The last few weeks have been busy for Eleni Tziouvaras, who owns Goleta, California-based E Salon. Tziouvaras’ business contracted at the beginning of the pandemic, slashing her income by 90 percent to $15,000 in 2020. Now, with restrictions on businesses being lifted almost daily, E Salon is booked out for over a month.

“Now that I see people getting their second shots they are like, ‘Hey, I feel way more comfortable coming in,’ and it’s been awesome,” Tziouvaras said.

More business means a windfall is on the horizon for salon owners, if it hasn’t already arrived. Beauty services are expected to rebound faster than other hard-hit industries, extending a lifeline to salons especially burdened by pandemic-related closures. But larger salons that invested in new technologies during the pandemic may have a better chance of attracting customers in the long term.

Consumers “haven’t spent their share of money in the last three or four quarters. Now they’re going in to get all of their services done to catch up,” said Sudheer Koneru, founder and CEO of Zenoti, a company that provides software to beauty and wellness businesses.

Spending on personal care services, like hair salons and massages, is near the top of consumers’ priority lists, second only to in-store retail shopping, according to a recent survey by 451 Research. 

Nearly 37 percent of consumers say they will resume spending on beauty services immediately after Covid-19-related restrictions are lifted, and an additional 20 percent say they will resume spending within three more months.

Sadie Southard, who owns Littleton, Colorado-based Shear Wisdom Salon and Refill Bar says her business is turning around. Some of Southard’s clients are returning to personal care for the first time since the pandemic began. 

“Within the last two weeks we’ve had five clients come in [who hadn’t cut their hair since the pandemic began]. We’re calling it ‘2020-hair-be-gone,’” she said.

Wakse, a company known for its waxing products, opened its first salon last November in Irvine, California. Its founders, Shayan Sadrolashrafi and Andrew Glass, say in-person appointments were initially sparse and the salon lost money for approximately five months. Now, the services side of the business is at least breaking even.

“Every single month since opening it’s gotten busier and busier, and now we have full books almost every day. We have regular clients coming in,” said Glass.

Now that consumers are back at salons, they’re spending more. Tziouvaras, who has seen as many as 30 new clients since reopening, says clients are spending more because they haven’t changed their hair since the pandemic began. 

“My returning clients are coming back and their hair is really long, or really gray. I’ve seen more people change and experiment with their hair than I ever have,” she said.

Industry experts also cited increasing spending on hair services.

“People who are coming back are spending more than they used to earlier. Businesses have recovered fairly well if you look at the dollar volume of business,” said Koneru.

But even as they head back to salons, many consumers are still concerned about the virus and want stylists to maintain social distancing and sanitation practices that limit the number of guests businesses can serve in a single day. For self-employed stylists or small businesses, this is a particular challenge.

“My clients are used to what I was doing, and they are still scared. They want me to follow the same rules. I’ve been asked, ‘Can’t we just stay with one person per time?” said Santresa Weldon, who operates her business, Santresa’s Beauty, from her home garage in Warner Robins, Georgia.

To combat health concerns and create a more seamless booking experience, many salons invested in new technologies like contactless payments, remote booking, and apps for the first time during the pandemic. Koneru says his business has grown 100 percent since the pandemic began, as beauty businesses purchased Zenoti software to support these kinds of digital experiences. 

“Being able to book online, being able to check-in with your phone, being able to pay contactless. All of these are what really grew tremendously over this past year, and we never would have seen this much of a pickup if it wasn’t for Covid,” said Sheryl Kingstone, research director for customer experience and commerce at S&P Global Market Intelligence’s 451 Research. “Smaller salons that were unable to invest in new technologies will have to find another way to differentiate themselves,” she said.

“Now it’s becoming more mainstream. Other brands have to respond to that consumer experience,” said Koneru. 

Jayson Rapaport, co-founder of Bird’s Barbershop introduced Zenoti’s technology to customers at the beginning of the pandemic and said it was money well spent. Since much of the barbershop’s business came from walk-in traffic, contactless booking technology became crucial. Rapaport and his team learned how to implement the software during a six-week period in 2020 when Bird’s Barbershop locations were closed.

“I think that there is going to be a segment of the population that get haircuts that are going to prefer this really touchless, frictionless way of getting in and getting out,” Rapaport said. “Those [salons] that are not able to offer that are going to probably see those customers shift to the businesses that can offer it.”

Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash