Back to Business: Linda Stewart of Rainbow Room International
We chatted to Linda Stewart, Owner of Rainbow Room International with Alan Stewart, on the measures that she is taking with her salon group and planning for the future…
Hi Linda, are there any tips you can offer salon owners to help them get through this lockdown?
The most important thing is to keep communication going and to inform your team of each step you are taking. Try to keep them upbeat and try to raise their spirits, engage in tutorials, pass on any podcasts, uplifting social media posts, etc. You must keep calm, outwardly, if you are the one steering the ship you have to step up to the role and take responsibility, the team need someone to tell them everything will be alright. The way you react to this situation for your team and clients will reflect on your long-term business. Keep up to date with what is happening and sign up for Gov.uk and you will receive numerous updates every day on changing policies/laws. Do a financial plan for the next few months, when you see it on paper in black and white this will guide you to the steps you have to take.
What measures can salon owners take now to ensure their salons are ready to reopen when the lockdown ends?
Make a plan now to what steps you can take when reopening. It can be difficult as we do not know the extent of the period we will be closed, but plan for the worst and adjust as necessary. Look at every area of the business that needs addressed; this is the perfect time to implement any changes to the way you operate and sort out any past problems that perhaps niggled you.
What are the main changes that we will see initially when salons reopen?
Living through this pandemic will change people and their outlook on life. What is apparent in the media is the focus on how important your hair and hairdressers are. I think clients will be more patient and empathetic.
Can you highlight the key areas upon which salons need to focus when they reopen to ensure the business will thrive?
The key areas are making sure the staff can cope physically and mentally to return after a prolonged absence and making sure you have a financial plan for the year after reopening. Looking at all areas of the business and working out what is critical to running the business and what is not. At present our businesses are just hibernating, the government are paying the wages, there are grants, loans and funding for self-employed owners, so hopefully when we reopen it will not have too much of a long-term affect. I feel confident in what will be a recession or depression that the public will prioritise what they value and where they will spend their money - maybe this is the end of a throwaway society.
How will you ensure staff are confident and as upbeat as possible when they return to the workplace?
I would recommend a pre-return to work day. The team can get their hair done, catch up with the team, engage in training sessions, and a plan of action can be presented to the team to deal with the clients. I think some mental health training would be beneficial as the team might have lost people they know to the virus, and also clients will have lost their loved ones. It is important to put together a strategy to cope with initial conversations, especially as we deal with so many young people, and guiding them how to have difficult conversations with the public.
What lessons has the lock down taught you, and are there things you will now do differently when it comes to running your business?
The lessons the lock down has taught me is we did not have a doomsday plan in place. We were initially firefighting, and so many small details were not thought about in closing down a business for a period of time. On return we will brainstorm this and have the relevant procedure in place.
How do you plan to cope with the deluge of clients wanting to get their colour done or cut booked in when salons reopen?
This is the biggest challenge we now face; it is more difficult to plan as we are not sure how restrictions will be lifted and if there will still be policies in social distancing. Maybe we have to take less clients and spread them apart, we might have to look at different shifts for the team, also extended days and hours that the salon operates, which then can bring challenges for reception and trainee cover. I think the deluge of clients wanting to get their hair done or repaired will be a bit like the toilet roll phenomena. We must look at how we prioritise our most loyal clients and not upset clients who cannot get an appointment. I think we must address that this will be a problem and communicate to clients before we open that we will be working hard at trying to accommodate all and be up front at the scale of the problem. The other issue can be the clients who fall out of the skin test timeline and will need to be tested before their appointment, I know manufactures are looking at this and working on solutions.
If there was one thing that you’d have done differently in retrospect (knowing what we do now) that would have helped you weather this storm, what would that have been?
I don't think we could have done anything differently apart from having a procedure policy in place. We have been through many recessions and have dealt with so many varied problems over the years, although not on this scale before, but I believe these situations help you become the person you are and you have to look for the good in adversity, learn from the bad, at all times do the right thing and it will make you a stronger person and shape you as the person you will become.