The threat of coronavirus has left the beauty and wellness industry struggling, with neighbourhood parlours on the verge of shutting down and larger chains contemplating tough decisions. A majority of salons operate on rented premises, paying usually between Rs 10,000 and Rs 2-3 lakhs per month. With no cash flow now, employers don’t know how long they can carry on with zero income.
Meenakshi Dutt, who has 30 employees in her two salons in the national capital and has multiple franchisee outlets, fears she may have to shut shop. “If it continues for four to five months, how will I pay rent? The cost of running a salon goes into lakhs and I am not even earning a rupee now,” she says.
“The beauty industry gives employment to so many uneducated skilled persons. We hire people, train them and make them capable of running their homes. My helper, who started working with me at a salary of Rs 3,000, is now earning around Rs 30,000.”
Veena Dang, who runs six salons in south Delhi as part of the Figure n Face chain, was lucky enough to get some relief on rent from her landlord. “They also have to compromise as we don’t have any income. Either I can pay the salary of my 85 employees or the rent,” she said.
Ambika Pillai, a well-known name in the hair and beauty industry, has managed to pay her employees around 50 per cent of their salaries. “I have my own makeup product line, which is keeping me afloat. My CA advised that I can borrow from one company and transfer to another; that’s how I was able to pay half the salary.”
However, Pillai, who operates three salons in Delhi and within Kerala, remains unsure about resuming business post-lockdown, because of the health risks involved. “I don’t think I will open my salons till it is 100 per cent safe. It is too risky for my clients and employees,” she remarked. She admits that a lot of salons may shut during the pandemic, including hers.
Like big chains, neighbourhood parlours are also feeling the pinch. Savita Saini of Cheena Beauty Parlour in Delhi’s Gautam Nagar is worried these days. The number of clients started dropping in March itself and there were hardly any new customers. “People may come for selective services that they cannot do at home. May be hair colour or threading”, she said. When asked about the revival of the business, she had no hopes of getting her business back on track anytime soon.
Representatives of the beauty and wellness industry have also written to Union Minister (MSME and Transport) Nitin Gadkari to allow the opening of salons, spas and barbershops under strict health and hygiene norms to ensure livelihoods of 70 lakh people. Women form a large part of this workforce with many being sole earners for their families.
Way ahead for beauty industry
Even after the lockdown, the establishments will have to adhere to strict safety guidelines, given the nature of the job, involving close contact with clients. Regaining consumer trust will be a challenge as well. Pillai, meanwhile, is not looking forward to a scenario where gloves, sanitisers and masks will be an essential part of the job.
On the hygiene protocols to be followed once salons reopen, Pillai said: “It will definitely compromise the concept of social distancing, since in our business, we work one-on-one with the client. Sterilising has to be top-notch, right from the lift buttons to staircase railings.”
Renowned beauty expert Shahnaz Husain proposed staggered appointments for clients to avoid the rush and mitigate the risk of infection. Husain felt there will be no major change in the beauty industry except that salons will have to adhere to the hygiene and social distancing norms laid down by the government.
Dutt has already invested in a fumigating machine. “Along with basic hygiene protocols, we will sanitise all our salons. All the seats will be fumigated before the client sits and after they leave.”
Lakme Lever, which has more than 490 salons across the country, wants to get their entire operations back on track as soon as the government permits them to do so. Pushkaraj Shenai, CEO, Lakme Lever, shared that the dynamics of the salon industry will change with the new environment, led by stringent hygiene and safety measures. “The need for social distancing will lead to a completely different set of expectations from the salon industry”, he added.
Lakme salons will implement 55 enhanced measures for the safety of customers and staff post lockdown. These include monitoring of salon teams and customers through the government’s Aarogya Setu app, strict social distancing through 50% staff strength and limited pre-booked appointments, daily deep cleaning and regular disinfection of every touchpoint throughout the day with a biosurfactant cleaner, protective gear – masks, gloves, visors – for the team, development of single-use kits, enhanced sterilization protocols and contactless billing.
Another key suggestion for the beauty industry is to embrace cashless transactions and online appointments. Abhiraj Singh, co-founder of Urban Company, said, “There will be a tectonic structural change in the beauty industry. Salons have to move to online booking and cashless transactions. Once, salons reopen then they can’t allow walk-in customers as social distancing will be the basic norm. They have to do away with cash transactions, which has been the case so far.”
The Urban Company recommends allowing salons, barbershops and self-employed individuals to deliver home services across zones, similar to restaurant home delivery while dine-in operations remained suspended. “This move helped restaurants earn revenues, pay employees and extended workforce, and remain afloat during the lockdown period. Services delivered at home are typically done in a one-on-one format while minimising crowding and congregation. This move will allow both salon chains and self-employed service professionals to cater to consumers while also earning a livelihood,” explained Singh.
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Special Coronavirus discount
Dutt, who also runs a makeup academy in Delhi, anticipates lowering rates when they resume services. “People are writing to me on Instagram asking about a coronavirus or quarantine discount for admissions. Forget raising costs of services, we may have to lower them just to attract customers.”
DYI rituals, online consultations and at-home salon services will be the trend
Pillai has been sharing beauty hacks on social media platforms since the start of the lockdown. From making your own Vitamin C serum to cutting your hair, her DIY hacks are quite popular. She believes it is better to follow a skincare routine at home even though one misses going to a salon.
For these one-on-one video consults, she charges a fee of Rs 1,000 and has not set any time-limit. “I need to collect Rs 12 lakh because that’s the salary of all my staff. What I have collected is not even a drop in the ocean but you have to find new ways as we don’t know how long this situation will continue,” Pillai told indianexpress.com.
DIY (Do It Yourself) treatments will also become trendy as they can be managed at home, said Husain, adding that online cosmetic sales will see a spike in coming days.
Urban Company’s Abhiraj Singh believes that salon-at-home services will be the new reality. “Australia has already allowed at-home services even while salons remain shut. It is a more controlled way of delivering services,” he added.