Melissa Timperley is used to the demands of her clients as a salon owner. As a “treat” destination, she knows that everything – from the friendly welcome and the gown she puts around a customer’s shoulders, to the chocolate with their coffee – makes a visit to her eponymous hair salon a luxurious experience.
And that isn’t changing just because of lockdown rules – in salons, restaurants, bars and shops, owners want their customers to feel special as they reopen in the “new normal”.
Based in Manchester, Timperley’s three-floor salon recently had a makeover of its own, becoming a place of tape measures and screens, with every area considered for adaptation, from the reception desk to the basins, as it prepared to reopen.
“I think salon owners have two really important jobs,” says Timperley. “They have, first and foremost, to keep their staff healthy and happy, and then they’ve got the job of keeping every single client healthy and happy.”
Her first step was to see what other countries had been doing, in advance of any UK guidance. “The whole of lockdown has been a rollercoaster of emotions for most people, you have great days and bad days, and things get overwhelming. We researched what a lot of other countries were doing before our guidelines even came out,” says Timperley.
Then, when the UK government did announce its own rules, specifically for England, it was a case of acting swiftly and safely to make some key decisions that worked for customers and staff. As the online appointment book filled up, she worked hard to make the salon accessible while still keeping that luxury feel.
For Timperley, that has meant installing hand sanitiser stations and ordering new gowns. There will be branded face masks for those who want to wear them, although customers are not obliged to since staff will wear visors.
There’s a huge emphasis on loyalty in the industry, where customers have been patient while they wait for news of appointments, and salon owners like Timperley want to show that’s appreciated, while also making sure her staff feel safe, too.
“You’ve got to show that you’re doing the best for everybody. That means buying the best equipment, not cutting any corners,” she says. “We’ve staggered the appointments, we’re opening longer hours and we’re even opening on a Sunday to be able to service all our regular clients who’ve waited for us.”
When the UK government announced that non-essential businesses in England could reopen on 4 July, many people were more than ready for a hair appointment, which shows the impact of not having these services around.
Different salons needed to adapt in different ways. At Melissa Timperley, there is no “sharing” of clients, but at other salons that’s often not the case. For example, you may have visited a hairdresser and had your hair washed by one assistant, your cut done by your stylist and then the blow dry by another. Timperley’s salon has always been one-on-one with customers, which helped post-lockdown planning, as that needed to become the norm for all salons, according to UK government guidance.
It’s a familiar scenario not just in salons but in pubs and restaurants across the country – wanting customers to feel valued and welcomed and staff to feel safe and appreciated, too – all while sticking to the guidelines laid out by the UK government.
For Helen Charlesworth, managing director of the Stonegate pub company – which owns the Slug and Lettuce chain, among others – opening up has also been a “one day at a time” process. For the duration of lockdown, each day was one where she and the team planned for a future where they could reopen.
Helping staff feel connected was a priority, she says, and a lot of time also went into ensuring the chain had a robust “closedown” manual. “We’ve never in our time had to close down an entire pub chain before. So we learned quite a lot, and we felt it would be good to document our learnings and have a precise manual. I’m glad we did as we’ve had to activate that in Leicester,” she adds, referring to the city that became subject to the UK’s first local lockdown on 30 June.
The company furloughed a lot of team members, and then faced the task of ensuring their mental and physical health was kept in good shape. “We communicated with our people every day throughout the lockdown process, then once they went on to furlough we’ve had a very robust communication programme led by our CEO Simon Longbottom. He’s done twice weekly calls with the teams, video calls, kept everyone abreast of what’s going on.
“We’ve had various groups raising money for charity. Lots of teams of people within Stonegate who have felt looked after and felt part of the Stonegate family have been out there raising cash for employees and families affected by Covid-19, the NHS and charities,” explains Charlesworth.
Stonegate has an intranet hub where it could upload everything from key messages to quizzes and games. “Hundreds of different articles and things you can do whilst you’re off and we kept that updated,” adds Charlesworth.
Keeping in touch with staff, both Charlesworth and Timperley agree, was key during lockdown so they felt valued and knew what was happening with the business.
And what about the rules when the doors do open? Your haircut or that fancy G&T will now come with a side serving of screens and socially-distanced chairs.
“Customers don’t have to book a slot, but we are taking bookings in all our pubs, just so that people have got somewhere to come in and sit down and it’s easier because then we’re capturing customer data at the booking point,” says Charlesworth.
“If you come to the pub and you haven’t booked, you’ll have to scan a QR code and put your details on to a website and we have to keep those details for 21 days,” she says.
“The wonderful thing about hospitality, it’s pretty much a vocation rather than a job for people and it’s their way of life, and their customers end up being their friends, so it is quite sad and difficult for them to be at home and not be part of that. When they have come back it’s like walking into the unknown.”
Part of the reopening has been a video filmed in one of Stonegate’s Manchester venues, showing staff how things would look and operate. “What we’ve done is we’ve tried to take away any level of anxiety,” she explains.
The distancing has depended on which areas they were dealing with, she adds.
“Where it’s outside we’ve tried to stick to a 2-metre rule, whereas when it’s inside we’ve tried to use screens, PPE and back-to-back tables. We’ve tried to be a bit more strategic and play around with what the layout looks like. We’ve spoken to all our authorities and they seem pretty happy with what we’ve done.”
Hair salons, restaurants and pubs may be something you take for granted. Well, took for granted. Now they’re reopening, operators such as Timperley and Charlesworth feel this is their chance to showcase their new, and often improved, offerings.
Timperley says: “Everything that we’ve had to do differently, we’ve done better. For example, the disposable towels are the nicest I could get, and the gowns are scented with vanilla. We’ve tried to keep the luxury touches and as soon as we can introduce more back in, even if we can do a coffee in a disposable cup, that would make it feel nicer again. But I think people will just be so grateful to have their hair done, you know … what I think has happened is people have tried cutting their hair at home and colouring their hair at home, and they realise how talented hairdressers are!
“I think the biggest challenge has been remaining positive in lockdown when everything around you is negative. For me, keeping the staff upbeat and the clients informed. Everything has been extra work.”
This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. Enjoy Summer Safely is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic