Services like hairdressers will not be open in Auckland until Step 3. And businesses don’t know when that will be.
Auckland hair and beauty services are feeling left out by the Government’s latest “roadmap” to easing restrictions, as they try to read the tea leaves to prepare for reopening.
Headstart Total Body salon owner Simone Jones, who is also a board member of industry association Hair and Barber NZ, said there had been a spike in sales of salon equipment, basins and tools on hairdresser social media groups as uncertainty left them reeling. According to Hair and Barber NZ, there were about 6000 hair salons in Auckland.
“We are an industry of people’s people and on top of the financial stress of not knowing when we will open up, not having that contact with people has been really hard for salon owners and workers,” Jones said.
“There is a huge amount of anxiety in the industry.”
The recently announced three step system for Auckland within Level 3 had confused many businesses, she said.
“Pools and gyms can open in step two but hairdressers, who can socially distance and we work with one client at a time, can’t. There needs to be some sort of logic behind these rules.”
“We’re sort of the forgotten industry. All traders have gone back to work except for hairdressers,” Jones said.
She said her business had taken many precautions to reopen. All of Headstart Total Body’s eight staff were vaccinated, and Jones had a layout enabling stylists to socially distance. She also had a plan for staff to work shifts within bubbles.
“We made masks mandatory when we came out of the last lockdown even though this wasn’t a government requirement then. We sanitise our stations and use new capes and towels for each customer. I drove past a construction site and all the builders are out there talking to each other.”
Barbers and hairdressers cannot open until step three; however, there was no timeframe as to when this would be. The Prime Minister said every phase in the three step framework would be reviewed on a weekly basis.
After several weeks of zero revenue, many salons have been able to claw back some cash by selling products via contactless pickup and delivery while in Level 3. But these sales were only a fraction of a regular day’s revenue, Jones said.
“Today we sold $200 worth of product, but that doesn’t make up for the lost revenue. Most salon owners have very small margins. We don’t make a lot of extra money. Our weekly bills are paid by stylists doing work, so there’s no money left over.”
She also had thousands of dollars worth of stock to sell dating as far back as May that she had ordered for Mother’s Day promotions.
While she was trying to sell those products, she had another shipment of Christmas stock due.
In previous lockdowns, Jones’ salon took forward bookings, but without a timeframe for opening, most salons were not taking bookings.
Managing appointments was also a difficult task without certainty, as customers typically made bookings throughout the year, and the weeks leading up to Christmas were especially busy.
Auckland nail technician Mardi Smith has been running her salon from her home for nearly 30 years, and has grown a strong, loyal client base.
During lockdown, Smith has been selling nail manicure removal kits and filming tutorials for customers.
“I’m really fortunate because I don’t have the overheads that a lot of salons have, because I’m in a home-based setting. But until Level 3 I’ve had no income coming in.”
And since the first lockdown last year, she has not been able to recover the 20 percent loss in her clientele.
“Once you get your nails done you’re kind of tied into it because it takes six to 10 weeks to grow out so people usually get their nails redone after a few weeks. But in lockdown many people had no choice and might have decided they didn’t want to get their nails done again.”
Most of Smith’s customers were older and they preferred going to her rather than doing their nails themselves.
“To be honest a lot of our clients, and this goes for everybody in the industry, are very loyal. I’ve had lots of people reach out and say, ‘Look, I’m happy to pay in advance, just to keep you going’ and all that kind of stuff. But the short part of that stick is when you go back to work, and a lot of your clients have paid up then you haven’t got the income coming in.”
Jones, too, said many customers had offered to make payments in advance or pay for cancelled appointments with no strings attached, to help with cashflow.
“We’ve declined all of those at the moment, but if we’re in this for too much longer, I certainly would think about accepting it and I know a lot of salon owners would too.”
“Businesses really need simplicity and certainty. If we can get those two things we can build around everything else and adapt.”
– David Mullen, Dry & Tea
She said for the time being, the best way customers could help was to buy hair products from their salons rather than big box retailers.
Dry & Tea owner David Mullen said having salons across New Zealand and Australia gave the salon business “a bit of a heads up” in terms of preparing for the easing of restrictions.
“I’ve been watching press conferences daily in three cities, trying to work out what they will announce.
“Sometimes it just gives you a heads up on what is actually happening. The trend that’s emerging in Melbourne right now, there’s a fair chance we’re going to start seeing some of these things in Auckland.”
Coming out of lockdown last year, Dry & Tea salons went gangbusters. Mullen said demand was “absolutely huge” as people splurged on treatments.
But the lack of time frames this time made it difficult to plan ahead.
“Businesses really need simplicity and certainty. If we can get those two things we can build around everything else and adapt. There is no indication at the moment about where phase three may be.”
Mullen also said this year it had been harder to negotiate contracts with suppliers and landlords.
“Last year there was a sense of community, everyone knew we’re all in this together … that we’re all going to share a little bit of pain. This year some negotiations are harder. You can’t keep coming back to the well.”