A bad hair day
(Getty)
  • Bad DIY haircuts was an unexpected side effect of lockdowns across the world.
  • Foreign experience suggests salons and hairdressers will see big demand for their services as soon as South Africa's lockdown eases enough for those to be legal again.
  • Salons will look a little different, thanks to preventative measures – and you may struggle to get a booking.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Covid-19 has revealed that most governments around the world don’t believe good hair days are essential. Lockdown hair has turned bad hair days into bad hair months, and some have been brave enough to share their results on social media

Grey streaks, dark roots, self-grown face masks, and prison-style buzz cuts have all featured prominently as people learn to cope without professional help.

But as governments around the world start to ease certain restrictions, businesses like hairdressers and salons are slowly gearing up for accepting floods of customers desperate for repair jobs. 

Unfortunately, in South Africa, it could still be some time before these businesses will open. On Saturday, minister of trade and industry Ebrahim Patel warned the risk of transmission with these services is too high. They will not be allowed to do business in Level 4 (from May 1st), and may only open when South Africa reaches Level 1.  

Elsewhere, there’s already been a rush for haircuts in Denmark as lockdown restrictions have eased, and also in Singapore, as the government there announced an extension of lockdown

South African hairdressers and salons are divided on how this will play out locally, though.

“I reckon there will be an influx of clients coming in after lockdown,” says Craig Johns, owner of The Lobby Hair Shop in Woodstock. “Especially those people who’ve previously coloured their hair. And I think we’ll see lots of gents, too - I reckon there are lots of guys who’ve had a hack, and are now needing some help.”

Hermanos, a barbershop in Cape Town’s CBD, has also received feedback from desperate clients, some of whom have requested online assistance.

“We have had a number of requests to do ‘virtual’ tutorials,” says founder Stephan Geitlinger. “While the idea may be sound in theory, it is very difficult to put into practice.”

For Geitlinger, this confirms how valuable barbers and hairdressers are to many people. 

“We predict that there will be a fair amount more respect and value placed on these expertise as a whole once this settles down,” he says.

Paul Ndimayo, who owns Masai Twist Beauty Salon in Midrand, says some of his clients have even requested house-calls - which he has had to decline.

“It is difficult for me because on the one hand you want to maintain your relationships [with clients], whilst on the other, you have to respect the law,” says Ndimayo. “It is very tough, but we do not have an option.”

Ndimayo’s salon is famous for its Masai Twists that take two to three hours to finish. Requests for these have become increasingly popular over traditional braids, which can take double that or more to plait.

Large chains have also seen an increase in people desperate for professional intervention. 

Sapna Naran, group marketing manager at Sorbet, says some people have suggested the chain of beauty salons runs a competition for the worst home hair cut. 

“This isn’t something we want to capitalise off,” she says, “So instead we are trying to equip people with guidance on things like how to remove gelish nail polish at home, until we’re able to do it for them in our stores.”

Supporting hairdressers during lockdown

Independent hairdressers and barbers have seen an outpouring of support for their businesses during the unprecedented lockdown period. 

Unlike some others, it’s an industry that simply can’t pivot into online or work from home, says Hermanos’s Geitlinger.

“We have had requests from customers to pay outright for their service as part of their monthly budget, and include tips, without expecting any sort of credit,” says Geitlinger. “We have also seen a major uptake of vouchers being purchased from our online store, as well as products, which can only be redeemed or dispatched once the lockdown has eased.”

The Lobby Hair Shop chose not to offer vouchers. Instead, like many other small businesses, they are applying for the government's various small business relief measures.

“A lot of stylists and salon owners out there are freaking out about how they can get cash flow or how they can get something going,” says Johns, “And vouchers are great in this regard. It’s keeping cash flow going with business and staff, so they can get paid in the present month.”

Coping with bad hair after lockdown

Salons and hairdressers who spoke to Business Insider South Africa are cautiously optimistic about customer numbers once lockdown regulations ease.

Sorbet is hopeful that customer numbers will pick up, but Naran says it’s still too early to know - they’re waiting for government confirmation before taking any bookings.

“I think we’re going to have a group of people who want to come in and get their nails and hair done,” she says. “The feel-good factor of the lipstick effect is a real thing!” 

But she’s also aware that many people will be struggling financially, and those who aren’t may be uncomfortable visiting a place like a salon. 

Savas Couvaras, owner of Savas Hair, is more bullish; he is anticipating an influx of customers to the store once lockdown regulations allow. 

“The one thing we know for sure post lockdown is that we are going to be super busy,” he says. “Our stylists are pretty much fully booked for the first month.”

For Couvaras and his small team, this means they’ll be seeing around 600 clients in the first month.

Other smaller independent hairdressers are unsure around opening-month numbers - or their strategies.

The Lobby Hair Shop plans to “throttle” demand. No-shows normally means salons overfill the day with bookings, which is something they are likely to stop. 

“We’re going to have to use a waiting list system, because we can’t see so many people and double book like we used to - the environment is going to be compromised,” says owner Craig Johns. “So I think we’re going to probably be seeing 50% less clients than our usual volumes - and we will then focus more on quality.”

Hermanos, which usually offers some barber-style walk-ins along with bookings, will likely restrict haircuts to prior-appointment only, so as to manage the number of people in the shop at any one time.

“We have always tried to remain dynamic in our approach to things, and we plan to adopt a flexible approach to trading when we are allowed to open up again,” says Geitlinger. “This may take the form of re-structuring how many staff work on one day and adjusting or extending our operating hours and times to accommodate for the influx of customers.”

Safety will be a priority. Expect face masks and lots of sanitisation.

As hairdressers and salons gear up to fix rogue haircuts and overgrown nails, they’re extremely mindful of safety.

“I think people are conscious about Sorbet’s stores being places of ‘high touch’,” says Naran. 

For this reason, Sorbet intends to implement a raft of safety measures at their approximately 200 franchises. These include protective shields and face masks, regular sanitising, and maintaining a register of everyone who enters and leaves, in order to assist with any tracking and tracing required later.

Smaller operations are no less aware. All stores see masks, gloves, and regular sanitisation as the only way forward, and most are looking to limit shifts and stay open for longer hours to spread demand.

And until hairdressers and salons are clear on when and how they can operate, most still face the same predicament that everyone else in lockdown is currently facing.

“I was tempted to shave my own hair,” says Johns. “Ultimately I didn’t, because I realised that although I might be desperate for that feeling and freshness and resetting, short hair is often more maintenance than long hair. I think there are going to be a whole bunch of guys out there who find this out the hard way!”

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