Your Haircut After Lockdown Will Be Unlike Any You Had Before

(Bloomberg) -- There are aspects of lockdown that are universal. Among them are overgrown bangs, split ends, unkempt beards and gray roots.

Months of confinement have left many around the world desperate for a haircut. They’ll have to wait a bit longer in places like the U.K., where salons and barbers will remain shut until at least July 4 under current government plans. Such establishments have started to reopen in other parts of Europe, the U.S., Australia and Asia, and one thing is becoming clear: A trip to the local hairdresser will be very different in the era of social distancing.

Your Haircut After Lockdown Will Be Unlike Any You Had Before

Treatments such as facials, eyelash tinting and hot shaves may no longer be possible because of contagion risk. There are lingering questions about whether blowdriers are safe. Amenities like complimentary beverages and magazines are likely to disappear. Fewer customers can be served at one time, while the cost of providing disposable gowns and masks for staff and customers could push up prices.

“To reopen, I think you have to forget everything you know and rewrite your business plan,” said Joe Mills, owner of the barbershop Joe & Co. and the unisex salon The Lounge, both in London’s Soho district.

At Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s exclusive Chelsea neighborhood, there is already a waiting list of 800 people for appointments when the business reopens, and managing director Hellen Ward anticipates many challenges.

She noted that a lip wax is a 15-minute appointment in a closed treatment room, and involves close contact between customers and staff. A full head of highlights requires less contact, but can take as long as two hours or more.

“How do you tick off all of these different factors safely for customers and staff?” she asked.

While the need for a trim, shave or coloring may seem insignificant in the face of a global pandemic, the hair, beauty and barber industry is a major employer worldwide. More than half a million people are employed as hairdressers in the U.S., according to Data USA. In Europe, more than a million work across about 400,000 salons and receive roughly 350 million customers a year, a report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work showed.

In Britain, about 43,000 of such businesses generate more than 7.5 billion pounds ($9.2 billion) in revenue for the economy, according to the National Hair and Beauty Federation.

“As there are a lot of small businesses in the hair and beauty sector, its overall importance can be overlooked sometimes. but it has a significant economic impact,” said Hilary Hall, chief executive officer of the federation.

Your Haircut After Lockdown Will Be Unlike Any You Had Before

Though some non-essential retailers in the U.K. are being allowed to open as soon as next month, hairdressers fall under phase 3 of the government’s plan to ease lockdowns and so could possibly open on July 4 at the earliest. In the meantime, Hall said the industry needs “absolute clarity” from the government on what steps are needed to make these businesses safe for staff and customers.

Mills anticipates high demand upon reopening as customers flood in for long-awaited treatments or to remedy botched at-home dye jobs. Even so, he expects an initial revenue hit of between 25% and 40% because of reduced services and the impact of social distancing measures.

“We have done a lot of number crunching and have worked out we could lose about seven man hours of work per barber a week,” Mills said, adding that he’s already purchased some barber chairs from competitors that have decided to close down.

Mills said he’ll require staff to wear personal protective equipment, and will enforce split shifts so they aren’t on their feet for long periods wearing the gear. He pointed to the example of Germany, where salons have reopened following clearly laid out government guidelines. These include set distances between chairs, face masks for staff and customers, compulsory hair washing before cuts, the banning of close contact coiffuring like beard trimming, and requirements for staff to change outfits when they check in for work.

Your Haircut After Lockdown Will Be Unlike Any You Had Before

In Switzerland, salons have removed many of the usual niceties. Customers now hang up their own coats, wear masks and plastic disposable gowns throughout the appointment, and must do so without a refreshing drink.

Such restrictions may be welcomed by some customers. Ward said some of her clients have said “I just want my hair done as I cannot live like this any longer,” while others want to know all the precautions that will be in place before they will even set foot inside.

In Sydney, hairdressers have been allowed to keep operating as long as they could implement social-distancing measures. Jane Tod, who works in publishing in Sydney, said she felt comfortable returning to her regular salon because of the safety guidelines in place.

“The experience was fine, and everyone was cheerful and in good spirits,” she said. “The one thing I missed was the trashy magazine binge.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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