If you hit a breaking point with your breakage, and tried a DIY haircut during lockdown — you're not alone. And if the first thing you did post-vaccination was run to your salon for some damage control — you're not alone there either.
More than a year after salons and beauty parlors first shut down, they're now starting to see familiar faces back in the chair.
The beauty service industry took a big hit during the pandemic. Part of the reason was because even with safety protocols in place, many people felt it was still too risky given the intimate nature of the service.
"We can't keep 6 feet, or even 3 feet," stylist Rebecca Haehnle says. "We're on top of you. we're touching you."
Haehnle has worked as a hair stylist for 30 years and owns Parlour Salon in Washington, D.C. She says that many of her clients left the D.C.-area during the pandemic. Of those who stayed in the region, many stayed home out of fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
Alwynne Wilbur was one of those people who didn't want to risk contracting the virus. She's been a client of Haehnle's since 1998, following her through multiple salon moves.
"When the pandemic first hit...pretty soon the information was clear that the most dangerous places to be were in closed places with other people who might have coronavirus that you might not know," Wilbur says. "So this was just one of the things I cut out, one of the things I didn't see as a 100% of a necessity."
But now that vaccines are rolling out, things are starting to look up.
"Once I got my second vaccine, it was really basically first on my list to try to make an appointment," Wilbur says.
Wilbur snagged the first appointment available — six weeks from when she got her second shot.
Bookings have increased as vaccines rolled out
Salons all over are feeling this post-vaccination boost in business. Danielle Cohen-Shohet is the CEO and co-founder of GlossGenius, a bookings and payments platform used by salons, spas and barbershops. She says this uptick can be seen all across the country. Bookings nationwide are up 20% since the start of 2021. Cohen-Shohet says that's particularly interesting because her data shows that there's typically a downswing in bookings during the post-holiday period.
"I would say that's definitely related to the vaccination period and the idea that mass vaccination is happening and now making it easier for more and more clients to feel comfortable going in to get services in a more intimate way," Cohen-Shohet says.
In St. Paul, Minn., Stephen Adams is the co-owner of both Moxie Hair Salon and ShairedSpace salon. He says at the lowest point of 2020 his business had dropped almost 45%. But Adams says in the last two months there's been a huge swing back up, and business is almost on par to pre-shutdown days. He thinks it's just going to keep getting better as more people get vaccinated.
Emily Anderson is also welcoming the increase in bookings after a tough year for Good Co. Salon and Spa in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. When her business first shut down, the stylists in her salon didn't qualify for the first round of PPP money because they worked as contractors.
After pushing through and coming up with creative ways to make ends meet, including offering clients at-home hair color touchup kits, things are looking up, she says. With weddings, vacations and other big events back on the calendar, clients are excited to have a reason to pamper themselves.
"We're booked! Everybody's busy every single day, we have weddings booked out through next year, people excited to come in and get their hair done, lots of new clients searching us on Google, booking with us online. So it's a very exciting summer," Anderson says.
Stylists are seeing bigger and bolder requests
After this past year of isolation, stylists are seeing clients come in with more dramatic requests. Anderson says it's like a new beginning and a fresh start for everybody.
Stylists around the country say people are coming in asking for wild colors, big chops, brand new looks or going back to their roots — literally.
"Especially in the late 60s, 70s, a lot of people in that age bracket are doing less color.... they're like, 'I have embraced it. I've grown it out, so I'm just going to let it be' which is awesome," Adams says.
Whether clients want a whole new look or a moment of self care after a year with a lot of pain, a trip to the salon can feel like a welcome bit of normalcy — for both the person in the chair and the one behind it.
Adams says he considers a lot of clients his friends, and it's been exciting to see old faces again and welcome new ones. Anderson at Good Company Salon and Spa says the energy has shifted.
"Everybody is laughing together and talking together," she says. "You feel more of a sense of community, and I think that's what makes our industry so unique. It's a place you can go talk about whatever you want to talk about, get whatever off your chest and also just communicate with other people."
