Georgia Salons Are Reopening — And Adding "COVID-19 Fees"
There’s no denying that one of the Champagne problems of this pandemic is grown-out roots and shapeless haircuts, and most of us can agree that once it feels safe, we’ll be thrilled to make a salon appointment once again. However in Georgia, the safety conversation has taken on a completely new life since Governor Brian Kemp made what most consider to be a rushed decision to reopen businesses in the state as early as Friday, April 24 — including hair salons.
Since temporarily shutting their doors under shelter-in-place laws, salon owners have been developing reopen plans for their businesses and determining what such a close-contact industry will look like in the time of coronavirus, and state cosmetology boards began meeting (virtually) to determine new regulations. But with Kemp’s widely criticized move to reopen the state so hastily, the timeline for Georgia salons was suddenly pushed forward.
Many Georgia salon owners and hair stylists are understandably apprehensive to rush into service again and have not yet decided when they will reopen for business, but many are choosing to welcome clients back as soon as Friday the 24th, with others following suit on May 1.
By virtue of going first, the Southern state is tasked with setting the standard for operating under these circumstances. The Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers have provided a list of guidelines for salons, shared with InStyle via email from a salon owner who recieved them. The guidelines detail sanitation steps — from providing masks to canceling drink services — and, yes, even raising prices. Some of these are listed as suggestions, while others are mandates, the violation of which would be grounds for immediate closure. After speaking with many salon owners across the state, we’ve gathered a sense of what it will look like to get a haircut in Georgia while much of the rest of the country contends with DIY bangs and box dye at home.
Masks, Thermometers and No More Blowouts: The Post-Coronavirus Salon Experience
Across the board, in Georgia, stylists and clients will be required to wear face masks throughout their time in the salon. Salons are being asked to have masks at the door for clients who arrive without one, and to set work stations a minimum of six feet apart. The spacing mandate also requires staggered schedules, so there will be far fewer stylists and clients in any salon at any given time.
A suggested guideline is taking clients’ temperature at the door (despite wide reporting that people can carry the novel coronavirus without showing any symptoms), and eliminating waiting areas. Clients will wait in their cars, texting when they arrive and receiving a text back when they can come to the door. Many salons will offer disposable capes for stylists and clients (the stylists changing between each client). And you can expect to see a stylist wearing gloves and face shields, and to drape towels over their clients’ faces at shampoo bowls (because of the hovering that is required) — several salons have said they're simply eliminating shampoos altogether for cuts, and asking clients to arrive with pre-washed hair.
One surprising sticking point has been blowouts. “Blow-dries are a big controversy that I never really saw coming,” says Ashley Jarrel, owner of Ashley J Salon in the northern Atlanta suburb of Cumming. Though the Board's guidelines don't say anything about this, there's been chatter among the stylist community that clients will feel uncomfortable having air blown at them, conceivably carrying germs from someone else's face to their own. “Blow-dryers are a source of heat, and supposedly the virus can’t thrive in heat, however I realize there’s also controversy around that theory. Blowouts are a favorite part of every salon experience, so we plan to do them upon request,” Jarrel says.
Steve Hightower Hair Salon & Day Spa also plans to leave the blow-dry decision up to the client. The Salon 124 group of salons in the Atlanta area and Mane 18 Salon in Augusta are among those that will still be offering blowdry services. However a majority have decided against it, including Atlanta’s Van Michael salons, Bob Steele Salons, Vis-à-Vis and the W. Daly salons south of Atlanta. Studio 285 in Augusta is putting two blow dry stations outside to accommodate their clients’ needs, while keeping the forced air blowing outside.
Brittany Harrington, owner of Studio 285 says she is thrilled that she had already invested in a high capacity ventilation system typically used in nail salons. “We’ll be running that full time and smudging the salon [with sage] once a week,” she says. Other salons also plan to have air purifiers running 24/7, noting every little thing helps.
