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.

Beauty, business, grief

LET’S FACE IT

Churning. This describes my brain. My stomach. My heart. I try to meditate. I meditate. I walk outside almost daily for fresh air and to keep my heart energized and calmed, a contradiction out of the gate. I attempt to workout with my variety of accoutrements, a Pelaton, a Nordic Track, weights, virtual workouts from my gym. 

I say (every night before I go to bed), tomorrow is Day 1. 

Day 1— again. 

It is so easy to plan for Day 1 the night before with a belly full of sugar and wine. 

But this is my pattern, when the times are the most stressful, the most chaotic, I decide to do some twenty eight day fitness challenge. 

I’m in a master mamma group with two powerhouse female business owners. One  said, with a frankness I have come to appreciate, “Alayne, why would you quit drinking in the midst of this disaster?” 

“This is just what I do.” I replied, so matter of factly, it almost sounded normal. When the times are at their most dismal, these are the times I decide to take on a brand new health challenge. 

I laugh aloud. If I didn’t, I would be sobbing aloud. 

Let’s face it. The beauty business, the business I have raised myself in, raised over fifty women in for the past thirty years will never be the same, or at least will not be the same for at least the next two years. 

And it is the next two years that are what concern me. I know that if I look at the after, everything will be back to a new normal, social distancing will likely be a thing of then, but it is the next two years that frighten me. 

My Providence landlord, who has unintentionally mentored me for the past eleven years, has given me at least three unsolicited pep talks. “Alayne, you are a fighter.” He says this with so much confidence that I have to remind myself, Yes. I am a fighter. Just being a small business owner equals auto fighter status. 

Every single day, we small business owners have to think in a way that employees don’t. We are mostly a group of control freaks that don’t know what to do when we are out of control. This is the work we do as leaders as we transition through the growth from playing store to grown up bad ass leaders.

And I wouldn’t change this for the world. I love being an entrepreneur. There are facets to this title that define my brain. Creative power, charitability, kindness, strength, linear thinking, leadership, direction, grooming, beauty, humanity, lifting, figuring shit out. Empathy. Seldom do we let our employees see our vulnerable sides. As entrepreneurs, it is our duty to keep our chins held high and to lead our troops, no matter how much of a sinking heart we may have.

This time, though- this time, we are amidst a global crisis. Together, with no clear direction. The how. The when. None of it is really obvious. And I, in turn, am part of the crisis rather than the head of the pack. Someone said to me yesterday that I am a leader in the industry. It is true that I have a big voice in my community and in my industry. 

But I am tired. 

Maybe if this was happening when I was thirty, I’d feel more of a passion to fight the battle and come out badder ass than ever, but I am fifty-five fucking years old. I have had enough battles already and I can’t see how this is going to be repairable in the short future. 

As I write that, I feel like I am letting my industry voice down, my team, my clients, but how much life coming at us can one business owner take? I wish I did, but I don’t. And this in itself is a revelation for me. It actually feels liberating and powerful to say aloud, I don’t fucking feel like figuring it out. 

Let’s face it, my beloved beauty business, the business of touch, the business we already have one of the best sanitation procedures in, will not be able to perform the way it did. My employees and I will be expected to reinvent our entire business model with no clear direction that when we do, it will even work. This is a traumatic event, and we haven’t even started to repair from, let alone grieve its loss. 

So I write. I write my heart out, my guts out. I share my thinking so that it leaves my body instead of taking up permanent residence and I feel better saying it aloud. 

Writing is therapy. Letting my brain relieve itself of its busy and constant yapping calms me immediately.  I feel better just admitting what I know many like- minded entrepreneurs are thinking. Recognizing that there is an elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged is my superpower. Saying what people are fearing out loud is the quality I enjoy about myself when I get right down to what I really would miss if I was no longer. 

This is the crux of the problem I now recognize through this piece today. I don’t have a fear of not having my business, I have a fear of not getting to be the leader I have loved being. 

I have worn and grown into my leadership cape with every trial and tribulation that has come into my life and fought it with a fierceness to be reckoned with. I know now that what is surprising me the most is my lack of interest in the fight this time around. I am releasing the need to fight and instead just lying back waiting for the course correction I know is there, but I don’t want to be the one to have to make the decision. This has never been who I am, lying back in the wait and see. I am an action figure. Running to the trunk to get the cape before I even know that there is a fire to be put out. 

What I realize about the cape and all of its superpowers is sometimes not putting it on is a strength, just allowing it to stay in the closet or the padlocked trunk and not trying to figure out how to solve or fix a problem is the lesson. 

I don’t feel like redoing every single protocol, figuring out how to communicate this to every client so that they feel less afraid to walk into my business that is already clean and sanitized and safe. The cape is put away and after all of this sugar and wine partying, I am not even sure it would fit around my expanded girth. 

It has been seven weeks today that I closed my beloved company and I haven’t even grieved that loss yet. Though the money is what makes it function, it is about the integrity of everything I have worked for. It is about feeling a deep sense of responsibility to my team in thinking about how the hell am I going to afford to bring them back when we can’t operate the way we used to. It is about the loyalty I have to our clients who trust that we will figure out how to reopen and the pressure to do it “better than ever.” 

But then, like the magic that comes with the rewards of reinvention, I was invited to be a guest on some national calls to speak on this unintended reinvention. The beauty company, Gloskinbeauty I do business with, asked me to speak about my virtual beauty ideas and curbside product delivery. In the midst of the chaos, little golden nuggets come at me reminding me that what I am doing does make a difference.

Yesterday, after finally taking my head out of the sand and facing the inevitable budget I had been avoiding like the plague, (if only this was a pun), I came home to a hand delivered bag on my front porch. My account representative, from GloSkinBeauty, had driven from her home in Boston and delivered a fully stocked bag of homemade Italian goodies. 

Apparently, she hadn’t received the memo that yesterday was Day 1 and along with the homemade delights were two bottles of my favorite wine and a card that said, “You’re kindness made a difference.”

My kindness? Hardly. This changed my night. Made my heart sing and yes of course, Day One got bumped to Monday where all Day Ones happily reside.

As this essay works itself through me today, I feel better already and more hopeful.  I stopped writing for a brief moment to film my fox family that has taken residence in my backyard for the past seven weeks. I took a detour to my email and Facebook where I found lovely comments on a video I had posted from my team that made me remember that I have one, the strongest and most caring group of women who work for me and alongside of me for twenty years. 

As I checked my email, I came across a note from a client we have been taking care for our entire twenty years in business. Its simplicity and timing brought me back to my reality and out of the nightmare that closing my business has been. Sure, the product order itself is lovely, as I have said, we need money to make this business clock tick. But more important is the word TRUST and EFFORTS. 

Alayne,

How are you? I miss seeing you, and of course my other fav goddess, Jenna! Thank you for your continued efforts in promoting self-care during this time. I always trust your beauty feedback! I would love to place an order (your video was awesome). Could I purchase the Glo hydrating gel cleanser, Pro5, Super Serum, and toner (whichever you recommend for my 46 yr-old-skin)? And I would love to take a drive to Bristol whenever it’s ready 🌞. Talk to you soon 😘

With gratitude,

Catherin

There has never been a shortage of effort from me, and trust is how I have built my business, one client at a time. I realize now that the cape I own is not something that needs to be worn for people to have to visually see my strengths and goodness. After all this time in business, this is just something that my clients and my team know about me. This is what makes me get out of bed to face another day, cape or not. 

With gratitude, Catherine, indeed.