Hair salons in Toronto are already totally booked up for when they reopen again
Between staying away from friends, trying to be "productive" at home and otherwise avoiding everything good that Toronto has to offer, eight solid weeks of lockdown living has taken its toll... especially on hair.
I'm not trying to make light of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on human lives — far from it — but there are few businesses people seem to miss as much as their beloved salons (a fact which can be confirmed by Google search trends and all of the floppy mops on dudes at the grocery store right now).
As the provincial government slowly expands its list of business types permitted to reopen in Ontario, Toronto residents are waiting with baited breath for DoFo to say the word "hairdressers" so that we can all book in for much-needed cuts and/or colours.
Competition to secure appointments will thus be fierce (as if it weren't enough pre-COVID) and some of us will have to wait weeks, if not months to get coiffed, even after salons are given the green light to open again.
Eight of the city's best and brightest hair industry pros agreed to speak to me this week about how hard it'll be to score an appointment once they reopen, as well as how much demand they've already been fielding and what they'll be doing to accommodate the imminent rush of customers ASAP.
Here's what they had to say.
"I think people have realized that, even though the government has deemed us non-essential, we are in fact what a great deal of society is wanting right now," says Greg May, owner of Greg May Hair Architects in Yorkville.
"Not even just for the haircut or colour, but for the relationships that we have grown and fostered over time with our guests. I have had many of my guests for close to 30 years. They are more than just a 'client,' they are a friend."
May revealed that demand is so hot in the industry right now, a few rogue stylists have even started performing hair care services "underground."
"I think this is really bad, and you will see more and more underground salons popping up," he said. "These types of salons are not regulated. Most are not licensed, and their knowledge of both hair and sanitary issues will be limited."
May also advises against clients trying to do their own hair at home ("I think things could go sideways quite easily," he said), and predicts that the government will allow actual salons to reopen in June. He's started booking appointments accordingly.
"I have built a very strong clientele that has allowed me a full appointment schedule," he said, but "to be honest... What I think is more special are the guests messaging me to see how I'm feeling. How my business is surviving... That is closer to 50 per cent of my guests."
"I have had several guests send me money to tell me that they know things are hard, and they just want to pay ahead for their next appointment with me."
To accommodate these loyal clients, the self-professed workaholic says he'll be in the salon seven days a week, morning to night, once restrictions are lifted (while following all of the government's recommendations, of course, and stepping up his already strict sanitization schedule).
"We have started booking appointments, providing disclaimers to our clients that this is subject to change depending on government decisions on reopening," says Brittney Banks, master stylist and owner of Hair by Banks Beauty Bar on Queen Street West.
"As our clients see the uncertainty on reopening dates, we find they are booking multiple slots for various dates to ensure a time... There's a bit of a hoarding of slots, similar to hoarding of toilet paper that we all saw a month ago."
Banks says she's been following the government's announcements closely to prepare for opening day, and that her team is ready to go — with some fancy new skills and training under their belts to boot. But it won't be business as usual.
"We are running under the assumption that we will have to operate at a fraction of our previous capacity for a period of time," says Banks, noting that staff will be outfitted with plenty of personal protective equipment (also available to customers) and split into two teams to ensure space for physical distancing.
"That said, part of the experience at Hair by Banks is the vibrant and fun environment in the salon. We want to avoid having the experience feel 'clinical', so we are thinking hard about how we can continue a great vibe that our clients have come to expect."
Hair by Banks will be expanding its hours and days of operation to accommodate the initial boom, but one specific group of people won't have to wait long for a chair.
"One of our missions is to ensure we give first priority to any frontline healthcare workers that are looking for appointments," says Banks. "Our city owes the world to them for all their hard work and this is the least we can do for them."
"We are generally booked months in advance, all of our stylists, and now an entire cycle of clients has gone by. That means there will be a huge demand once we reopen — all at once," says Jason Lee, owner, founder and artistic director of Jason Lee Salon in midtown.
"We haven't started taking any appointments for when we reopen. It just seemed too crazy to start scheduling people when we didn't have an actual start date. We also don't know what types of restrictions will be placed on us when we do go back in terms of numbers of people allowed in a space. So for the time being, we are playing a waiting game."
Lee says that even when the province announces that salons can reopen, it doesn't necessarily mean that all salons will open at once or with the same capacity.
"We have to keep our staff, our clients and society's health in mind when we make the personal decision to go back. It can't just be a money thing," he said. "We may start back slower than people think."
That said, Lee says regular clientele will be given priority in terms of booking appointments, starting with those who had their appointments cancelled when the lockdown started.
"We will handle this in a fair manner and people will just need to be patient with us. It's not worth risking a bad hair job done by someone else because you want it done quickly, in my opinion, if you can't get in on day one when we return. Quality is worth the wait," he said.
"We decided that we will reach out to our clients and give them times as opposed to trying to field a million phone calls and booking things randomly. Rescheduling clients for salons will require a smart and calculated approach based on each individual business and how they handle their clientele."
"I remember thinking back in March that we wouldn't be closed for more than a few weeks," says Sylvie Prud'Homme, master stylist and co-owner of The Loft, which has locations on both Dundas Street and Queen Street West. "I kept on rescheduling and pushing client appointments every two weeks, and then finally I just accepted that we needed to clear our books and wait for a date, no matter when it would be."
As it stands now, Prud'Homme has no idea when salons will be allowed to reopen (nor does anybody, really), but she has a three week roll-out plan in place for when that finally happens.
"As soon as a date is set, the ball starts rolling — fast," she said. "I have a WhatsApp group for the staff and we do video chats weekly to stay on the same page, share updates, and exchange ideas. This will allow for a smooth transition when it's time to reopen."
Prud'Homme explained that backlogs will be imminent everywhere due not only to demand and increased safety measures (such limiting the amount of people in a salon at any given time), but due to how long and complicated appointments might be for the next little while.
"Some colour clients will need to book two separate appointments now to achieve their desired look because of such a great deal of regrowth on the roots. While maintaining a client's colour, stylists may see them every 2-3 months," explains Prud'Homme.
"If a client hadn’t had their hair done since January and was expecting to see us in March, they may have an inch or two of roots. Now with over six months of regrowth, it is a much bigger job and will take a greater amount of time."
Even with her business open seven days a week, 12 hours a day and new remote services like virtual consultations in place, Prud'Homme says that so many clients have already been requesting their next few appointments in advance that The Loft is "booked well into the end of fall, right up until Christmas."
Raphael Ness, master stylist and co-founder of Colour Lab in Rosedale, decided as soon as the pandemic hit that he'd do everything he could to help his clients maintain their colour from a distance — and his innovative spirit spawned a massive new customer base across the country.
"We have been offering at home Colour Kits since the day after we closed," he said. "We went from offering in salon services five days a week to mailing and delivering Colour Kits to new and returning clients all over Canada 24/7."
Demand for the Colour Kits has been so high that Ness says they'll be a permanent part of his business upon reopening.
"We are now able to colour hair all over Canada. It has been such a treat to chat with Canadians from all over during our virtual colour consultations via email or Zoom," he says.
Colour Lab has been inundated with emails and phone calls from clients looking for appointments, says Ness, and they are booking people in "with the understanding that there is a likely chance we will again have to reschedule if there are delays in reopening."
He estimates that demand for pre-booked appointments has increased by 100 per cent, but says that Colour Lab is trying to accommodate as many customers as possible right away by sending them root touch up kits. By converting customers who can do their own colour at home, Ness says he can free up chairs for blondes and people with highlights (who under no circumstances should play with bleach on their own at home).
"New and returning clients who are unsure if they are eligible for a Colour Kit or want an in person consultation can book in for a complimentary consultation and leave with our carry-out colouring service," he explains. "When the government deems it is safe to reopen we will not be opening in a way that anyone will recognize."
