OPINION: For those in the hairstyling and beauty industry in New Zealand, Covid-19 has caused all kinds of headaches and heartache, with many salons, especially in Auckland, closing for good.
As the owner of Sable Fine Hair in Wellington’s CBD, our business has not been in the same situation as those in Auckland and Waikato, but like most other businesses over the past 20 months, we We have also been faced with the difficult challenges of living and running a business in a world of Covid.
The biggest hurdles we face in the salon are juggling changing clients’ reservations after being stranded, clients canceling due to short-term discomfort, lack of appointments, and cash flow issues.
Typically, we’ve had a big increase in bookings after each lockdown, followed by a lull. CBD has generally been quieter, meaning we’ve had fewer appointments and a number of salon clients haven’t returned after closings. It could be due to their personal budget, or maybe they are now working from home and choosing to use a local salon instead.
However, Sable’s online store has been our saving grace since Covid-19 reached our shores. Our online sales have increased since the first confinement, and it is a diversification that has made it possible to balance the reduced number of salon customers. But it has also given us a real point of difference in the highly competitive hair and beauty industry.
Salons, spas, massage studios and wellness clinics all around Aotearoa are making tough decisions about what their future looks like. If you want to stay in the game or venture out and create your own living room, here are some tips that have helped us over the past few months.
Online to the rescue
If your salon or spa sells products at retail, keep your online store open during Covid-19. As long as you have supply, your customers will bring demand – after all, if they’re used to using your massage oil, shampoo, or essential oils, they’ll still want those familiar products at home, even when. they cannot visit you in person.
Our online store helped us bring in some much-needed cash during the lockdown, but it was also great to have something for me and the staff to do.
Find your niche
Since my husband, Brendon, and I opened our online store eight years ago, sales have grown exponentially.
Our unique selling proposition? We started selling niche brands, exclusive brands, and hard to find products that I loved online. We also saw the potential to bring our products to people who were not our salon clients and did not have easy access to high quality hair care.
Invest in Marketing and Social Media
We have grown our online store through normal channels like Facebook, Instagram, Email Marketing and Google AdWords, and we participate in fun giveaways with other small businesses. On top of that, we run an affiliate program for industry specialists (e.g. naturopaths and influencers) that inspires them to recommend our clean and carefully selected products.
We have also implemented a rewards program for our online and in-store customers, which translates into excellent customer retention. We’ve even befriended some of our customers online and talk often, even though we’ve never met!
It’s the little things that make the difference too, which is why we personalize each order with thoughtful gift wrapping and handwritten cards. We offer a hair care quiz to help guide people on what products to buy, and we invest time in our blog to answer common questions we receive from customers (which also helps our SEO quality. website).
Get off the beaten track
After deciding to sell vibrators before the first lockdown in 2020 and seeing their success, we started to focus on expanding our “non-hair” range. We want to be the go-to place for everything in the bedroom and bathroom.
We chat with clients and customers online about what they want and what they can’t find. For us, this goes back to our values and the original reason for our openness: to take care of people as best we can in a relaxed environment.
So if you can get your shampoo, vases, and bedroom toys from the same beautiful store, why wouldn’t you?
Exercise due diligence
Now that we know what deadlocks look like, it’s crucial to factor them into your lease negotiations. Know what your landlord will be offering before signing on the dotted line. Rent is usually your biggest outgoing cost other than salary, and a good landlord who will look after you during tough times is so valuable.
It’s also worth looking outside of your main CBD towards the suburbs, where rents (and parking for clients) may be cheaper, and those who now work from home may become your repeat clients. Everyone needs their hair, but people want to be connected to their salon / stylist who understands and reflects them, making them feel comfortable.
People are no longer drawn to large salons where you switch between staff members, so think of this as a starting point for your salon environment. I think clients want to find a salon that understands and reflects them, which makes them feel comfortable.
Plan, plan, plan!
With sales increasing during closings, it’s difficult to predict inventory levels. We had to do a little more planning for Christmas this year anticipating demand, supply issues from our suppliers in Auckland, and courier delays, which made budgeting more difficult.
We get our stock early and hope to have enough to meet demand.
The Covid-19 has changed the way we live, work and play. To be in the hairdressing and beauty industry today, we all have to learn to live with this new normal; be adaptable and prepared for any future disruption to our business.
Our main learnings? Use your due diligence when planning, thinking outside the box, and using your unique selling proposition to your advantage.
Anthea Digby-Smith is the owner of Wellington Hair Salon and Sable online store.