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COVID-19 Fears Aren’t Stopping Salon-Goers

Salons in Georgia, Colorado and Indiana are seeing a swell of pent-up demand from customers in need of cuts and color.

Fears of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be stopping people from getting back to the hair salon.

On May 9, the first day salons in Colorado were allowed to reopen after the spread of coronavirus forced government-mandated closures of nonessential businesses, Matthew Morris’s three salons in Denver were booked solid. They had been closed since March 16.

The salons have been so busy in the past week that for some clients, securing an appointment at Matthew Morris Salon and Skincare for a first root touch-up or trim post-quarantine is proving difficult.

“Every chair that can be full is full,” Morris said this week in a phone call with WWD. “We’re booked until the end of June right now.”

Across the country, states are beginning to phase out stay-at-home orders and letting businesses that were deemed nonessential open back up, and salons are some of the first being allowed to do so.

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From high-end salons to mass market chains, salon owners in states that are reopening are experiencing overwhelming demand from clients who have been stuck at home for weeks and are desperate to get back in the chair.

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On May 11, when salons in all but three Indiana counties were allowed to open for business, local news reports featured customers at Great Clips locations across the state lined up on sidewalks in lawn chairs, like Black Friday shoppers waiting for Best Buy to open. Some waited two to three hours for a much-needed haircut — the Great Clips app on Wednesday revealed wait times of over 180 minutes for walk-in customers at some Indiana locations.

“Everyone is excited to come back in — everyone is very eager,” said Morris of his own clientele in Colorado.

That includes salon owners, who have seen their service-based businesses ground completely to a halt overnight. The impact of the lockdown orders on the salon hair-care market has been sizable. Salon service revenue was down $5 billion alone in Q1, according to data from Kline & Co.

Despite a warning this week from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who said in a Senate hearing on the coronavirus that individual states may be rushing reopening efforts, salon owners told Beauty Inc the vast majority of their clients are willing to brush their fears aside in order to resume their normal grooming habits.

When LaDonna Dryer, owner of He Said…She Said salon in Savannah, Ga., shut down the hair salon-meets-barbershop she owns with her husband, a barber, on March 27, she was immediately inundated with messages from clients. In anticipation of reopening on April 24, she set up a waiting list for appointments. Of those clients, she said roughly 90 percent have made appointments.

“I had about 10 percent of [clients] who were on the waiting list that called and said, ‘You know, I want to wait it out a little longer,’’ said Dyer. “But it’s crazy — I’m trying to take care of the clients I do have, but now I have new clients calling me and clients I haven’t seen in years wanting to come back.”

While salon owners in states that have loosened restrictions, such as Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana and Georgia, are dealing with overwhelming demand, it’s certainly not business as usual.

In Colorado, the government has mandated a long list of safety requirements that salon owners in the state must comply with, including limiting the number of people — both stylists and clients — to 10 in a salon at one time.

Morris, whose biggest salon location is 6,300 feet and can typically serve up to 26 clients at a time, has had to extend opening hours “from dusk till dawn” and operate seven days a week instead of his usual five, all so he can fit everyone in. He’s also required to take client temperatures at the door, and the use of PPP is non-negotiable.

In Georgia, government-mandated safety precautions are considerably more lax than in Colorado, but that hasn’t stopped some luxury salon owners from pulling out all the stops in an attempt to virus-proof their spaces.

Jeff South, owner of Intrigue, an Oribe salon in Marietta, had a biodefense system called Synexis installed into the ductwork of his salon — the technology is said to reduce bacteria and virus microbes found in the air. Typically, this type of system is sold to hospitals or food manufacturers, but South discovered it through his neighbor, who works for the company. Intrigue is said to be the first salon in the world to have bought the technology.

South is also sanitizing stations before and after each client, ensuring that clients and staff wear masks, and is giving new capes to each client. Blow-drying is also of limits for now — not only because it’s time-consuming, but there’s also the perception that the blow-dryers can spread germs.

“It’s not just about the safety protocol — it’s how you convey it to the client,” said South, who said his staff of 43 stylists have been walking clients through the sanitization procedures and explaining the salon’s biodefense technology. “If in the past six weeks they’ve only been to the grocery store, are they going to get uncomfortable in the salon?”

Morris agreed. “It’s pretty intense [going through the safety protocol], but when they’re in the chair they’re happy to be here,” he said. “I think some customers were trepidatious in the beginning, but that went away when we started posting all the safety measures we have in place on social.”

South, who said there has been “a rush” back to the salon since his five-week closure, is hoping to slowly return the salon back to a normal semblance of what business looked like pre-coronavirus, starting with phasing back in blowouts in early June.

For now, the salon experience looks totally different. “It’s not high-energy with fun music and hugging each other — all that is gone,” he said.

In Colorado, Morris is lobbying his local government to ease some of the restrictions. He happened to be on a flight back from visiting his sister in Washington, D.C., when he ran into his two state senators. He proposed to them that they work on allowing salons to get back to 50 percent capacity, as opposed to the current 10-person limit. “In Colorado, now dentists are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, but salons aren’t, and we’ve got both [client and stylists] in masks,” said Morris. “And at a dentist’s office, you’ve got someone there with their mouth open and you’re digging around in it.”

Conflicting viewpoints from local and federal governments and government agencies on when and how businesses should safely reopen has only added an extra layer of complication for salon owners.

At Intrigue, South is confident that he’s taken every possible sanitary precaution, going above and beyond state guidelines, but he’s still having each of his customers sign a liability waiver. “It just pretty much states we’re not [COVID-19] experts,” he said. “It says on there, [Governor] Brian Kemp may think it’s safe to open salons, but the CDC does not.”