South Africa

BUSINESS MAVERICK 168: Business of beauty: How the industry is adapting during the Covid-19 pandemic

A general view of beauty treatments at Sorbet on June 26, 2020 in Springs, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/OJ Koloti)

Going to a salon for manicures, waxing and spa treatments may have been the norm for many before the pandemic, but Covid-19 precautions have changed everything and the beauty service industry is trying to keep up and survive.

“We are a ‘touch’ business whereby 100% of our treatments involve physical contact and touch from our therapists and nail technicians,” said David Simmons, a spokesperson for the Sorbet Group, which operates beauty salons across South Africa.

“The beauty industry as a whole was hit badly over the past year and the losses were substantial,” Simmons said, explaining that, although the market has been very strained, loyal customers have been returning.

The company had introduced a number of strategies to “boost customer morale”, including vouchers and a loyalty programme.

Emilia Yankey, a nail technician at Biltina dreadlocks salon in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, said that, before the pandemic, business was always good. “But since last year, business [has been] very, very bad because most of the clients have lost their jobs.”

Yankey said that some customers no longer saw the need for doing their nails when they were working from home or not going out much.

She said the salon was struggling to pay its rent and other bills.

Unwind Express is a small, new salon in Northcliff, Johannesburg, that was set up by a group of  beauty therapists in May 2021 after they were “let go” from other salons as part of pandemic-related retrenchments.

Therapist Natalie Barends said: “We basically had two choices – fight or flight, and we chose to fight!”

The team said that starting a new business in the middle of lockdown had been difficult, and a lot of focus was on making it work financially while also putting all the correct hygiene precautions in place.

Shelley Herbst, the manager of Life Day Spa in Fourways in Johannesburg, said they used the initial lockdown to focus on strategic planning to minimise the impact on both staff and clients and have since increased their online retail presence.

“Due to our continual changing strategy we have not closed any stores and have committed to work tirelessly to ensure minimal impact on staff as they were also greatly impacted during hard lockdown,” she said.

Sorbet has also expanded its focus on products that can be bought and used at home, with selected stores implementing options for home delivery as well as pavement pick-up.

“We have seen that our guests love this service as it is personalised and gives them options during these unpredictable times,” said Simmons.

Herbst said customer behaviour had shifted significantly towards health and wellness: “Clients are looking for options for relaxation and value time and looking after themselves and their health more.”

The industry also faced other challenges, with Herbst saying that load shedding and water problems had impacted them significantly, with many of the spas in their group investing in generators and water systems.

The Unwind Express team said they were concerned about the future because social distancing had resulted in reduced salon capacity. This, in turn, had led to salons closing and many beauticians being left jobless.

“I think the future of the beauty industry for now is uncertain. There is no telling how it will turn out but … we believe there are steps we can take to come out on top,” said Mpho Mlambo, the receptionist at Unwind.

Herbst said: “The health and beauty industry will always be an industry that changes continually and this has been the case before Covid-19.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores until 24 July 2021. From 31 July 2021, DM168 will be available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores.

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