How beauty businesses survived lockdown


6th July, 2020

How beauty services are bouncing back and building resilience

COVID-19 has impacted some sectors harder than others. Rather than wither, business owners in the beauty industry have demonstrated their passion and creativity to maintain their position.

When coronavirus took hold in March, the outlook was grim for Australian beauty service operators. Due to the intrinsically hands-on nature of treatments such as facials, waxing and nailcare, it seemed certain the industry would be among those hardest hit.

Yet, while social distancing did sound the death knell for a number of struggling businesses, many others were able to pivot successfully. Surviving and, in some cases, thriving.

Here, five beauty service operators share how they’re meeting clients’ needs in the time of COVID-19 – and the steps they’ve taken to future-proof their businesses.

Customer loyalty in action

With salons allowed to re-open from June, many beauty businesses reported an overwhelming demand for appointments – predominantly from existing clients.

“We opened on the first of June to over 100 emails requesting facials,” said Isabella Loneragan, owner of The Dermal Diary in Sydney.

“It took us about two weeks to get back to everyone and find them an appointment, the result is that we are now booked out for the next seven weeks!”

Natural beauty expert Belinda Hughes says business at her Melbourne clinic is healthy, with July almost booked out.

“It’s mostly loyal clients, only one or two new clients,” Hughes said.

According to Keely Gerbanas, owner of Lush Tan Beauty in Brisbane, although spray tanning has been slow to bounce back, demand for beauty services like brows and waxing is strong.

“When we first got the green light to reopen beauty, we were inundated with booking requests,” she said.

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Moving retail, adding ‘e-tail’

While e-commerce has always been integral to Hughes’ business model, others including Melbourne makeup artist and hair stylist Inèz Deckers have had to adapt.

Supplementing face-to-face sales with online transactions, Deckers “built a webshop with cruelty-free, vegan, Australian-made, non-toxic makeup, which gets delivered by bicycle where possible.”

It was a necessary move for Deckers, with the tight restrictions on weddings and events having an immediate impact on her bread-and-butter work.

Also shifting the focus to e-tail was Lush, with the business launching an online store and adding free CBD delivery. It’s a move that’s been popular with clients.

“[They’ve] supported us by buying their retail from us, instead of supermarkets and large online stores,” said Gerbanas.

For Sofia Basile, owner of Melbourne’s Unico Hair, there’s been increased incentive to shift units of her natural haircare range.

Whilst the business does not sell online, loyal clients have been dropping by the salon to show their support by stocking up on Unico Formulations products. According to Basile, many people not yet comfortable with hands-on treatment have also been purchasing vouchers for future use.

But while retail has provided a much-needed buffer for hair and beauty salons, it’s no pandemic panacea.

“At the end of the day we are in a service-based industry and while retail can give us a little reprieve, we really need to be with our clients to succeed,” said Gerbanas.

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Keeping the conversation going

Despite either being forced to close their doors in May, or experiencing a sharp decline in trade, the businesses interviewed kept up their marketing efforts. And it’s paying off.

“We kept in touch via social media and emails. To us this was very important. It gave our clients peace of mind that we weren’t going anywhere and we would be here waiting for them on the other side,” said Gerbanas.

For Hughes, IGTV was a new avenue to explore. She started using the platform to provide free skin and product advice, even featuring special guests.

“We’ve really increased our social media presence,” she said.

Digital marketing’s also been something of a lifeline for Basile.

“I’ve engaged a social media consultant to help with marketing and promoting on Facebook and Instagram. This is getting us five new clients a week,” she said.

So, while the situation in April was “devastating” and resulted in the closure of the original CBD salon, with JobKeeper and a renewed focus on promoting the salon, business is looking healthy.

“My business is doing well; my figures for May were strong. Our clients have supported us, and we’ve rewarded that loyalty by giving complimentary hair products to those who’ve kept us going,” she said.

As well as talking to clients online, some salon owners have also been employing an old fashioned approach.

“I started to call at least 20 clients a day to touch base with them about how they and their skin were coping during the closure,” said Loneragan.

“The response was overwhelming, not only were people buying products over the phone, but I found they were genuinely concerned for me and my business which was really touching.”

Offering virtual skin consults & tutorials

During the shutdown, Lush clients were educated and entertained with virtual skin consults and video tutorials.

“We put together mini facial packs, tanning packs and at home tinting kits all with tutorial videos. Clients expressed to us they loved seeing our faces and it got them through all their Zoom meetings,” said Gerbanas.

For Hughes, free online skin consultations are a reward for customer loyalty, with the added bonus of driving product sales.

“I sent every client who had been in this year a text and offered them to book in for ‘free skin chats’ in lieu of their usual monthly appointments.

“We started via phone and have now moved to Zoom. Clients have loved it, even if it’s more of a catch-up chat to see how they’re doing,” she said.

Streamlining treatments

Despite businesses adhering to hygiene and social distancing recommendations, there has been some trepidation from clients – due to the intimate nature of beauty services.

While this remains a hurdle, Hughes quickly identified an opportunity to streamline treatments. To reduce time for clients in the clinic but achieve better results, she completely re-wrote the service menu – making it less hands-on.

“I did this by bringing in LED and changing my backbar products to include intense ampules and enzymes that work in five minutes instead of ten,” she said.

A preliminary Zoom session now takes place before initial consultations at the clinic, reducing face-to-face contact and eliminating the need for pens and paper.

Revised product offering

With ‘homecare’ the new beauty buzzword, Loneragan has been busy with new product development.

“We also moved our focus to our products while the clinic was closed so I am busy designing more products that support people’s need for skin care in case we have another COVID closure,” she said.

This has meant developing products “geared to home use – with more focus on complete home facials.”

Preparing for second wave restrictions

After riding (and surviving) the uncertainty of the first COVID-19 wave, savvy beauty businesses are ready for a new round of restrictions – should they arise.

“We definitely are prepared for a second wave, with all our learnings from the first COVID-19 closure,” said Loneragan.

“We’ll look to continue offering clients products for at home treatments they can administer, remote consults and just continuing to stay in contact with clients so they know we’re here to help even if the clinic has to close again.”

According to Gerbanas, her salon is as prepared as can be.

“We did all the hard work when we closed the first time so there isn’t much I would change.

“We would close, refocus on retail sales again and wait for the all clear to get back to business.”