At the start of 2020, no one could have predicted what was to come. With rumblings of a new virus in Asia at the end of last year, it was not until February until cases started to appear in Europe. By the beginning of March, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic and by the end of the month, the whole world had shut down.
For global companies such as TONI&GUY, the shutdown of the world’s economies brought challenges never seen before.
TONI&GUY is 57 years old and we have survived and thrived through recessions, but this was completely different. It has brought challenges we have never experienced and forced us to look at the business in a way that was unprecedented, explains global creative director, Sacha Mascolo-Tarbuck.
CEO Nigel Darwin joined the company at the start of 2019 and says initially it was not clear how big Coronavirus was going to be:
We’ve had instances in Asia with Sars and Mers before, but once things began to grow in Italy, it became clear this wasn’t like anything we had seen before. Normal ways of working were no longer appropriate; we had to change our leadership and communication. Our focus is usually planning three or five years ahead; this changed to focusing on the tomorrow. Our number one concern was our communication with our teams, their mental and emotional health. Our partners were worried about their businesses and livelihood and we had to protect them. We rebuilt the way we communicate with our global community and learnt lessons from other markets. Week by week our journey was changing. Every country had its own challenges and rules, but the principles were the same – professionalism, social distancing, and PPE. Then we focused on client communication and getting ready for reopening.
Sacha, who worked closely with father and founder Toni Mascolo from the age of 17, used her knowledge to analyse the business and bring the community together:
While it was a scary time, it was also exciting. We immediately set up groups and zoom calls with our partners and teams, sharing experiences and learning from each other. We looked at all our services, what was financially successful and what was not. We invited our top performing salons to present at our Secrets for Success group, we had groups to talk about business, creativity and education and encouraged all our staff to take part. We looked at our business through our client’s eyes and gave every salon in the UK a refresh. We worked on our social media channels and launched #toniandguyathome with videos from our art team on how to care and style hair at home. We introduced product promotions to encourage retail and talked about the new protocols we had in place, so they saw the salons as a safe and professional place to visit.
As we came out of lockdown and into reopening, Nigel explains how they had to manage expectations:
We knew nothing would be black and white, so we had to make some assumptions for us to begin planning to reopen. The pandemic has given us a rare and unusual opportunity to pause, refresh and prepare. Salons being closed was a challenge, but we flipped this into an opportunity. We have addressed things that were on our agenda and have achieved in three months which would usually take three years. We have rebuilt our community globally, we have stepped up our client communication on social media, we have updated our technology. We want TONI&GUY and the industry to come out of this stronger than ever.
Moving forward there will be new challenges that arise, but Sacha said it is important to look at the positives:
We have a global community of 8,000 people and we feel more connected than ever before. New friendships and new relationships have been formed. As hairdressers we make people feel better about themselves and you cannot put a price on that. How lucky are we to be able to offer that – especially now!
Cos Sakkas, international artistic director and nominee for British Hairdresser of the Year, UK
We were quite late to lockdown in the UK, but we knew it was coming. We had seen the effects of Coronavirus on our salons in Asia and Europe and knew we were next. However, it did not make it any easier. We suddenly went from being fully booked in the academy to being empty and clients not travelling to salons. And no one expected us to be isolating for quite so long! For us, the most important thing was to make sure all our teams were OK – there was a lot of uncertainty and fear and we spent the first few days making sure furlough was in place and people felt safe. Then we turned our attention onto our international community – we started the TONI&GUY Breakfast Club on Instagram for our teams to have access to training. I was on zoom calls in the early hours of the morning with the East, to early evenings with the West. For an industry that is used to working face to face, holding sessions on zoom through a laptop was fun but exhausting!
The UK government gave us two weeks’ notice before we opened in England, but we had been working for weeks on safety measures; after speaking to salons around the world we knew what worked and what did not. We also had an idea of client behaviour and team expectations. I am proud of the community we have created. I feel as close to my colleagues in Australia as I do to the team I work in the academy with. We have shared our knowledge, our fears and our hopes and this bonding will be with us forever.
Bill Watson, educational director for TONI&GUY Asia
We have had virus warnings from China in the past, but we soon realised this was different. While face masks are the norm here, our main priority was to protect our teams and get the correct PPE. Warnings about closing down Asia varied from 1-3 days depending on where you were based, so preparation was pretty much instantaneous for all our salons. Lockdown varied from seven weeks in Beijing to three months in Delhi and Chennai in India. Government requirements varied quite a lot too, as did financial support. In some territories, like Japan, the Government did not have the power to force closures; China, on the other hand, saw swift strict actions.
From the outset we were concerned for the mental and emotional wellbeing of all our team members. So online communications went from regular emails to Instagram, Zoom, Microsoft teams – we used it all. Our lack of technical skills was an obstacle to start with, but we researched software and skills to get the most out of all the platforms. Our main challenge was to reach everyone we could in the shortest time possible. The most important thing was we wanted our team to know we were all in it together.
However, the opportunities that have come through this will probably change us forever; our interaction has never been better, and I am now in meetings with the whole world, sharing and supporting each other. Globally we had twice weekly meetings for all heads of education and key educators, as well as personal appearances from our international regions conducting lessons, demonstrations, and Q&A to allow for translation and to keep it personal and connected.
Being part of a global company meant we could all learn from each other as countries came out of lockdown at different times. We swapped key learnings and details; it was amazing! In Asia, people now go out for a reason, not so much browsing or window shopping. Foot fall in Harajuku in Tokyo is a lot lower, but our salons are doing well. Wellness seems to be a high priority for spending, a re-prioritising of where your cash goes. Hair in that case is a fundamental, closely linked to emotions or confidence, simply feeling good. So, I think compared to the rest of the high street, we are in a better place.
