As I write, we are on the eve of re-opening post-lockdown 3.0. We’ve restocked, resanitised and rebooted the once buzzy salon.
The tumbleweed that has been blowing through our eerily empty, souless space has been chased out of the door like an unwelcome visitor. How strange that somewhere that has always had such feel-good vibes has felt so devoid of its positive energy lately. If we ever doubted whether buildings have souls, I think Covid has taught us that the vibes are firmly within the bricks and mortar but they come from the inhabitants alone.
We’ve all got a busy and crucial month coming. Hopefully, like us, you’ll be booked solid for the first six weeks as we reopen the personal care and retail sectors and emerge, bewildered but hopefully still smiling, from this nightmare. Like me, you’ll be juggling people and their neuroses – whether staff or clients. Some will want their lives to come back to full pace with a bang but others will be very Covid-19-anxious (jab or no jab) and need lots of time, TLC and patience to feel secure.
Coronavirus has affected us all in so many ways, and dealing with it as a proprietor and employer is not easy. Just because you’re the boss it doesn’t mean you’re invincible or immune to the emotional pressure this pandemic has caused.
Maybe people assume you’re so strong, so solid, that you are still there to be the nurturer, and voice of reason and positivity. The reality is that many people in senior positions have been struggling with their own particular Covid-19-related mental health issues too.
Feeling the pressure
Having people reporting to you and being the person the buck stops with is a pressure in itself. Who knows what anyone is going through underneath or whether they are coping? Maybe clients and staff don’t think to ask and so don’t get to hear about it. Even bosses can feel wobbly, and anyone who has a good, reliable one should never assume they haven’t had their own demons to face.
Many salons have not survived this pandemic thus far and the sad fact is that many more will fail. When you sell time for a living, the one thing you cannot do is magic more hours into the working day. The huge debts salon owners have incurred during the periods of enforced closure have cost many people not just their livelihoods but their savings too. The cost of furloughing in a labour-intensive industry like ours should not be underestimated. And it’s been borne from zero income. We may be packed to the rafters for at least a month after we reopen, but however many pounds go into the till, it can never compensate for what has been lost.
We are dealing with the hair and beauty needs of our customers as they stand now. We can’t go back and do the facial they would have had in January, the manicure they would have had in February and the haircut they would have had in March. It’s gone. Forever. And of course, we are yet to discover how lifestyle changes and working from home will impact traditional high-street salons in the long term. A swathe of empty shop units surrounding us certainly won’t help the situation.
A unique industry
Once the Government starts to fully appreciate that we cannot digitalise what we do, we might start being taken seriously. Retailers can sell online, we can’t. Onlineonly retailers don’t even have the expense of premises, with their rent and rates and taxation. Restaurants can do takeaway but we can’t. Yet, we bear the same costs with little of the support that other sectors have enjoyed. Being ignored as we have been will result in a rethink of our industry business model. There is a real possibility we will end up being glorified landlords, with a salon hub and chair/room rentals being the only way to make the numbers work.
This is what I am personally feeding back to the Government in the BEIS meetings I attend, both with my Save Our Salons hat on and as a spokesperson for those who are actually working at the coalface employing people in our sector– a sector that I have loved since I was sweeping the floor and washing hair as a teenager.
If we don’t get fairer taxation, there will be little incentive to keep staff PAYE and to employ apprentices. If we become, in effect, sub-landlords, then where will that leave our globally renowned industry in the long term?
We need to be listened to and I will not give up the fight. As long as I can rattle the cage, trust me I will –I don’t attend these things to win a popularity contest, I attend them because someone needs to hear it from the horse’s mouth; from the front line. Can you think of a better nag? My family would all say not! In the meantime, it’s time to get those doors open…
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and a beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF).