If you’re seeking comfort, look elsewhere. I’m a pessimistic realist and I’m not pulling any punches today. None of us has time to waste on carefully crafted introductions that state the obvious, so let’s get right to it: Now that COVID-19 has upended everything, what the hell do we do as individuals, employees, employers, small business owners, parents, and as an industry overall? What can we expect over the next few years?
We can’t tell the future, but we should all be planning for a variety of potential outcomes, the most threatening of which is extended economic strife.
Thus far, the government has been wrong about basically everything. Expect them to also be wrong about how long we need to distance ourselves from others and how long our businesses will need to be closed for. I consider their “15-day” estimations to be absurdly optimistic (and so do a lot of people far more qualified than me), given that defiant, ignorant people exist in disproportionate numbers here. Our government doesn’t have the authority or the capacity to enforce national quarantines nor have they yet approved a plan to pay anxious Americans enough to stay home.
What worked in China likely will not work here, so it wouldn’t hurt for you to assume that COVID-19 and the economic consequences of the pandemic will persist for much longer than projected.
Plan for the worst.
I good at my job because I’m pragmatic. I consider unexpected outcomes and unintended consequences a lot of other people miss. I’m able to foresee certain conclusions because I am always asking myself a series of questions, like, “Which behaviors does this policy/practice reward and which does it discourage?” and “If this compensation system were a game, how would I break it?”
Right now, the most important question every one of you should be asking is this:
Three months from now, which steps will you regret not taking?
Base your answers on the worst possible circumstances. I’ll help you identify those, in case you haven’t yet:
- The virus continues to be a problem for the next year (at least), with salons ordered to close for weeks at a time as COVID-19 continues to infect the populace in waves.
- The moratorium on bills that people are now calling for never passes.
- The government provides relief, but it’s too little too late, and you aren’t eligible for it anyway.
- The economy is thrown into a depression that makes the 2008 recession look like a cakewalk.
Those are your worst possible circumstances at this very moment. If all four of these things remain true, what will you regret not doing right now?
Don’t be caught with your ass in the air. Get ahead now. Every day counts.
I’m a human person. What do I do?
Stop circulating in the public. If you must, start contact tracing. Write down the names of every person you come into contact with each day and where you were in contact with them.
If you think contact tracing is too much work, you are circulating too much.
These records are invaluable to healthcare workers and the CDC when someone gets sick because they can be used to quickly track down the person who infected you and notify everyone you’ve been in contact with since.
I’m a business owner. What do I do?
Close your salon, even if your local authority hasn’t ordered it. A responsible government would have taken a cautious approach from the beginning. We haven’t. Instead, we wasted critical weeks and continue even now to put people at risk by allowing too many of them to mingle freely while a novel virus we understand less than dick about spreads like wildfire.
Because we work so closely with the public, we present a massive public health threat right now. Stop being part of the problem. Close up shop until tests and masks are freely available, the danger of overwhelming our hospitals has passed, and contact tracing becomes the rule for everyone.
Those who are unwilling to make sacrifices now will continue to exacerbate the problem, causing it to continue indefinitely.
The fastest way for us to get back to work is to shut everything down until we’ve identified and isolated the ill.
When it comes to finances, start researching the relief programs that may be available to you. This tool made by Forbes can help.
Do not—I repeat—DO NOT apply for ANY loans or lines of credit out of desperation. Harsh truth time: Even if you manage to obtain a massive loan (which is unlikely AF now that lenders are getting nervous), your salon could still drown in the multi-year economic wake of coronavirus, leaving you destitute.
You should only accept debt when you’re confident it’ll result in growth, enabling you to pay it off, otherwise you’re performing a blood transfusion on a dead man.
Never forget that unjustified optimism brought us to where we are today. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Remember that? Feels like a lifetime ago, right? Don’t make the same mistakes our government officials made when you hear them trying to convince you that the economy will “bounce back.” The best a realistic optimist can tell you right now is, “Nobody knows.” Anyone telling you anything else about how COVID-19 will affect the economy is putting your livelihood at risk.
As a consultant, I can’t in good conscience advise salon owners to gamble their future on a recovery that likely won’t come in time for their businesses. If you have to cut your losses, cut them quickly and seek reemployment. Retreat now and live to fight another day.
Are there any alternatives to closing up shop? Totally, but it will require revolutionary thinking and ideal pre-COVID financial circumstances. Owners who were once competitors will need to join forces, partner up, pool resources, and work together. If you’re determined to fight to the death, start reaching out to like-minded salon owners and professionals to form strategic alliances now because the saying, “There are more than enough clients for everyone,” won’t be true when we all finally emerge from our homes.
I’m an employee. What do I do?
