While navigating new way of doing business, Reno-Carson salons and barbers prep for another potential shutdown
It was about month two of the coronavirus pandemic when the posts started surfacing on social media. People quarantined at home expressing their desire to get a haircut. Some provided visual evidence — bangs covering eyes, shaggy mop-tops, and unintentional mullets.
With access to hair salons and barbershops cut off by the COVID crisis, the demand for haircuts grew quickly as the lockdowns lingered in Northern Nevada and beyond.
And so when Gov. Steve Sisolak gave service-based businesses the green light to reopen with limited capacity back on May 9, salons and barbers in the region were confident they had a stable of clients itching for a haircut.
For some business owners, the pent-up demand was even bigger than expected.
Just ask Jeremy Root-Ferguson, owner of East 50 Barbershop in Carson City.
Pre-COVID, Root-Ferguson fielded appointments Mondays and Tuesdays and took walk-ins the rest of the week. Having to shift to appointments-only to adhere to social distancing, Root-Ferguson, who reopened his shop on May 11, didn’t think he’d be able to fill up his weekly calendar, especially in a pandemic.
It didn’t take long for him to be proven wrong.
“My hours start at 9 a.m., and the clock hit 8:59 (on my first day back) and the phone just started ringing,” Root-Ferguson said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “It rang nonstop. I could have paid somebody to answer my phone that day.”
By May 13, after two days of being back in business, East 50 was fully booked through the month. Now well into summer, the Carson City barbershop is consistently booked four to five weeks out, Root-Ferguson noted.
“That’s how busy it got within two days,” he said. “Three weeks worth of appointments were gone. It took me by surprise.”
‘ALL HANDS ON DECK’
Risa Lopez, owner of TresImage Salon in Reno, also experienced a flurry of phone calls when reopening her doors on May 9.
“The minute we found out salons got to go back, my phones were ringing off the hook,” said Lopez, adding that she rushed to her salon after the governor’s May 7 announcement to get her business prepared to reopen. “The salon email was going crazy, and all of our service providers had clients texting them. It was just crazy how many people were like, ‘I want in! I want in! When can I get in?’ And, actually, they were mostly for men’s haircuts at first.”
Lopez said TresImage — a 3,700-square-foot full-service salon tucked in west Reno — also benefited from the fact that salons in California were still closed at the time. As of late July, salons in California may only provide services if held outdoors.
“We got some new clients out of it because California wasn’t open yet,” said Lopez, whose salon has 10 hair stations, a private room hair station, and areas for nails, skin care, tanning and massage. “It was wild. We had everybody all hands on deck.”
In fact, in May and June, TresImage doubled its number of new clients — in addition to seeing the same number of existing clients — compared to May-June 2019, Lopez said.
“The salon’s doing good financially,” added Lopez, who declined to disclose specific figures.
THE IMPACT OF NO WALK-INS
For Carson City’s East 50, despite having a full plate of appointments since reopening, the barbershop’s revenue in June and July was down roughly 10%, Root-Ferguson said.
To factor in sanitation time, each of his appointments is 30 minutes long — more time than he often needs for each service.
As a result, Root-Ferguson, who also checks each client’s temperature at the door, said he’s only able to serve about 13-16 people a day, down from at least 20 a day before the crisis.
“When you could do walk-ins, you get an old guy that comes in and I just give him a No. 2 (clippers) all over, he’s 10-12 minutes and out the door,” he said. “So you can slip in a third person in that 60-minute time period.
“So, as busy as it’s been, it still dings me because my walk-in days are much more productive days for me. You can only squeeze in so many every 30 minutes.”
PREPPING FOR ANOTHER CLOSURE
To help ease the financial strain of a potential second shutdown, Root-Ferguson said he’s in the process of getting merchandise made to sell — jackets, T-shirts, koozies — for an extra revenue stream. He said when his shop closed in mid-March, many clients reached out asking how they could support his business.
“In case we do get shut down again, I can just tell them, ‘Hey, buy a shirt, man,’” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to get as much merch as possible so that I have something to sort of fall back on when I’m not cutting hair.”
Lopez, meanwhile, said she’s saving as much as she can and trying not to overspend in anticipation of a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall.
“I’m planning for a fall closedown,” she continued. “We have to be prepared for that.”
For now, though, Root-Ferguson said that despite the extra cleaning and capacity restrictions — losing out on walk-ins and the energy of a lively barbershop — he’s simply happy to be up and running for the summer.
“I’d rather do the things that I have to do than not be open,” he said. “I don’t really feel it’s that big of a pain in the ass. You’ve just gotta roll with the punches.”
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