Beauty, business

FIGHTING FOR BEAUTY

Hair salons are not spas. Neither are nail salons. Nail salons are not hair salons either. The beauty business is usually in the bottom of the barrel when it comes to most conversation. That is until someone needs their hair colored or their eyebrows waxed. But now- during Covid- the beauty business and all of its economics- gets lumped into one big pile.

Comparatively speaking, hair salons are much easier to get up and running than a nail salon or a skin salon or spa. Taking the obvious impossibility of social distancing out of the equation, at least in a hair salon the hair stylists are standing up above the client, they can wear a mask or a shield, and so can the client. They can sort of wear gloves, maybe a little more difficult cutting hair than applying color, but compared to a spa, a much more adaptable predicament.

Nail salons are right in someone’s face, again though easier to wear a mask since there is no direct connection with the face. But here it is a little trickier since skin is flying, cuticles, nail dust and potential of blood is more likely. Same with pedicures, and the common denominator with hands and feet is that they are known for their harboring of germs. Sanitation isn’t often what the multitude of nail salons are known for and there is little policing of it before Covid. I shudder to think of how this will be policed during.

Then there are the spas. The skin studios. The businesses of skin beauty that are not medical. Medical falls into a different set of rules and regulations for monitoring best practices. Spas fall under beauty and, again, the regulations, though they try to be clear, most sanitation happens because of the good consciousness of the owners and the systems in place for running a strong operation.

There is also the obvious to me, but clearly not so obvious to the people deciding who will open when, and that is the physical aspect of getting a service, completely different from a haircut. Logistically it is easier to separate, often the services are in separated rooms, closed off from each other so this is a plus. But these rooms are often less than 8×10 and have more of a deliberate cocoon feeling on purpose for the intimacy these services provide. These services offer respite and care.

They offer intuitive touch, closeness and deep breathing. They are about great skin so this means, lots of massage and mask applications, hand to face connection that has now turned into hand to face combat like a war instead of the love they were set out to give.

They are about pore cleaning, yes with gloves, but blood is sometimes a possibility, they are about intimate bikini waxing, closer than this writing needs to write, but I am guessing you get the point. Again gloves are used, but then there is the disposing of all of this.

I think there are three E’S to consider.

Engagement. Environment. Economics.

The latter two are pretty obvious, but the rules of engagement make it impossible to perform the services that the spa business commands. The business we are known for. Touch. Intuition. Hugging. Hand shaking. Getting under blankets, changing into gowns, more sheets and towels than I care to think about, (well… how about $1500 a month for the sanitized linen service in case anyone was wondering).

At my business, and many other spa business owners this unfortunate pandemic has introduced me to, we have always done it the right way. Despite the fact that we are mostly under regulated, often barely mentioned in this world of Covid, but employ hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women.

Women who will find it difficult to return to work for all three of the E’s. Their kids are no longer in school and they are home, home schooling, they are rethinking their entire career choices wondering if they will ever get back to the business of beauty and touch they have loved for their careered lives.

And not so much when and how, but if they even want to. And yes. These are careers for these people, not a hobbies or silly playing store kinds of jobs.

The beauty business is a multi billion dollar business employing millions of people across the world. There are the makeup counters, the retail, the gyms and yoga studios that have saunas and steam rooms and whirlpool baths. There are the hotel spas, the small one room and the large twenty room spas. There are the franchises.

Are we doomed? No. But for the next two years as we slug our way out this mess, we have some serious grown up business decisions to make. Last night, I listened to Tiffani Faison, a multi location Boston restaurant owner and James Beard nominee. She was being interviewed by Jim Braude from Greater Boston and she was saying the exact same thing I have been saying.

If we are expected to operate at less than a certain level of productivity, we operate at a loss. Our business models rely on a certain amount of traffic. We, in the beauty business whether we like to admit it or not, sell time. The more time we sell, the better our businesses operate.

Selling a certain amount of time is what sustains our companies. Without this formula, it is impossible to work unless landlords want to drastically cut our rents in our high rent districts that afford us the opportunities to have the businesses we have. And they have to make a living too, they have their set of parameters that make their businesses of landlording run efficiently.

This is a conundrum. Reinvention is a possibility, but how? My landlord said to me recently, Alayne, you’re a fighter. He doesn’t have to tell me something I know deeply about myself.

But the unique question is not whether I am a fighter, but rather, do I want to fight?

I love my business, I enjoy my team immensely. Many business owners can’t say this, but I can. Sure, I realize that they are employees and I am the employer, but my team is my heart. I go to bed, just like I heard Tiffani say last night, thinking about what I am going to do, how am I going to operate and sustain their livelihood. And mine. Because without my livelihood, there is no livelihood.

I fight for my company, but I also fight for safety. We can’t possibly open under these conditions in the way that my business model and every spa owner I know operates in. I am not willing to take on boatloads of debt for a business that may or may not be a sustainable operation in the next two years just to reopen half ass.

Clients are all letting me know they can’t wait to come back, but what does that even mean? Will they? I don’t even know if my team will be able to come back, and it is not because of their stimulus checks. I am tired of hearing that this is the main problem with people not returning to work. My team has no childcare, they have to worry about their safety in a business of intimacy like no other.

I always said that the business of beauty was one of the mighty ones.

Liquor and Lipstick, the two businesses that historically thrive during a recession. My business has never steered me wrong, but this time, I am really not sure what type of business I am fighting for.

I myself have been getting pedicures, waxing, haircuts and facials since I was sixteen years old. That is forty years of beauty. My mother got me started with beauty early and I knew that this was my calling early on. For the past nine weeks I have missed at least eight beauty appointments that I would have had if not for Covid.

Oddly, I have managed. I am still alive. My toenails don’t look as bad as I thought they would, my long hair easily mends with a pony tail elastic. I miss my facials, but there is enough of my product to virtually learn an at home facial, not nearly the same, but it is good enough for now. Waxing is really the only thing I really need, but thankfully it is not short season so I have lived without this service too. (And for the amount of calories I have consumed on a daily basis, shorts will likely stay right where they are for quite some time anyway).

What I have found amazing is how much I have lived without. I have saved enormous amounts of money from not spending it on my beauty routine. And I was pretty simple before. So this leads me to think that as much as clients will want to return, will they return at the rate they did before?

The greatest thing about aging is that the fight is not based on ego anymore. Sometimes choosing to not fight is the person who wins.

We shall see.

Leave a Reply