26th March, 2020

What the COVID-19 lockdown means for beauty business operators

As we continue to cut through the noise created by COVID-19, here’s the advice on offer for beauty business operators, from nail salons to hairdressers.

Under stage two lockdown restrictions aimed at preventing COVID-19 transmission in Australia, all beauty therapy, tanning, nail and waxing salons across the country were forced to close earlier this week.

Deemed ‘essential services’, hairdressers and barbers may continue to operate. For the time being at least, with strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place.

Here, we break down what the changes mean for salon operators and staff. We also investigate the steps savvy business owners are taking for survival and outline the government support available to help you weather the coronavirus storm.

Personal beauty services: Closed!

Alongside gyms and wellness centres, a wide range of beauty businesses have been forced to shut down. The following are included in the latest lockdown measures:

  • Beauty therapy
  • Tanning
  • Waxing
  • Nail salons
  • Tattoo parlours

UPDATE: Since this article was published, the Government has announced new wage subsidies for employers as part of a $130 billion JobKeeper stimulus package. Read about the new wage subsidies here.

According to Natalie Abouchar, Nurse Practitioner and Founder of Sydney’s Privée Clinic, it’s a necessary move.

“I think the Government needed to take a stand to flatten the curve and as we are working so closely with clients it would be quite easy to spread,” said Abouchar.

Owner of Lush Tan Beauty in Brisbane, Keely Gerbanas is also behind the shut-down. So much so that she pre-empted the government announcement and elected to close in mid-March.

“As an employer my number one priority and responsibility is the health and wellbeing or my staff and clients. Considering the highly contagious nature of this COVID-19 virus I found it impossible to justify continuing business as usual,” said Gerbanas.

“We work closely with clients, we work in small spaces and we can see up to 20 clients a day. When you look at the social distancing graphs the Government has posted on social media it’s easy to see how we could potentially be contributing to the spread.

“Yes, we have very strict hygiene measures, but this is clearly not an ordinary virus.”

View this post on Instagram

LUSH TAN BEAUTY WILL BE CLOSED ‪FROM FRIDAY 20 MARCH Lush Tan Beauty is committed to safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our clients, staff and local community during this time of uncertainty. On Sunday the 15th of March the Prime Minister asked us to practice ‘social distancing’ (staying at least 1.5metres from one another) and he asked us to rethink any ‘non-essential’ activity. With both of these requests in mind I have made the difficult decision to close Lush Tan Beauty at this time. This will give us the opportunity to monitor the situation. If you have a booking that falls ‪between Friday 20 March – Sunday 5 April‬ we will be in contact with you ASAP. I don’t know what the immediate future holds but the one thing I know for sure is we will be back! Stay safe, stay at home and stay well Keely xx

A post shared by Lush Tan Beauty (@lushtanbeauty) on

According to Svetlana Burckhardt, owner of EyebrowExperts in Sydney, in the days before the forced closure the situation was grim, with a near 90 percent cancellation rate for appointments.

Hairdressers and barbers: Open, with strict social distancing

At present, hairdressing salons and barbershops can operate, with stringent social distancing measures in place. Salons must limit the number of individuals on the premises, with one person per four square metres, and try to maintain 1.5 metres between clients as per official Department of Health advice.

New restrictions announced Monday night also included limiting appointment time to 30 minutes. However, under pressure from the industry, the Government has lifted this limit.

Hair salon and barbershop restrictions:

  • 4 square metres per person

Additionally, salon owners are instructed to observe the highest level of hygiene, ensure employees are aware of and following protocols, and communicate these measures with customers. Clients and staff should also be instructed to remain at home if unwell, or if recently returned from overseas.

The hair industry responds

According to The Australian Hairdressing Council, the Federal Government’s decision to leave hairdressing off the latest shut down leaves hairdressing industry workers at risk.

“This decision is outrageous,” said Australian Hairdressing Council CEO Sandy Chong. “Around 40,000 hairdressers and barbers continue to be at risk of as they are directly exposed to large members of the public.”

And businesses will lose out if they opt to close anyway.

“The Fair Work Act, as it stands, makes it costly for businesses if they choose to stand down without the Government’s directive,” she said.

Yet many businesses have chosen to close, regardless. Among them is Henry Lee Barbershop in Melbourne – a small, usually busy, walk-in only premises.

Owner Lily Peddle felt that despite taking all possible precautions, the situation was beyond her control, and therefore made the difficult decision to shut up shop over a week ago.

“We had signage up prior to closing but a lot of people were still coming in that had been to various festivals and on overseas trips,” said Peddle.