Some salon owners say they will leave their doors open to increase air flow and minimize high-touch areas such as doorknobs, while others are locking their doors to prevent walk-ins. Most are setting up plexiglass barriers at check-in desks, and magazines are a thing of the past — it's too easy to pass germs on those paper pages. Some won’t be serving beverages of any kind, while others are eliminating open cups and mugs, but will have cans and bottles of water. Payment practices are changing, too. Many will go cashless, while others have adopted completely remote payment methods, so no credit cards exchange hands.
Increased Salon Prices and “COVID-19” Fees
Pricing has been a huge talking point in the industry, as the added sanitation requirements add to the cost of doing business, and the social distancing orders mean fewer clients and less revenue in a day than businesses were used to relying on. Lots of salon owners and independent stylists (who rent booths) have discussed adding “COVID-19 fees” into their pricing structure, but for now, most Georgia salons seem to be forgoing an additional fee tacked onto services, but rather are not discounting haircuts that used to include a blowout and now don’t, so the fee is worked into the pre-existing pricing structure.
Bob Steele Salon explains it this way in their provided reopening guidelines: “We will forego your blowdry to help us not force air/germs outside the 6-foot area and to also give us time to sanitize the space for the next client. In lieu of charging a COVID-19 fee to the service, we will not be offering a discount for this measure.”
“Not discounting is our sanitation fee,” explains Amanda Hair, the owner of the salon group. “It’s basically hazard pay, since we’re putting our life on the line to cut your hair,” says an Atlanta salon employee who asked to remain anonymous. And while many echo those sentiments, they are too afraid of losing their livelihoods to actually raise their rates. “In general, stylists are worried about raising their prices, because they will lose business,” says Lacey Meyer, a stylist at Mane XVIII salon in the Augusta suburb of Evans. “Right now, we’re all nervous to even say we’re going back to work, because of the backlash, but we haven’t made any money for all these weeks, so we need to make money.”
However, Tracey Jane Tranum, an independent stylist who specializes in barbering and hair tattoos at Salon Surreal in Augusta, has chosen to raise her prices when she heads back to the salon on Tuesday, April 28. “Any time an independent contractor stylists raises their prices, whether it’s because they’ve completed more education or their schedules get busier, they can expect to lose 30% of their clientele,” she says. “So that is certainly a risk, but this is not price gouging. We have to spend more money on supplies, and for a service that would usually take a 30-minute slot in my schedule, I now have to block off an hour to properly sanitize my entire station after the client leaves. Plus, since I specialize in barbering, there is also the component of beard trims, where a client will have to remove his mask. I used to charge $10 for a beard trim, but I have now raised the price to $25.” The cost of her shampoo, cut, and style has gone up from $75 to $85. Tranum says most of her clients have said they understand her reasoning, and plan to continue to book with her despite the price increase. “I have had a lot of people say they were already planning to offer me more money, because they know of the extra risk now,” she shares.
Steve Hightower, owner of Steve Hightower Hair Salon & Day Spa, actually plans to lower his prices – initially. “A lot of my clients have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts. Times are hard for everyone, so I don’t want to add to that hardship by raising my prices. For some, that would be the difference between getting their hair cut or not. Our color services have a set price, but if someone has really thick hair, and we have to mix a second bowl of color, there is an additional cost. When we first reopen, since so many people will need more color than usual, because of all their regrowth, we will be giving them that added color at cost — so it will actually be less than we would typically charge for the same amount of color.”
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However, Hightower does plan to reevaluate after a few weeks, and can see the potential of adding a minimal sanitation fee to services as time goes on. Jarrel says the same: “We will reassess in mid-May, and we may have to add a five to 10 dollar health and wellness charge at that point. If that does become a reality, of course, our clients will be notified ahead of time.”
One thing is certain: Long gone are the days of bustling salon environments with cheek kiss greetings and sipping wine and reading magazines while chatting with fellow clients as your color processes. For now, those who choose to risk re-entering town centers for a hair touch-up will be met with a fairly clinical process and a likely higher bill. Only time will tell how long these changes will be implemented, or if other states will follow suit.