Post-Curve, Pre-Vaccine: Where do salons go from here?

As of the day I write this, efforts to flatten the curve seem to be working, but we can’t stay inside forever. Within the next few weeks and months, stay-at-home orders will be lifted, but probably not eased entirely. Until we have a vaccine, we’ll all need to continue to be cautious.

How do we, as professionals who have no choice but to interact in close proximity with the public, protect ourselves and our communities? How can we close the gaps in our revenue? Will our state board regulations change, and if so, how? How will our salons change?

Why Things Can’t Go Back to Normal…Yet

Even after we’re allowed to go back out into the world, COVID-19 will still exist. It will remain a threat to everyone, including you. (Remember, healthy and young people are also being affected.)

Until we have a vaccine, we will likely still be expected to follow some measure of social distancing protocol. If we want to see what that might look like, we can watch what’s going on in other countries as they also ease their quarantines, but we shouldn’t assume that Americans will be as compliant with mitigation efforts as the citizens of other countries. As with social distancing, what worked there may not work here (at least not as efficiently or effectively) because our cultures and our governments are so different.

We’re wild, sometimes defiant individualists who don’t often take kindly to being told what to do, especially when the people doing the telling are politicians. As individual Americans, we may have our differences but do you know what we all have in common? We are nobody’s bitch. Our lawmakers understood this too, which is why only a few had the courage to order shutdowns early. These politicians risked their careers in an effort to protect their citizens.

From the outside, it can seem frustrating to watch leaders struggle to make what seems like the obvious (and inevitable) choice, but it’s hard not to sympathize. The decisions these leaders had to make were not easy ones. Even now, we don’t know which among them made the right decision, if any. We may never know whose approach was the least damaging and most effective. As much as I believe every American should have been mobilized months ago to do whatever would be necessary to protect each other and their income, I can understand how impossible the situation must have felt.

We’re all finding ourselves in impossible situations these days, but maybe this time we can prepare for the challenge we’re all going to face before we suddenly find ourselves neck-deep in it. Moving forward, we should anticipate how these lawmakers will ease society into a lifestyle that resembles what we had before while keeping COVID-19 under control. At a bare minimum, what can we expect to be required to do? Will our protocols need to change? Furthermore, will salon owners be at risk of being held liable for local outbreaks if they don’t comply?

How Salons May Change in the Wake of The Curve

Employer-Provided PPE
Employers are already expected to provide adequate PPE to their employees but these are different circumstances. Professionals who ordinarily wouldn’t require PPE will likely now require a steady supply of masks and gloves that salon owners will have to make room in their budget for. This will be something clients will absolutely expect from estheticians and lashers but will probably also demand from all professionals who work within their breathing zone (hairstylists and massage therapists).

Handwash Stations in Reception and/or Service Areas
Some nail salons have these already, but I anticipate they’ll become far more common as professionals put pressure on their employers and legislators to keep them safe.

Occupancy Restrictions & Distancing Rules
We may be told to grant additional square footage between each station and/or to limit the amount of people in our salons simultaneously. These changes may put salon owners in a position where they must eliminate positions or scale back employee hours. Should this come to pass, salon owners who take out PPP loans may have their eligibility for forgiveness compromised. (More information on the PPP’s forgiveness rules can be found at the end of the post.)

Service Restrictions
While I don’t consider this super likely, we may be temporarily prohibited from performing services that put us face-to-face with clients, like lashing, manicures, facials, and permanent makeup.

Periodic Mandatory Closures
Hopefully, breakthroughs in testing and tracking will pay off so we can avoid being ordered to shut down during local outbreaks. If not, then salon owners can expect to be required to close along with all other nonessential businesses when new infection counts start rising.

New Client Policies
I know I’m not the only salon owner preparing to communicate some new protocols to my clients. I can’t speak for those owners, but my salon will be requiring clients to wear face coverings until a vaccine is readily available. (We already require them to wash their hands upon arrival.)

Salon owners who do not want their brands tied to a local outbreak will ensure both their employees and their clients are following proper distancing and disinfection protocol at all times.

Until we know more, we have no idea what those social distancing protocols will look like for us. However, you should expect that failure or refusal to comply will come with hefty legal and/or financial consequences. Speaking of consequences…

Potential Problems for Salon Owners

Let’s talk about liability. I have so many questions and you should too.

  • If your salon is deemed responsible for an outbreak, could you be held legally responsible for deaths, hospitalizations, or lost income?
  • If a client or employee who contracted COVID-19 at your salon dies, can their family sue you for poor infection control?
  • What happens if an infected person intentionally conceals their symptoms so they can return to work and ends up infecting others?
  • If an immunocompromised employee doesn’t feel safe returning to work at the salon and is then fired for it, will it count as an ADA violation and will the employee have any legal recourse?

Before you comment that these questions are ridiculous, remember that Just a few weeks ago, we had idiots coughing on produce. Those idiots were charged with felonies for terroristic threats.

