The Covid-19 lockdown has made many people appreciate a trip to the local barber or hairdresser more than ever before, with the reopening of hairdressers from July 4 greeted in several instances by socially distanced queues on the street outside premises. However, it will not be a return to the environment of the hairdressing salon as it was before, with operators having to adhere to strict new safety procedures.
The new measures mean salons all over the UK are faced with balancing the demand for appointments with social distancing, meaning staggered shifts, longer opening hours, and separate slots for older and more vulnerable people.
The days of sitting in a waiting room and reading a magazine with a coffee are gone, replaced with a greeting from behind a protective screen and being asked to clean your hands with sanitiser stationed near the entrance.
Personal protective equipment must now be worn by staff and clients. Customers will be handed disposable masks and gowns to wear, while hairdressers will wear gloves and either a face mask or transparent shield. Items such as scissors, combs and razors will also require thorough cleaning after one use.
Crucially, the industry is benefiting from a relaxing of the previous two-metre social distancing rule, which has been reduced to “one metre plus” and will have eased the concerns of several industry operators ahead of reopening.
Sophie Bullivant, founder and owner of her own haircare salon Colour Me Sophie B in Solihull, West Midlands, is one such industry player.
Speaking on the Leaders Council podcast in the early weeks of the lockdown in May prior to the reopening of salons, Bullivant was concerned of the impact that the pandemic and new safety procedures would have on the sector.
Bullivant said: “The pandemic will shake up our industry somewhat and the most difficult thing we will have to adjust to is the new safety procedures in our salons. For example, we usually have the capacity for seven clients in our salon at one time. With social distancing this will probably need to be reduced to four.”
Bullivant’s major concern for her own business and other operators in the industry is not an inability to adjust to new ways of working, but whether there will be a sufficient revitalisation in the income of hairdressers by the time the furlough scheme which has kept many businesses afloat lapses in October.
“For the most part of the year I am confident that the industry will adjust and get through. My concern is when the furlough scheme begins to wind down, if restrictions are still well in force and our income is still hindered, this will be when operators like us will face problems. We have one stream of revenue which revolves around people coming into the business and the lockdown meant we had to close and so that revenue stream was cut off. When businesses reopen, we need customers to be confident to return and be coming through the doors regularly.
“I have been fortunate at my business that there are only five staff including me, but we are a new business founded three years ago that is still paying back loans that we initially took out to start the business. We had built up a healthy bank account and have taken advantage of a small business grant from the government and a bounce back loan to help us through, but it is precarious because ultimately it is more debt that will need to be paid back.”
Consumer confidence will be key to the recovery of hairdressers and the wider services sector, and despite news of a slower economic bounce back than anticipated over May, figures from IHS Markit/CIPS showed that the UK Services PMI stood at 47.1 in June 2020, little-changed from a preliminary estimate of 47.0 and weighing up against May's final reading of 29.0.
Falling below the contraction-expansion benchmark of 50, the figures still point to a deterioration in business conditions across the UK service sector, but the numbers are moving in the right direction in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions and the reopening of the economy, meaning that there is just cause for optimism for businesses such as Colour Me Sophie B to take into the future.