How our beauty business went from standstill to bookings flooding in again

81 Rose Garden is a leading beauty destination in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. The business was founded by former hairdresser and interior designer Jen Regan and her business partner, Tony Trowers, an entrepreneur in the property and financial sector. Established three years ago, the 4,500 sq foot salon offers beauty, hair, nail, tanning and aesthetics treatments to a large clientele.

Before lockdown, the business was booming – it employed 25 people, had garnered good reviews, a celebrity clientele from Cheshire and a strong social media presence. In fact, the burgeoning business had enjoyed 150% growth year-on-year. 

A substantial extension to the business was partially completed when contractors were forced to suspend work on the new 85-cover restaurant, The Secret Garden. This had been designed to extend 81 Rose Garden’s offering to its existing customer base and local community.

In this case study, Sam Wetwood, the Salon Manager at 81 Rose Garden, shares how the business has fared across the last few months. From furloughing staff and having to pivot online, to sourcing PPE for reopening and preparing for a whole new set up of the salon.

“When we first heard that we had to close 81 Rose Garden we were all in shock. Covid-19 was very real, yet at that point the initial impact was in London and the South and the reality of it hadn’t completely sunk in.

“Up until March our business had been flying. We were extending our treatment offering and bookings for all hair, nails, beauty, tanning and aesthetics were increasing exponentially. We were just about to open our nail academy and the new Secret Garden restaurant. 81 Rose Garden was considered one of the leading hair and beauty destinations in the North of England. We were run off our feet six days a week.

“And then in March, it all came to a complete standstill.

“The lockdown threw many high street businesses like ours into crisis. As a location business offering services that require us to not only get close to, but touch our clients, we were amongst the worst affected. Our initial challenge however was to survive the lockdown.

Trying to survive lockdown

“Back in March, like most of the nation, I switched from working in a frenetic salon to working from home. I had to find new ways of communicating with our staff. Zoom and WhatsApp calls kept our team humming and became the basis for assigning tasks, managing costs, brainstorming marketing ideas and keeping up morale.

“The free time did have some advantages, as it enabled us to complete jobs we never seemed to have the time for and we’ve certainly all used it constructively. However, I was all too aware that our business was not earning any revenue and was unlikely to do so for at least three months; we had to think of ways to bring money in, but the first priority was the staff.

“We were forced to furlough two members of staff, and with the help of a small business grant from the government, which has covered wages and overheads for the business, some of the pain was alleviated.

Adapting to online selling and future-proofing the business

“For months, the management team had talked about developing our own private label collection but with the salon so busy, we never found time to make it happen. It quickly became apparent that online businesses and those with merchant services were going to fare well during lockdown – just look at Amazon.

“We immediately started selling our Kevin Murphy products via social media. We also amped up our activity to boost the brand, like online nail academies and tutorials. Other times we used to research the right partners for our own private label collection of hair, nails and beauty products.

“We’ve realised now how important online merchant services are – we need products to sell, and having developed our private label collection which we will launch soon, we believe we are future-proofing our business should a second wave force us back into lockdown either regionally or nationally.

Preparing to reopen

“As the government eases its restrictions on non-essential businesses, hair and beauty salons like ours will look very different. In fact, they may never look the same again. Unfortunately, many will undoubtedly struggle in the post-lockdown world.

“Over the last five weeks we have all been extremely busy planning to reopen. My initial efforts were focussed on what our industry was doing to prepare for reopening. I watched numerous webinars including one made by an Australian salon owner who reopened four weeks ago, which helped me understand what to expect in the first few weeks. I also read articles from other salon owners and consulted our industry associations such as the National Hairdressers Federation (NHF) for advice.

“We then undertook a full risk assessment, evaluating the customer journey while ensuring that our new procedures and policies were in-line with the government’s safety measures. In fact, I believe we go beyond the guidance.

“Why? Because we have Tony Trowers at the helm of our business. Tony has been working with leading bioscience firms and is being advised by a panel of doctors around making the business Covid-ready. As a result, he has sourced innovative PPE and sanitising products.

Tony and his company Pillar Box Group, are distributing health and safety products which will help both our industry and other businesses get back to work. These include sanitising products for cleaning, lemongrass-scented hand sanitisers, masks, gowns and gloves.

“At the salon we have set up bespoke screens, which are being sprayed in gold to match our décor and will be positioned between nail technicians and clients. We have also repurposed the new restaurant space which our co-founder Jen Regan was about to decorate for additional workstations to aid social distancing. Clearly we won’t be enjoying tapas and cocktails any time soon!

A new way of operating

“When we reopen next month our clients will be asked to arrive and depart by different entrances, sanitise their hands on arrival and leave their coats and extra bags in their cars where possible. All staff will be dressed in face masks, gowns and gloves, while customers will be given PPE to wear for the duration of their visit.

“As a business we have spent thousands of pounds on making these changes to keep our clients safe when they return to the salon. And when we do reopen on 4 July, it will be a whole new set of rules for them to get used to.

“The hair and beauty business is an intimate, friendly and hospitable business and the new way of working will not allow for that intimacy. Going forward, our beautiful salon, which is known for its fabulous décor, will feel much more clinical as all the extras will be removed along with the plush towels, magazines and that complimentary cup of tea and coffee.

“It’s not just the environment that will look and feel different, we won’t be able to operate at the same speed as we used to nor will we have the flexibility to juggle clients and accommodate walk-ins. I estimate that we will only be able to take one third of the bookings per day that we used to.

“Throughout the crisis, communication has been key. We have reached out to our clients via email, social media and our website to announce our new protocols, so our clients know what to expect when they visit us, and importantly, what we ask of them.

“We have had to adapt during the lockdown and adapt once again to reopen in a different world. Despite the uncertainty, we will strive to create a friendly and welcoming ‘new normal’ and we are hopeful that our business will bounce back. We are confident that we are doing all we can to keep our clients safe and we can’t wait to get back to work.

“It will be a whole new beginning. Fortunately, the bookings are already flooding in!”