Bernie James and Susan Rudd are co-owners of Urban Concept Hair Studio, in Whickham, Gateshead. Here, they share how the pandemic affected their hair salon from opening intermittently, and fearing the worst when closed, to reopening in April thanks to their client’s support. Reminding us all that we need to do out bit to help keep the North East open and #BeatCovidNE.
Q. How has your business been affected by Covid-19?
Massively. If it wasn’t for the furlough scheme, we wouldn’t have been able to retain five members of our staff. It was just awful not being able to work. When we did reopen briefly in July and December, we were extremely grateful but to keep closing and reopening took its toll. To reopen, hopefully for good, on April 12th was a real milestone for us.
Q. What challenges have you faced?
The way we work changed overnight when the pandemic hit. From wearing PPE to changing the salon’s layout to ensure both staff and clients could abide by social distancing rules. In total, we lost 50% of our capacity. Before we could do a cut and blow-dry while someone sat with a colour on. We can’t do that anymore. Ultimately, fewer clients mean less revenue.
When you’re blow-drying hair all-day wearing PPE is uncomfortable. But at the end of the day it means we can keep our business open and safe. If we have to wear PPE for longer, that’s what we will continue to do.
As a business we couldn’t have survived without the Government grants. However, a lot of businesses, including ourselves, have had to take out additional loans to ensure we are Covid secure and we’ve now got debt that we never had before. It’s going to take years of hard work to get us back to where we were financially.
Q. What changes have you had to make in response to the pandemic?
We’ve installed screens, markings on the floor, Covid guidance posters and invested in disposable PPE for both staff and customers. Plus, we have sanitiser just about everywhere. Our motto is ‘If in doubt sanitise it’.
We now work on a minimum of one-hour appointments, instead of 45 minutes, to ensure staff have time to sanitise their section in between clients. As hairdressers, we’re clean anyway but now everything from brushes to combs and the chair to where a client has touched is sanitised. There’s no moving around the salon. Each stylist has their own section, PPE and box of products to help customers and our team feel safe.
Q. How have you and your staff coped during lockdown?
It’s been awful. An emotional rollercoaster for the whole team. From our point of view, as joint business owners, we didn’t think we had a business to go back to.
When you’ve worked so hard building a business for 14-years, not knowing what the future held was scary. It’s not just our mortgage and families we are thinking about. We’re thinking of our staff and even on furlough we were asking yourselves if they all had enough to live on.
This year has played hugely on everyone's mental health. On the first day back in the salon in April, after not being allowed to do our jobs for so long, the whole team felt nervous about whether they'd enjoy cutting hair again. Thankfully, within half an hour of picking our scissors back up, we realised this is what we do.
Q. When people visit you, what will they see that is different now?
Everything we have put in place is to ensure our staff and our clients feel safe in the salon. On arrival, we ask clients to wait outside until they’re invited in. Once inside, we ask clients to sanitise their hands and scan the Track and Trace QR code.
We also provide clients with a disposable mask, even if they’ve brought their own, as they’re going to get wet, and have colour and hair on them. Each stylist guides their client to their own section of the salon to ensure safe social distancing. Clients can then relax and enjoy their appointment with the only difference being their brew or coffee are served in disposable cups.
It’s important for us that clients know we need them to keep us safe as much as we’re keeping them safe.
Q. What has the response been since reopening?
We’ve been ringing clients to get them booked in and they’ve been really understanding. While we have lost some clients along the way we have gained quite a few new clients. We’re finding a lot of people as they’re working from home are really getting behind supporting their local businesses.
Q. Why are you supporting the Keep the North East Open campaign?
We need to keep everything open in the North East. We can’t keep going into lockdown. If everyone keeps doing their bit, we can learn to live with Covid and get back to life.
We have everything in place now to ensure everyone feels safe. Our clients have even told us they feel safer coming into our salon than they do visiting their local supermarket. They know we’re doing as much as we can to remain Covid secure.
For us, it is key that businesses across the North East are allowed to get back to ‘normal’ not just from a financial perspective but from a personal and mental health point of view. We love our jobs, we want to work and see our clients. This campaign plays a key role in reminding everyone we must work together to stay open.
This is our region, our communities, our local businesses and it’s up to us to look after them. Together we can Keep the North East Open.