"For the first few weeks of the closure, I attempted to reschedule most the appointments that were booked, but as the mandated closures were continually extended, it had become an exercise in futility, and eventually it just became too difficult to manage," says Jessica Berswick, owner of Leslieville's Daughter of Oz Salon.
"As of now, I have closed my online booking indefinitely — and I won’t be rescheduling appointments until we have a confirmed reopening date."
Berswick, who is the sole operator of her salon with two part-time assistants, said that she was already at full capacity before the closure, booking appointments six-to-eight weeks out and using a waitlist system for new appointment requests.
When she's allowed to reopen, she says she'll be given priority to guests whose appointments have been most affected by the closure, followed by people on the waitlist.
"After that, I'm looking into a lottery system, especially for the most coveted evening and weekend appointment spots. I want to be fair and make sure everyone has their hair done as soon as possible, even if I have to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week."
Like most salon owners, Berswick is also changing her entire operation to accommodate a new reality — one where sanitization is king and social distancing is a must.
"If we use what salons in the U.S. are doing as an example, I'm going to have to revisit and extend pre-determined appointment times, and adjust the salon's operating hours to accommodate for any and all of the additional cleaning, sanitation and social distancing practices... All of this adds up to weeks, if not months of backlogged appointments."
The Proudest Pony, a boutique salon in Brockton Village famous for creating truly unique and vibrant hairstyles (all with gender neutral pricing), plans to use a first come, first served model to accommodate the rush of appointment requests they'll likely receive when allowed to reopen.
"We have recently started a priority list that we announced on our Instagram, and we will book people in order of the requests," says Ashley Brewsmith, the salon's senior stylist, founder and creative director. "We will prioritize booking people who are on our list before we open our online booking feature again."
While used to being busy with waitlists for evening and weekend appointments, Brewsmith says the salon is seeing more people than usual trying to secure appointments well in advance right now.
"I have people emailing me about events they're hoping to attend in June and July and hoping they can secure a spot before then," she says, noting that she's hoping to start taking clients again in mid-June (government willing).
Fortunately, the Proudest Pony team has been able to make good use of the downtime to give their space "a makeover to accommodate our new reality."
"Hand sanitizing stations have been installed at the front door, we've removed any unnecessary furniture to reduce clutter and make cleaning easier and we have an order of fabric face masks on the way, as we anticipated both stylists and clients will need to wear these," says Brewsmith.
"Even though we are a relatively small salon with only five stylists, it's likely we will only have two stylists working at any given time."
"We know we are going to be very busy once returning to work, but we are all looking forward to it, [and] of course [will be] following guidelines and taking the necessary safety precautions to keep everyone healthy and well," says Tricia Mcquillan, salon director of Sassoon Toronto in Yorkville.
"The pandemic has affected so many people in our salon. I have about 25 staff who have had to be temporarily laid off during this time, from my stylist, colourist and academy teachers to apprentices and reception. This has been hard for everyone not only financially, but socially and mentally."
Mcquillan says that, while Sassoon has not yet started taking appointments for reopening, they will go back and honour all of the appointments that were booked before the emergency order went into effect.
"When we have a date that we are able to open, myself and our reception team will be ready to book appointments accordingly. Hopefully we will have a few days to organize that so that no time is wasted," she said.
"In our salon, we always encourage our clients to book ahead, so knowing that, a lot of our clients are now trying to book two to three appointments ahead. I would say about 50 per cent of people are booking more then one appointment."
In addition to sneeze guards, enhanced sanitization protocols, fewer clients in the salon at a time and tons of PPE, Sassoon will reserve some mornings exclusively for more vulnerable guests.
"We are planning to open seven days a week with extended hours to help with the backlog," said Mcquillan. "All of our staff are keen to get back to work, so if that means coming in seven days a week to accommodate their guests, they're willing to do that until things settle down."
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