The ongoing challenges facing beauty salon owners

On a recent Zoom call with our manufacturer to discuss the state of play for salons across the UK, a fellow salon owner was sharing the challenges he’s facing. It became clear that he found it almost impossible to make long-term changes to the business model while everything is so up in the air.

We all agreed there’s a huge number of issues to consider in the sector, and none of them look to be going away any time soon.

Should employers insist their staff get doubled vaccinated? At what point does protecting customers start infringing basic human rights and choices? Will the “no jab, no job” position become the norm now the Government is rolling out boosters? Will people be forced to accept this once unemployment takes its inevitable rise? It’s something to start pondering now.

My take is that confidentiality and privacy are basic human rights, and as long as your workplace is not in contravention of Government guidelines then people need to make their own decisions. It’s all becoming a bit “Big Brother” for my liking. When I studied George Orwell’s 1984 for my English O Level I never really imagined that it would become a reality in my lifetime, until mysterious notification apps, which I hadn’t installed, started appearing on my phone.

Then there’s the pressure of juggling client expectations with the new realities of team attendance, or non-attendance. How can any service provider commit to maintain their standards of client expectation when there is no guarantee of the staffing levels required being adequate to deliver them?

The staff equation

Although this may no longer be an issue currently, is it going to be a perpetual reality in the future? With staffing levels lean and pared back as it is, just how many people can we realistically lose before we have to admit defeat and close?

Easier perhaps if you have a group of salons where staff can cover at other locations but a real challenge when the industry-average salon of under 10 staff is in question, and all too evident for salons in  July, according to this very magazine. Then there’s the Covid-19 fall out... how to maintain and support your team after a year (or two) of such uncertainty. How is it possible to benchmark performance amid such turmoil? How can we succinctly review and appraise KPIs when the only real comparison as a proper “last year” is 2019?

And that’s just the work element. How do we help motivate and inspire each team member when we still might be feeling a little uninspired ourselves? Let alone supporting them emotionally when everything has changed for so many people in terms of how they want to work and live, not just in the near future but forever more.

I read an Instagram post recently where the traditional 40-hour working week was branded a dinosaur, a reality of a bygone era, particularly for women who are often juggling families and running a household, some as single parents. Covid-19 has taught us that the conventional working week may very well be a thing of the past.

Fitting in the daily groundhog day chores of laundry, cleaning, bills and maintenance into our leisure time is no longer acceptable to most of us. People want to work to live and not live to work, more than ever before.

Managing expectations

The resulting changes aren’t just to client behaviour but also to our staff behaviour. Lifestyles have changed and I can’t see them changing back any time soon. That’s going to affect not just businesses and the global work ethic but employers too.

Because in all of this, let’s stop and think about the bosses – with all of the above giving salon owners across the country sleepless nights, the question remains; who looks after the boss? As employers, we are often mentors, role models, leaders and inspirers – if we are good we signify stability and strength for our team.

We are sometimes the parental figures that may be missing in their lives. We offer guidance, support, consistency and continuity. We are there for our staff, not just as employers but on an emotional level too. We aren’t expected to be wobbly ourselves. The trouble is, sometimes we are. And with everything we have on our plates, is it any wonder?

Although what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger, it often puts you through the mill for sure. Talking is good, and we need more forums for salon owners to meet and talk, so at least they know they aren’t alone. We are all in this together.

Hellen Ward headshot

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and a beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation(NHBF).