During this time TONI&GUY did what it has always done for me, surrounded me with the best people, and helped me to be my best me, and that gave me the strength and drive to help others. We is stronger than me.
Bronwyn Illingworth, director TONI&GUY New Zealand
We had 72 hours’ notice before lockdown but our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern is an incredible leader and communicator and as a country we did a great job to get rid of the virus. We had some support from the Government so apart from negotiating rents and loss of earnings, it was not too challenging. I put all my focus on inspiring, motivating and getting my team super excited about coming back to work.
During lockdown we looked at the whole situation through our client’s eyes, and really kept in touch with them. We did some marketing on tips and hair hacks and kept everything upbeat and positive. We did this as a team and came up with some strong ideas. It was important the team were kept busy with their education plans; we all wanted to come back stronger. It also gave us time to sit down and look at the financial side of the business.
New Zealand was a bit different to most other countries – when we came out of lockdown, we had no new cases, so we felt safe. Legally we did not have to implement a lot – social distancing, sanitisers, and client contact tracing – however we chose to show our clients that we cared and went above and beyond to demonstrate our gold standards of hygiene. This was a priority and they really appreciated it.
It is at times like this you realise the benefits of working with a big company. The leadership from Sacha Mascolo-Tarbuck, Nigel Darwin and the art team were outstanding - we had lots of meetings, education sessions and advice and despite being on the other side of the world, I have never felt more connected. I would jump into other country’s meetings and listen to their experiences; it was amazing to share knowledge.
Even though we were hit financially because of loss of turnover, we had a 22% increase on client’s year on year and had our busiest week in history the second week out of lockdown. We spent a lot of time preparing the team and the salon environment and it paid off. Everyone knew what was expected of them, so the long hours and extra pressures did not have a negative effect. I could never afford to take my whole team to England but throughout this pandemic they have experienced so much and understand who we are. It has been very powerful.
Jose Boix, head of TONI&GUY Spain
Lockdown was announced on 13 March and initially the Spanish Government wanted salons to stay open because we were considered key to society. However, it wasn’t long before we realised we were going through a big health scare and clients were staying home, so it didn’t make sense to open. The lockdown has been very difficult for some people – many people were depressed and the uncertainty of jobs, families and the economy effected a lot of people.
For me, it was the uncertainty of what was going to happen to my life – I had spent 15 years building up the business and every day brought mixed feelings. We had to consider our expenses, our team members and our clients. Being positive was the only way to get through it and we spent a lot of time talking as a team, connecting with other people in the industry and looking after ourselves mentally as well as physically.
Communication from the Government wasn’t great, and many people didn’t really understand what was happening, so as well as negotiating rents and evaluating our finances, we communicated with our team to make sure everyone knew what was going on. Interacting with salon owners and hairdressers from other countries made us realise we were not alone, and the challenges we faced they faced too. This really helped as it was easy to feel alone, but thanks to our international teams, there was always someone to talk to about business, creativity, or education. While I was looking after my team’s wellbeing, I felt the international team were looking after mine. When we came out of lockdown after nine weeks, we were fully booked. We were only allowed 30% of the team to work at the same time and one hairdresser per client. However, we wanted the customer experience to be incredible and our clients certainly felt they were being looked after. Safety measures include having to wear a mask, social distancing, increased working hours, cleansing gels and anti-virus sprays. Everyone has had to adapt to the new normal – nothing is going to be the same and we must get this message across to both teams and clients. The first month was hard as people were nervous, but after a few weeks everything started to settle and now, life is back to a new normal.
Charity Cheah, co-founder TONI&GUY Italy
From the outset, we made sure we connected with our team and our clients – we constantly communicated in a positive and empathetic way and helped them navigate the ever-changing scenarios. We offered daily tips on how to care for their hair at home through virtual consultations, video tutorials, weekly Instagram Lives and focused on how to stay positive and cantered. For our team we offered daily digital training and regular business zoom meetings and we were constantly connected with the global team. We were in lockdown for two and half months, so we used this time constructively to strengthen their training needs with cutting and styling sessions, consultation skills and updating their education and soft skill needs so they felt that they would come back stronger than ever. The biggest challenge for us was bridging the physical distance between clients and hairdressers and we made it a priority to keep these relationships alive. We kept everyone connected and well-supported through various social media platforms.
Mental health is as important as physical and emotional health and it was our focus to provide true support and efficient tools to help everyone stay positive. Our international community was incredible and the support we had from Sacha, Nigel, international art team and global support members were phenomenal. We really felt connected with colleagues in other countries, shared our stories, learnt so much and never felt alone.
Once it was announced we were reopening, we had a long waiting list and the first 4-6 weeks were intense – our constant client communication and materials support to them prior to their visit had worked and they felt safe and knew exactly what to expect. They were very happy to come in and get their hair done. We adhered religiously to strict protocols to assure that our clients knew that we take their safety seriously and they are coming for a safe, feelgood experience with us. We had tangible signs that this was important – we offered a higher standard of service excellence with temperature checks, longer opening hours, sanitised the salon and offered individual sanitisation packs with mask, disposable towel, and gown. We also opened a new salon in Milan Brera two weeks after lockdown and because of the work we had done communicating with clients, they trusted us and knew a visit to TONI&GUY meant their safety and wellbeing was a top priority. Consumer behaviour has changed; they now appreciate brands and companies stepping up even more in service excellence and professionalism with an eye on health and wellbeing. Average spend is 30% higher and clients are purchasing more products than before. It has been a most unprecedented experience but an important learning curve too.
As a global company we have fostered stronger relationships in our network, our team, and our clients. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow, both with our clients and as a global team. It has all been an opportunity to expand and this has made us more resilient and united!