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New York City quickly became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States this past spring. As the novel coronavirus has spread rapidly elsewhere nationwide, New York has been able to bring cases down and began to reopen businesses this summer, making it a possible blueprint for other American cities once they have the virus under control.
Anyone who has ventured out to a store or small business that is not a grocery store or a pharmacy (which are also quite different than they used to be but remained open during the shutdown) knows that retail experiences and services are not like what they once were. There are a lot of new rules put in place to keep customers and employees safe, which might look very different from place to place, whether it be a clothing boutique or a beauty salon.
Across the board, the biggest hurdle to successfully reopening after the pandemic shutdown? Customer compliance. Quite simply: Business owners need everyone to wear a mask and obey social distancing protocols. If everyone can get in the same mindset and mind the new rules, then a lot of other things needed to reopen can fall into place.
Founded in 2018 by a former finance executive, Glosslab is a members-only nail salon. The beauty parlor touts a “future-forward” approach with technology-enhanced services (online booking, cashless payment, contactless check-in and checkout) and proprietary, nontoxic nail polishes. With locations in New York City’s Flatiron and West Village neighborhoods, Glosslab is still planning to open a third Manhattan location this fall.
Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of Glosslab
The before times: I started Glosslab with hygiene as top of mind, so most of our safety measures have been in place since we started and long before COVID. We always have completely waterless services (water is a breeding ground for germs and bacteria), hospital-grade sterilization processes and one-time-use tools, online booking and cashless checkout, and we have a proprietary venting system that filters high air quality into the space.
Since COVID, we have added extra cleaning, especially to high-touch areas. All clients are required to wear masks, and we have installed plexiglass dividers between clients and technicians.
The new normal: We reopened as part of phase 3 for New York City. We have been so overwhelmed by the support of our members and clients both during our closure and as soon as we reopened our doors. We run our business as a membership model ($125 per month for unlimited manicures and pedicures). Our members were so excited to come back, and we have been getting a lot of positive feedback on how safe they feel at Glosslab.
We are able to operate only at 50% capacity, so we have now extended hours (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) to accommodate all appointments. We are also requiring appointments so that we don’t have extra people inside the space waiting. Customers have been so accommodating about wearing masks, completing health waivers online prior to their appointments, and getting temperature checks on-site.
We, of course, want to make our staff feel as comfortable as possible working together and with customers. All employees are required to change clothing when they get to Glosslab and wear masks and gloves at all times.
Stretch’d is an assisted stretching studio, with two locations in Manhattan’s Flatiron District and Westchester County. Body training experts—with backgrounds in personal training, massage therapy, yoga instruction, and professional dance—assist clients with customized 25-, 55-, and 70-minute one-on-one sessions using dynamic stretch methods to gently build flexibility and range of motion.
Amanda Freeman, cofounder and CEO of Stretch’d
Supply and demand: While we were so excited to be able to reopen in early July after spending four months putting reopening plans in place (including safety and sanitary measures), there was a great deal of uncertainty around everything. How many [employees] would be willing and able to return to work? What would demand be like given a mass exodus from the city and concerns that those who remain in the city might have? We planned for a very conservative scenario and staffed minimally only to find out that we had more demand than expected. We are still working to ramp our staffing up to accommodate the demand.
We have found that the measures we have put in place to keep our staff and clients safe and healthy are working and that clients (and their bodies) have really been missing their weekly or monthly stretch sessions and were eager to come back. We were even surprised to see new faces come into the space for their first time. While business is certainly not what it was prior to the pandemic, we are optimistic that we will continue to build it back up.
Customer feedback: We’ve received wonderful feedback from clients who are happy with the new protocols we put in place, including staggered appointment times, increased time between appointments, mandatory face coverings, increased cleanings, and minimal work around the face area. Most clients are happily complying with our new policies, and if they aren’t we’ve refused service—but that has only happened once so far.
Biggest unforeseen hurdle to reopening: While we anticipated reduced demand, I think we underappreciated each staff member’s unique circumstances that might make it more challenging to get them back to work at the time we were allowed to open. We have certainly lost some amazing [employees] for good, given relocations, and others will return at future dates.
Eliut Salon is a high-end hair and makeup salon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. All of the stylists come from pedigreed backgrounds, and several of the stylists travel to assist clients on location for work appearing in top fashion magazines and on the catwalks of Paris, Milan, and other fashion industry capitals. The salon’s spacious layout is an extra blessing, making social distancing and opening up chairs between clients far more accessible than in other beauty parlors in tiny spaces across New York City.
Eliut Rivera, stylist and founder of Eliut Salon
The first few days: The first few days were great. It felt wonderful to be back at work and know we have done everything we can to increase safety precautions. We spaced the clients far apart, expanded business hours to limit the number of clients in at a time, and created stricter hygiene protocols. I have to say the first week was busy, but with these new guidelines the salon didn’t feel crowded. Now, with summer in full swing, business has been challenging. The salon normally slows down in the summertime, but it is slower than usual for this time of the year.
Making adjustments: Clients have been happy and so appreciative of these new protocols. They know that I have this in place to protect them and my staff. Of course, I hear all about how they don’t like wearing the mask in general and how much our life has changed, but nothing in regards to the salon. We are a friendly business, and some of my clients I have had for over 10 years. I am familiar with them bringing their children or another family member with them to their appointments; telling them they can’t have company has been difficult. If a mother can’t arrange childcare, then we schedule them at the end of the day when the salon is quieter and book less clients.
An optimistic outlook: I thought it was going to be difficult managing people’s behavior: following the rules, respecting each other’s space, wearing a mask, etc. But that has not been the case. I am so happy when I hear from my clients how safe they felt, how normal it felt to be back, and of course, how happy they are with the service. I want clients to feel safe and have as much normalcy as we can. It is challenging, but not impossible.
More must-read lifestyle coverage from Fortune:
- “Lights Out”: A new book investigates how and when things fell apart at General Electric
- Media critic Margaret Sullivan outlines the mounting crisis for local journalism
- Sauvignon Blanc has become the go-to wine for Americans during the pandemic
- From ball gowns to medical gowns: How one designer changed her business model to help local health care providers
- Meet the new dating app for parents and people who want kids