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  • Customers are finding themselves waiting weeks for waxing appointments or being turned away.
  • Two salon owners said they've had trouble hiring specialists back.
  • They've leaned on sign-on and referral bonuses and increased wages.
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"Vaxed and waxed" is the unofficial slogan of the season for vaccinated Americans making up for lost time by hitting the beach, hanging out at the pool, and finding their latest hookups. Yet it's becoming increasingly impossible to secure a waxing appointment.

Gary, a recently separated father of two from Westchester, said he planned to have his back waxed in time to make the most of his unexpected bachelor summer in the Hamptons.

"I called every place I could think of in Westchester, but everyone was booked. It was insane," he said. "I had no choice but to wait two weeks."

New Jersey resident Gianine Rothschild said trying to book a salon appointment was reminiscent of her high school days trying to frantically score concert tickets. "It's a sad but true state of affairs," she said.

Rothschild decided to take matters into her own hands and bought her 14-year-old a waxing kit on Amazon, relying on the teen to wax her eyebrows.

Now her daughter is interested in becoming a cosmetologist. "I joke that she's become our resident waxer, logging practical hours and honing her skills using me as her guinea pig," Rothschild said. Recently, Rothschild returned to seeing her local waxer - however, she has to book seven to 10 days in advance to secure an appointment.

Salon owners said they can't find enough people to work.

"We couldn't wait for the government restrictions to be lifted so we could operate at full capacity again. Now that we were finally able to in May, we don't have enough waxing estheticians to accommodate customer demand," Audrey Klein, co-owner of five European Wax Center franchises in Maryland, said.

Some employees, she said, didn't return to work due to Covid-19 concerns, while others experienced significant changes in their lives as a direct result of the pandemic that made it impossible to return. But many staff members told Klein they were simply better off remaining unemployed and continuing to rely on stimulus money, leaving Klein and her partner, Dean Kapneck, scrambling to replace them.

"Hiring has been brutal. We already had a staff referral incentive programme - now we've increased hourly pay and taken on part-timers to fill in our schedule, but despite posting online classifieds, we didn't get a single resume for months," Klein, who's in the process of building two more Maryland centres, said.

"My partner suggested we offer signing bonuses as an incentive to get people to join our team and I was like, 'What is this, The NBA? Signing bonuses? I don't want to operate like that,'" she added.

Meanwhile, clients are waiting up to two weeks for an appointment - and in some instances, being turned away. Klein said they've also recently instituted no-show fees as a measure to hold clients responsible for showing up to their appointments.

Maryland ended all federal unemployment programs July 3. Klein said resumes are beginning to trickle in, and she's currently training nine new members of staff.

Bethany Smilovitch, who owns seven European Wax Centers in Brooklyn, New York, said she's experienced similar staffing challenges.

"You can't pay people enough to come back to work, and the No. 1 catalyst is that extra $300 (R4,350) a week people are collecting," she said. "When we first reopened in June 2020, only 50% of my staff came back. Now it's about 70%. I reached out to another 30 former staff members and told them we were willing to accommodate their schedule and they could pick the location of their choice. One person returned."

In an effort to hire more estheticians, Smilovitch hosted an exclusive job fair, participated in career fairs for beauty-school graduates, and even offered $200 (R2,900) upfront sign-on bonuses for those who pass their training and remain on the job for six months. Her efforts are starting to pay off, as she's recently hired 50 new staff members.

Pre-pandemic, Smilovitch said she only hired licensed estheticians and then trained them - but due to the staffing shortage and current licensing delays, she's training people first so as soon as the state licensing division issues their license, they can hit the ground running.

"I can completely empathise with everyone trying to get an appointment," Smilovitch said. "Last week, I wasn't scheduled to go to any of my Brooklyn centers, so I tried to book a waxing appointment for myself in New Jersey where I live only to be turned away - so believe me, I get it.

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