How an Industry which Relies on Personal Touch is Changing & Evolving because of COVID

Vikram is a firm believer in the power of people and processes as the two building blocks to scaling any enterprise, along with technology as a major enabler, which are his areas of focus and investment.

In a conversation I have had with a friend, he mentioned something which was thought-provoking.

How do you play a game when the rules keep changing while you are playing it?
He was obviously referring to the current pandemic and its effects on our daily life. Apart from being a health alarm, it has forced the world to rethink the way they live – be it personal life or business. We have seen a lot of businesses shutting shop, people losing their livelihoods and a sense of paranoia has seeped into our consciousness.

Being in the Indian salon industry for the past 23 years, my friend’s question resonated with me because how can a business which relies on personal touch change when social distancing is the norm! The challenge at hand was to understand and figure out the ways to provide beauty and grooming services to individuals without compromising on the quality and the customer experience.

I have always believed that with a positive outlook, even the toughest of challenges provide an opportunity for excellence and innovation. Allow me to share some background and context to understand the current scenario and its implications on this business and most importantly, its clients.

Before the pandemic hit us, the attitude towards hygiene and sanitization in our daily lives were satisfactory but not stringent. COVID-19 has forced us to relook our hygiene habits in our personal lives and until there is a cure invented, social distancing will be our best form of defence. When it comes to the salon industry, only a handful of branded salons did emphasise on hygiene and now they have further made it stringent. They have also had processes like quality audits in place – people are inclined to visit such salons who are certain of these practices for a while now, being a touch-based industry, it is the responsibility of the service provider to make sure the safety of the customer is not compromised. The rest of them have to really gear up to thrive in this scenario – better late than never!

Now in 2020, we are facing the biggest challenge in terms of health and economics. Does that mean customers will stop needing salon services? No, quite the opposite. We might be offering grooming services, but the way we see it is that we are providing self-esteem and confidence. A new haircutadds a spring to our step and a relaxing Manicure or Pedicure changes your mood. The often-heardnarrative has been that people will resort to more DIY kits and YouTube tutorials to groom themselves instead of visiting a salon. While the logic is understandable, I would humbly disagree to it. It is the simple difference between home cooked food and going out to a restaurant for dinner. Theprimary instigator might be hunger but there is an experience attached which the service provider delivers. Hence the onus is on the salons to provide an exemplary level of service which should be unmatched in quality while also keeping the customer’s interest ahead of everything.

I truly believe that amongst all luxury categories, salon business will be the most resilient if the industry resets to a new normal by continuously redefining and redesigning our operations.

Stringent hygiene & sanitisation will be a basic requirement and we will need to constantly think of ways to step it up a notch higher. A lot of salons are already doing their best by using infrared thermometers, sanitizers, PPE kit and practising social distancing. Right now, the biggest obstacle for any industry to thrive would be complacency. We should replace “good enough” from our vocabulary with “What next?”.

Since this is a global pandemic, we need to have our ears on the ground by staying on top of best practices adopted across the globe. Continuous monitoring for emerging signs of a possible new world order is a must for aspiring businesses. Hence now more than ever, we should focus on collaborationinstead of competition. Like the African proverb says, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together”. We are on the cusp of realising that the running a business during this pandemic is not a sprint, but a marathon. Hence collaboration in sharing best practices across the salon industry would be key to find success in the now changing Beauty Salons market landscape.

I also believe technology will take precedence in our operations in a level unseen before and we must be ready to embrace it. For instance, now only customers with appointments booked are provided services in salons so that crowds can be avoided on the premises. Motion sensor sanitizers are available and step-n-pull mechanism on doors so that absolute minimal contact is required. All these advancements would have been considered far-fetched a year ago but now, it amplifies the customer experience.

Now to answer my friend’s question, how do we play a game when the rules keep changing? By keeping our chin up and embracing the challenges as an exciting opportunity together.