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Gray Area: Hair Salons in the South Begin to Reopen, With Some Trepidation

Salons are ready to reopen, but with owners and consumers worried about safety, the experience looks a lot different.

Despite concerns from some salon owners over whether or not it’s safe, hair salons are getting ready to open back up in parts of the country after weeks of government-mandated closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia announced Monday that some nonessential businesses in the state are allowed to open starting Friday, including hair and nail salons. South Carolina and Florida opened public beaches this week and governor of Tennessee Bill Lee announced that he is letting his state’s stay-at-home order expire April 30, after which most nonessential businesses will be allowed to open. In North Carolina, a stay-at-home order was extended until May 8, though business owners feel that they are next on the docket to get the green light to reopen.

While salon owners in these states are relieved to be able to start seeing clients and making money again, the announcements have spurred mixed reactions from the salon community.

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“Some seem really excited to get back, and others feel it’s way too fast,” said Edwin Neill, chief executive officer of Neill Corporation, an independent distributor of Aveda products in seven Southern states.

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Still, Neill said most salon owners he’s spoken to in his network are feeling the financial pressure and ready to get back to work as soon as lockdowns in their respective states are lifted. Salon owners are already placing orders with his company, gearing up to open in the coming weeks, he said.

“It seems like a good number [of salons] are planning to reopen [immediately],” said Jay Elarar, ceo of Moroccanoil, Americas, which distributes its products in about 10,000 salons on the southern region of the U.S.

Despite concerns over catching the virus, executives say consumer demand for hair services is still there — especially after weeks of service providers shut down across the country.

“Through all of this, there’s one common thread we’ve been hearing — people want to get back to the salon,” said Elarar. “You can only go so long without people coloring their hair or God forbid, doing box color at home.”

With COVID-19 continuing to spread and no vaccine in sight, the salon experience will look quite different than it did pre-virus.

Health and safety precautions are top-of-mind for salon owners who are reopening. Though individual states are issuing COVID-19 health and sanitation guidelines through their cosmetology boards, the Professional Beauty Association is working on a cohesive protocol designed to help salons get back to business safely. PBA’s mandate is expected to be disseminated to state cosmetology boards and to salon owners across the country next week.

“Salons are going to be open, but in a different way,” said Elarar, who sits on the PBA board and is working on the task force along with executives from L’Oréal and Schwartzkopf, that is designing the protocol. “There will be fewer clients per day, a quick in-and-out. Salon staff are going to have to wear masks and gloves.”

Neill said that with social distancing in place, a lingering spa day with magazines and Champagne is no longer an option. “It will be more like a trip to the doctor’s office,” he said, with customers sitting in parking lots prior to appointments and waiting for a text when it’s safe to come in, then spending a minimal amount of time in the salon.

Services will likely be limited to “maintenance, not makeovers” like root touchups and cuts, said Dan Langer, president of R+Co and chief marketing officer at Luxury Brand Partners, in order to minimize appointment time and the number of people in salons. R+Co is sold in about 2,000 prestige salons in the U.S. Langer said the owners he has spoken with are choosing to reopen based on personal preference — most are reopening, some aren’t.

Some salon owners in states where lockdowns are being lifted are opening due to financial pressure, though they remain worried about the safety of their staff and clients.

Bryan Nunes, owner of Blo Salon in Raleigh, N.C., said his that salon, which employees over 40 stylists, is stocked with the sanitation supplies necessary to reopen, and he’s able to be flexible with his staff’s schedule and his opening hours to accommodate for fewer clients in the salon at a time. But he worries for smaller salons and independent booth renters in the area, who may be facing delayed shipping time on bulk orders of masks, gloves and sanitizing wipes. What’s more, they’ll be taking on fewer clients and making less money, but will be back on the hook for rent once they start business operations back up.

“[These salons] can’t get a PPP loan or access to supplies, and all of a sudden [the government] wants them to reopen — there’s a lot of moving parts.”

Conflicting communication from the government has made it difficult for small business owners to open up safely and effectively, said Nunes.

“My question is why would you close us down to begin with if your opinion now is that it’s safe to reopen, even without the necessary supplies? [Salons] want to reopen, but we need to be set up for success.”