If you missed the produce debacle in the deluge of news, you don’t have to believe me. Proof provided. Here’s another one that happened last week. As a matter of fact, lawyers are already discussing how to prosecute purposeful exposure. Here’s an excerpt:

“On March 24, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen sent U.S. attorneys and federal law enforcement agencies a memo informing Department of Justice officials that they should consider prosecuting certain “purposeful exposure or infection of others with COVID-19” under federal terrorism-related statutes.”

Here’s more:

“The Rosen memorandum lists several federal statutes that may be relevant. The most important is 18 U.S.C § 2332a, which criminalizes the use of weapons of mass destruction. The statute makes it a federal offense to use, threaten, or attempt to use or conspire to use a “weapon of mass destruction” against persons within the United States. Section 2332a(c)(2) defines that term to include “any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector,” as those terms are defined in 18 U.S.C § 178, which in turn defines “biological agents” to include viruses “capable of causing death, disease, or other biological malfunction in a human.” Hence, using a weapon involving a virus capable of causing death would be a federal offense.

Unlike many federal terrorism statutes, Section 2332a does not require the government to prove that the offense contains a transnational or foreign element—so an infected person who maliciously coughs on someone else might be charged even if she is not doing so as part of a campaign to, for example, support the Islamic State. The individual need not have the specific intent to kill the victim to be found guilty of a violation of § 2332a. A person found guilty of a violation of § 2332a faces imprisonment for any term of years or for life; if the offense causes death, the person could face the death penalty.”

Read the bold print, then click into the actual article and read the whole thing. (I highly recommend adding “coronavirus exposure + terrorism” to your Google Alerts if you want to keep up with that conversation.)

You done? Good. Let’s continue:

  • What constitutes gross negligence in the post-curve, pre-vaccine period?
  • When does carelessness become recklessness?
  • Will we be required to carry some kind of infectious disease insurance now?

We need to have the answers to these questions before we even consider opening our doors to the public again.

I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t ever want to end up in a situation where the only thing a group of local COVID patients has in common is that they visited my salon, nor do I want my brand associated with a legal precedent.

How Do Salons Survive the Post-Curve, Pre-Vaccine Period?

The answer to this will be different for every owner and depends highly on their personal and professional circumstances. Those who knew they weren’t strong enough to financially weather a two-month shutdown, let alone an 18+ month shutdown, have worked with their landlords to make a smooth exit so they can conserve their resources and hopefully return strong later. We’re not talking about them, but the owners who have decided to take the risk and weather the storm for however long they can. From where I sit in the industry I see three camps, each with different strategies. I’ll present them in order, from those I consider most viable to least viable.

Camp 1: “Buckle down, switch focus, and serve the community however possible.”

Instead of considering yourself a “salon owner” during this time, consider yourself a “business owner” and serve people however you can. This is what we’re planning to do by providing low-cost grocery delivery and errand running for our clients, the vast majority of whom are at-risk seniors.

How you choose to serve your community is up to you, but start thinking outside of the box many salon owners are stuck in.

Selling press-ons, Zoom tutorials, and gift cards will only get you so far for so long, so get creative.

Camp 2: “Stay closed and plan for a new future.”

Many owners in this camp are experiencing analysis paralysis, unable to decide whether to switch their focus or close until things improve. The ones I’ve spoken to are in financial situations that aren’t yet critical but will be soon if they don’t make a choice.

Now that we’re starting to see what the next year will look like, we can start changing our practices to accommodate social distancing mandates the best we can, but I don’t recommend taking a “wait and see” approach for long. If you’re capable of doing more to serve people than sit at home on that fence and write new service and operational protocols, do it. Start today.

Camp 3: “Enjoy the two-week vacay and wait for the busy bus.”

Back when everyone in the White House was holding up the “15-days to slow the spread” poster (over 30 days ago now), someone commented this on one of my articles and it horrified me. It has been echoing in my head for the last month. I often wonder if that commenter is still “enjoying the vacay” and waiting for that busy bus to arrive. (If so, congrats on the privileges your wealth has provided, I guess?)

Honestly, I don’t personally know a single business owner in this camp. Not a single one of my consulting clients is kicking up their heels right now (to my knowledge) and I’d argue that they’re a lot more successful than most as many of them have multiple profitable locations in major cities that aren’t easy to compete in.

If the successful people in this industry are taking this seriously, perhaps you should also.

I continue to stand by the opinions I shared in the article I posted last month, because the wait for that busy bus will be too long for most people to bear. Pride, ignorance, complacency, and a refusal to accept reality during this time will bankrupt people.

How the Beauty Industry May Change

In this shitshow, I have found one bright ray of hope, and it’s in our next ten years.

Exploitative salons will crumble, and with them, the business practices that have undermined and compromised the legitimacy of our industry for decades.