“[With a number of immunocompromised staff] I couldn’t risk any of us becoming infected and knowing how close we work with our clients I just felt that it would be best to… make the difficult call to close the doors.”

However not all operators think a forced shut down is for the best.

“My peers’ feedback has been that they want the Government to announce complete shutdown so they can stand down staff,” said Sofia Basile, owner of Unico Hair in Melbourne.

“I’m really conscious that the system is overwhelmed by the job losses, which has been very stressful for everyone. I am committed to trying to keep my staff employed.”

Basile added that clients and staff are asked to stay at home if unwell, and that all possible precautions are being taken in the efforts to stay safe – and operational.

Everything in the salon is sanitised and staff are required to wear masks and wash hands after each client.

“We also politely ask our clients to wash their hands or use sanitiser on our front counter,” said Basile.

When asked the current sentiment in the hairdressing industry, Anita Ainsworth, owner of Alkemi Salon in Perth, said she believes most would like to keep working so they have money coming in.

If one thing’s certain, it’s that salons across the country are taking a hit.

“The restrictions have affected us greatly. We have had to limit the amount of clients in the salon at one time, bookings have been down due to events being cancelled and clients in self isolation,” said Ainsworth.

Keeping things going during lockdown

Whether affected by closure or dwindling client numbers, beauty businesses are being forced to look at new ways to boost revenue. Savvy salon owners are also continuing to engage with loyal customers to ensure they’ll be there when life returns to normal.

Here are some actions others are taking that might benefit your business.

Focusing on retail and online sales

If you sell retail product and gift vouchers, now is the time to set up or update your online selling portal and promote your offering on social media.

Peddle said since closing she’s been promoting egiftcard and product sales via the online store, and is currently working with an artist friend to create a run of shirts to sell while the shop is closed.

While for Basile, there will be increased focus on sales of her locally-made haircare line in the Fitzroy salon, Gerbanas said she’d be working on Lush’s online store “and hopefully sell retail as soon as possible.”

Utilising your skills in other areas

Abouchar sees opportunity in the forced closure.

“I am looking at taking a job within a hospital to help out during the crisis and utilise my nursing skills.”

Offering online training and consults

“We are looking for ways to engage and connect with people virtually to cater their beauty needs in the best possible way we can,” said Burckhardt.

While beauty services are inaccessible, she’ll be selling online brow shaping tutorials – usually available to industry professionals only – at a reduced price.

Working on your business

“I think the benefit of the forced shut down is that I will now have time to do all the jobs that I never had time to do before, such as changes with the website and back end admin,” added Abouchar.

“Hopefully it will allow us to provide an even better experience for our clients once we return.”

Continued communication efforts

If you’ve built a loyal clientele, now is not the time to desert them. It’s important to maintain connection and keep clients informed – especially in this time of physical isolation.

“We will continue to be active on social media and will still send out our monthly newsletter,” said Abouchar.

Help and information available to beauty business owners

If you are a salon owner, there is a wealth of resources and information specific to COVID-19 – from WH&S guidelines to client email templates – available on the Hair & Beauty Industry Association (HBIA) and Australian Hairdressing Council websites.

In terms of financial support, the latest stimulus measure announced by the Government may entitle you to receive two sets of cash flow boosts.

Eligible employers with a turnover less than $50 million will first receive a tax-free payment from $20,000 to $100,000 as a credit on their activity statement from 28 April 2020.

Businesses will also receive a second cash flow boost, equal to the initial amount received, from 28 July 2020.

More information on these and other Government incentives – including loan guarantees, early access to super and the lifting of the statutory demand threshold – can be found here and here.

The Government is also incentivising eligible small businesses to retain their trainees and apprentices with a wage subsidy. More information available here.

Rescue packages to protect small business owners who cannot pay their rents are also expected to be announced in coming days.

How to support your employees and workers

With loss of cash flow, rents and a looming recession, employers are having to make tough decisions regarding employees. But, it’s important you know your – and your employees’ – rights. Here’s what you should know about your employees’ leave entitlements.

If you’ve had to let staff go, or cut hours for casual workers, they may be entitled to the ‘Coronavirus Supplement’ – fortnightly payments of $550 for up to 6 months. If you’re a sole trader, you may also access these payments if eligible.

If you will struggle to pay your home loan repayments, most lenders will also allow you to pause repayments for a period of time. Contact your lender for more information on their hardship support policy.

For further information on assistance for businesses and individuals financially impacted by COVID-19, visit the ATO website. You can also look up an accredited accountant or relevant business advisor, here.