainty, there is no room left for faith. Don’t let the coronavirus infect your mind like that. Now is the time to focus on creating more discipline, solidifying your work ethic, and getting centered through prayer, meditation, or even exercise. You have to believe there are unlimited possibilities or you will shut down. I’ve heard it said that opportunity doesn’t knock. It just stands at your door, waiting for you to recognize it. So, leave the door open and be on the lookout. You become what you overcome. That’s true of a virus like COVID-19 and true of life in general. Your hair care business may be on life support but it’s not dead, so stop mourning its loss and get busy making it stronger.  Good health and good luck!

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