If you were laid off (or are sitting at home uncompensated), try to take advantage of state resources like unemployment. Instead of watching the news all day, think of ways you can work and generate an income outside of the industry. If you have an opportunity to pursue any of those options, I would advise you to take them. Now.
Do not “take one for the team” and work in the salon for free unless you genuinely want to and can afford to volunteer.
If your employer has earned some goodwill from you, try to extend some grace to them. This is uncharted territory for all of us.
I’m an employer. What do I do?
Whatever you can. Hopefully, you took my advice and stockpiled a bunch of cash in an emergency fund and have enough to compensate your professionals for a few weeks (at the very least). If you can’t, you owe it to them to communicate that immediately and give them the opportunity to find other work and/or seek employment elsewhere.
You should also research the relief programs that may be available to you. This tool made by Forbes can help.
How will this impact the industry long-term? Should I find another career?
Let me preface this with the following: I hope like hell that I’m wrong.
As much as I’d like to lift your spirits during this crisis, I can’t.
The fact of the matter is that we—as a nation—very likely are not organized, disciplined, or selfless enough to “flatten the curve,” “slow the spread,” or “eradicate” COVID-19. We’re already seeing our efforts fall apart nearly every step of the way so far. Unless something miraculous happens, our businesses and our incomes will be in jeopardy for a long while and our clients will be hesitant to return even after their income starts to recover.
The last recession, I clung to this industry like a drowning woman clings to a life raft, hoping that if I just waited everything out, things would get better. I told myself that I had invested so much already, it would be foolish to quit. I said, “Everyone needs haircuts! We’re recession-proof! Any day now, we’ll be back to normal. If I leave the industry, I’ll be betraying myself because I love this job.”
Please, don’t do what I did.
If I had to do it all over again (and it looks like that might be the case), I’d have found a position in any industry that could compensate me steadily so I could routinely pay my bills. Instead, I worked part-time at two salons (three, during off-season), averaging 90 hours per week and going anywhere from one month to six weeks without a single day off, yet no amount of hard work could close the gap between my pre-recession expenses and my post-recession income. I gave up my house and sold what I could. I lived for years without cable, internet, or a cell phone, cutting coupons and relying on sales to put food on the table.
I realized too late how nonessential our services are.
I didn’t have a backup plan.
I leaned in when I should have been dipping the fuck out…at least temporarily.
Back then, I rarely had more than $400 in my bank account. Sure, I survived, but it was stressful and I cried a lot. I was fortunate to have a job at all, let alone three. My managerial qualifications were likely the only reason I didn’t end up indefinitely unemployed like so many of my colleagues.
If you’re barely scraping by right now or are new to the industry and haven’t built your following, it’s okay to cut ties with for now, especially if you aren’t properly classified or legally compensated. In fact, if either or both are the case, I would urge you to start researching new jobs ASAP. Don’t waste time waiting and hoping, like I did. Weeks quickly stretch into months, and months into years. The longer you wait, the easier it is to justify waiting even more. (Our brains are real bastards.)
Not a single one of us owes our loyalty to this industry. There’s nothing noble or honorable about going down with the ship during a global crisis. Do what is best for you and your family. Pay your bills. Feed your kids. Come back when you can afford to. A lot of salons will be forced to close, but our services will always be needed in our communities.
As for the future, I expect, at the very least, we’ll be repeating the past. Because the 2008 financial crisis traumatized me for life, it’s still very fresh in my mind.
Here’s what happened:
- Clients were laid off and quit coming to salons.
- Salon owners slashed prices, engaging in price wars with local competitors that continued to drive down prices.
- DIY products and video tutorials proliferated the market.
- Professionals whose commissions constituted a large part of their wages quit to find employment elsewhere.
- A large chunk of salon owners couldn’t cut costs or increase productivity to the levels necessary to compete with other salons or retail alternatives and were forced to close.
- Beauty schools saw critical declines in enrollment levels, which caused many to cut programs or to close entirely.
- Finding qualified employees became exceptionally difficult as people fled the industry and schools became less accessible. Salon owners also couldn’t afford to compensate professionals competitively at the absurdly low price points cash-strapped consumers demanded, making a difficult situation outright impossible.
- The industry’s plague of labor abuses became even more commonplace, fragmenting our industry into a legion of microsalon owners who would rather work for themselves than be exploited, crushing the already ailing employment-based salon model. The increase in these abuses provoked me to start blogging about them in 2010.
- Lacking the distribution provided by employment-based salons, salon-exclusive brands turned to retail outlets to move product. As we were already beginning to see our clients choose to buy from online retailers, this punch proved to be the final blow for many salon owners who relied on those retail sales to subsidize the salon.
- Legislators pushed to deregulate our industry. (But that’s nothing new.)
- A bunch of salon owners and professionals remained in denial about their economic reality for far too long, wasting valuable time “doing business as usual” when they should have been rapidly evolving in an effort to compete or dropping out entirely.