It will take time for many of these salons to recover from the financial hit they took during the pandemic. But as for now, stylists are just happy to be back with their clients, and doing what they love.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When the pandemic shut down the U.S. last year, the beauty service industry took a big hit. And though many salons reopened in some capacity last summer, a lot of customers did not feel safe going back to their stylists for cuts or color.
REBECCA HAEHNLE: We can't keep 6 feet or even 3 feet. We're on top of you. We're touching you.
KELLY: Now that vaccines are rolling out, though, things are starting to look up. NPR's Mia Venkat reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAIR DRYER RUNNING)
HAEHNLE: So do you - when you typically - do you prefer me to not really break it up...
ALWYNNE WILBUR: No. Get it big.
HAEHNLE: OK. OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAIR DRYER RUNNING)
HAEHNLE: That's what I need to know.
WILBUR: Get her big. Get her big.
MIA VENKAT, BYLINE: The air is buzzing at Parlour Salon in Washington, D.C., these days, where clients and stylists are catching up over the roar of blowdryers.
HAEHNLE: Hey, Alwynne.
HAEHNLE: Come on in.
VENKAT: Owner Rebecca Haehnle greets Alwynne Wilbur, a client she's had since 1998. This was her first time seeing each other in more than a year. But now...
WILBUR: As soon as I got my second vaccination, I looked on Rebecca's calendar. And that was like probably six weeks ago, but her calendar was booked out. So I got, like, the first appointment I could get. And I'm really excited.
VENKAT: Business took a hit last year, but Haehnle says since the vaccine rollout, the phone's been ringing off the hook.
HAEHNLE: Oh, Parlour is going to be busy.
VENKAT: And it's not just Parlour. Danielle Cohen-Shohet is the CEO and co-founder of GlossGenius, a bookings and payments platform used by salons, spas and barbershops. She says this uptick can be seen all across the country.
DANIELLE COHEN-SHOHET: We've seen more and more vaccinations, which has been very positive for demand in the industry. The internal data we have shows bookings nationwide up more than about 20% since the beginning of the year, despite what's usually a period when the industry is on somewhat of a post-holiday downswing.
VENKAT: Stephen Adams is the co-owner of both Moxie Hair Salon and ShairedSpace salon, both side-by-side on a strip in St. Paul, Minn.
STEPHEN ADAMS: So the last two months have been almost as par to what we were doing before. So at the lowest point, we were doing almost 40, 45% less than what we were doing before. And then as soon as spring came, it just - boom, just changed dramatically.
EMILY ANDERSON: We're booked. Everybody's busy every single day. We have weddings booked out through next year, people excited to come in and get their hair done. So it's a very exciting summer.
VENKAT: And that's Emily Anderson, the owner of Good Co. Salon & Spa in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Both she and Stephen Adams welcomed back many familiar faces in the last few months and new clients, too. And something all the styles I talked to had in common - lots of people coming in asking for drastic changes.
ANDERSON: It's like a new beginning, a fresh start for everybody.
HAEHNLE: Color, color, color, color. I need color. I need my gray gone. I want to be blonde. I've always wanted to be pink.
ADAMS: A lot of people in the, like, late 60s, 70s are doing less color. They're like, I have embraced it. I've grown it out. So I'm just going to let it be, which is awesome.
ANDERSON: Lots of money pieces, which is those bright, you know, highlights right around your face that you saw back in the Vitamin C, Kelly Clarkson era.
VENKAT: Whether clients want a whole new look or a moment of self-care after a year with a lot of pain, a trip to the salon can feel like a welcome bit of normalcy for both the person in the chair and the one behind it.
ADAMS: I mean, I look at most of my clients as friends. You know, it's like I would hang out with them all outside of the salon if I could.
ANDERSON: You know, the energy has shifted. And everybody is laughing together and talking together. You feel more of a sense of community. And I think that's what makes our industry so unique is it's a place you can go, talk about whatever you want to talk about, get whatever off your chest and also just communicate with other people.
VENKAT: It'll take time for many of these salons to recover from the financial hit they took during the pandemic. But as for now, stylists are just happy to be back with their clients and doing what they love. Mia Venkat, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.