Nothing educates an entire workforce about why their employment classification matters quicker than having to file for unemployment during a pandemic only to be told you’re ineligible. Every tax season, my inbox is flooded with emails from individual professionals who learn what their status really means when they file their annual returns, but the pandemic has accomplished in two months what I spent the last 10 years trying to do.

I was hesitant to share any positive speculation for fear of being accused of being insensitive or blind to the devastating extended consequences for many individuals. Before I move on, let me say that this is serious. I’m not at all making light of the situations misclassified workers are finding themselves in right now. However, I’m considering this a net positive outcome in the long run, as many of our industry professionals would have only discovered their misclassification after years (sometimes full decades) of wage theft. They would have had to handle their cases alone, without financial assistance of any kind.

Now that everyone understands exactly what the consequences of misclassification are, they’re likely not going to accept it. Salon owners who refuse to change their practices will have a real hard time finding professionals willing to work for “commission-only” as so-called “independent contractors” in the post-COVID economy.

Salon owners who act as legitimate employers stand to gain tremendously.

For years, I wondered what could possibly bring our industry back together. What could balance the scales so less than 85% of the industry was considered self-employed? What could drive wages up and eliminate the tradition of unlawful employment practices? What could get professionals to see the value of steady, legitimate employment over the freedom of rental?

This. This is that thing.

As salons that were already weak start to close and renters begin to crave predictable paychecks, salon owners who comply with wage and labor laws will reap the benefits of a massive talent pool, full of professionals desperate to get back to work doing what they love. The return of large employers to the non-corporate salon sector (“big” small business owners) will make it easier for us to organize and ensure the legitimacy of our profession—if we can get it together before legislators start calling for employment barriers for broad swaths of industries to be lowered, or for them to be deregulated entirely.

These are the fires that forge outliers.

On days that I spend consulting with my clients, helping them weigh a variety of non-ideal options, I like to think about the outliers this historic tragedy will inevitably produce. Somewhere, a quarantined person who would have spent their life doing something ordinary is discovering something extraordinary—whether that’s a talent, a passion, or an interest—that will change the world. An entire generation of kids will have the course of their lives completely altered by this and a handful of them will become exceptionally remarkable in some way for it.

Outliers are spectacular people. The child refugee who becomes a billionaire, the impoverished immigrant who builds an empire, the Black girl who goes through hell only to become one of the most beloved (and wealthiest) women in the world. (I’m finding a lot of comfort these days watching Oprah interviews. Don’t judge me.)

Diamonds are created under extreme pressure. Do I like that a ton of normal people—who were perfectly fine being normal people and want nothing more than to be average again—are going to be crushed under that same pressure? No, because I am also a normal person (and intend to continue being mediocre at best, thanks) but thinking of the potential this quarantine holds for the people who will be triggered to shine after this makes things feel less bleak.

…somewhere, a fed up nail tech is hunched over her stove developing a magical liquid that removes hard gel instantly. That’s all I’m saying.

Honestly, I’m not mentally in a place to paint rosy pictures of the future and prefer to devote my time to finding solutions to our immediate problems. Entertaining these possibilities feels counterproductive and unhelpful when so many people are struggling.

Whatever good comes of this, the ends don’t justify the means. They never will.

That said, I’m allowing myself to be hopeful that when all this is said and done, we’ll emerge a much stronger industry overall.

A Quick Note about PPP Loan Forgiveness

Before I wrap up today, I want to share these links I found. While I refuse to write anything about the PPP until my clients who have applied are approved and the terms are made clearer, this article from the legal news website, JD Supra, explains the forgiveness conditions in plain English. This overview from Forbes is also helpful. If you’re considering a PPP loan, read those first.

While (so far) the PPP looks like a good option for some salon owners, it is still a loan. Treat it as such. It only becomes a grant if you can meet the requirements for forgiveness, and many salon owners won’t be able to.

I have long advised against signing contracts you haven’t read or don’t agree with, so it should go without saying that I advise against committing to a “forgivable” loan whose forgiveness terms haven’t yet been written in stone by the SBA. After all, you can’t win a game if you don’t know the rules.

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. “Exploitative salons will crumble, and with them, the business practices that have undermined and compromised the legitimacy of our industry for decades.” You have perfectly put into words what I have been feeling since this shutdown started. This industry has needed a major shift (and a major kick in the rear end) for quite some time. Change never comes from a place of comfort, and while I’m genuinely sympathetic for all of the businesses and workers that will not succeed after this, I’m looking forward to see what’s accomplished by the ones who do.

    Side note: If there is indeed a fed up tech somewhere developing that magic liquid, I’d like to invest in it 😀

    • “Change never comes from a place of comfort, and while I’m genuinely sympathetic for all of the businesses and workers that will not succeed after this, I’m looking forward to see what’s accomplished by the ones who do.”

      This. ^^^ This right here. I feel the same way. This is horrifying, but I’m hoping it leads to permanent positive changes for the industry, and I’m excited for the next generation of salon owners.


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