Nobody can say for sure how things will shake out, but I’m operating on the assumption that we’re facing a big hit that will impact us for a long while.
What I’m Doing
It became clear to me that COVID-19 was going to be a serious problem the first week of March. My family has been inside since. I never thought I’d be glad to be born and raised in the armpit that is the state of Florida but growing up in a place where state-wide emergencies are routine prepared me for this well (as did being nearly bankrupted during the recession). We have a bidet and cloth diapers, so my family of seven won’t exacerbate the inevitable toilet paper and diaper shortages. We’ve started a large vegetable garden to help curb our grocery needs. Thankfully, I eliminated my debts and saved aggressively over the last decade, so I can afford to expand my skill set by earning a nanodegree in full stack development online—just in case I have to change careers. I started the course a few days after we voluntarily quarantined ourselves. Both the immediate and long-term future are virtual so that’s where I’m focusing my attention.
I encourage you to also start thinking about your future and coming up with contingency plans, at the very least.
Honestly, over the last month, I’ve been a mess. I’ve been overwhelmed by the horror stories from professionals and owners that I’ve formed relationships with over the last decade. A lot of my consulting clients have only just recovered from the last recession and were finally building wealth. Nearly all are women with children to support. The thought of them losing everything they worked so hard for feels like a punch to the chest.
They busted their asses. They poured everything into their dreams. They deserved much better.
You all deserve better. That’s why I won’t lie and tell you it’ll all work itself out. That attitude ruined a lot of people for a lot longer than it should have fifteen years ago. If you currently know or suspect, based on your current financial situation, that you or your salon won’t make it—get out early.
WHAT DID YOU SAY?! Why aren’t you telling people not to panic?!
Because you should panic. While the media focuses largely on medical supply shortages and dehumanizes and diminishes the victims by constantly referring to “the numbers” (because god forbid we call them “people”), thousands of workers are losing their jobs, to the point that the White House is asking states not to release their unemployment statistics for fear of causing more market chaos. Businesses are already shuttering with no plans to reopen. Every day we go without aid to the people, their debts (and ours) accumulate. Meanwhile, the only option for business owners is to take out loans—if they can find and qualify for them.
If you’re holding out hope that the government will sort it all for us with bold, decisive action—stop. Thus far, they’ve done nothing to earn that trust from you.
What they have done a whole lot of is lying. That’s not even just my opinion. That’s a verifiable fact. Now, the same people who told you COVID-19 was a hoax are in charge of “saving” the economy. Call me cynical, but I wouldn’t be so quick to put my confidence in a positive outcome.
Panic, but channel that energy into something meaningful and productive.
I am where I am professionally because I tell the truth, regardless of how unpopular it could make me. I’m trusted because I genuinely care about the welfare of the people who work in this industry and want nothing more than to see us all thrive. I take my responsibility to all of you very seriously, which is why I’m here forcing everyone to acknowledge what no one wants to admit. I can’t advise anyone to sacrifice themselves on the altar of industry loyalty.
The facts are clear: the vast majority of beauty workers and salon owners will not survive this economic downturn.
I don’t want to hear a bunch of bitching in the comments. Don’t tell me it’s “too early.” I brought receipts. And don’t you dare tell me I’m being “negative.” This system has broken in ways we, as an industry, cannot fix. We have no control over any of this. Now is not the time to “stay positive.” Now is not the time to “wait and see.”
Now is the time to set our emotions aside, get proactive, and take our own bold, decisive actions to save ourselves and our families. We can mourn every single one of our countless losses later.
When I sat down to write this article, I wanted to be positive. I really did. The idea of publishing it has kept me up at night and I’m not sure how long it’ll be before I can stomach sharing it on the site’s social media accounts. The last thing I wanted was to kick at you while you’re down. I’m sorry, but where our industry is concerned, there’s little to be positive about.
Things don’t just look bleak, they look downright abysmal, and when your savings is dwindling and the bills are piling up with no resolution in sight, you don’t have the time to waste praying for a miracle. Brace yourselves.
No amount of motivational platitudes or positive thinking will alter the fabric of our new economic reality.
We’re facing an unprecedented stop in economic activity. If you’re a “ride or die” professional, great. Only you know what’s best for you, but keep your sunshiny, sugar-coated bullshit to yourself. While you try to will the economy into submission with the sheer force of your happy thoughts the rest of us will be facing a broken, traumatized populace that won’t be able to afford the luxury of our services for a long time and probably won’t be comfortable being in such close proximity to others when they finally can. If you aren’t taking this seriously by now, you aren’t paying attention.
I care about this industry but I care about people more. Many of you will have to make tough, agonizing decisions. A lot of you will have to leave. If you do, don’t worry—the industry isn’t going anywhere. It will be here when you get back.