Beauty industry fights to survive during social isolation
Instagram account followed. Direct message sent. Screenshot of needed supplies. Opted out of the Cash App option but got real cash instead. After checking off all four instructions, I was ready for my package.
When I got the alert that my order was ready, I did a U-turn and headed to my destination. Once I got to the neighborhood I was looking for, I parked in the lot and waited. There were several other black women waiting with me, typing away on their phones and staring at a gated door. As much as I’d like to believe I’m not vain enough to be concerned about my hair during a worldwide health outbreak, the truth of the matter is month 4 crept up on me and a touch-up was due.
Beauty supply stores have been battling it out to stay open as “essential needs” store. Some won, some didn’t. One of my usual spots had signs all over the door: “Temporarily closed due to COVID-19.” So imagine my surprise to see my second spot was open — sorta. This social media setup, however, was the easiest way to avoid impossibly close and narrow store aisles to get the hair products I wanted.
Recommended Read: “‘Essential’ Stores Become Questionable in Retail World”
Beauty supply stores have taken a page from grocery stores (and other essential retailers) regarding drive-up orders. In an industry that banks on African-Americans spending $473 million in total hair care (a $4.2 billion industry), closing beauty supply stores is a major blow to the beauty business. On the surface, it may seem odd that consumers who are all supposed to be socially isolating care about something as small as “hair care.” But my hair goes wherever I do, including virtual conference calls, and I want to like what I see when I pass the mirror. Food, toiletries and working appliances are clearly more important than Olive Oil leave-in conditioner and relaxer, but I want both. And if it means sitting in the parking lot, waiting patiently for a worker to come to people’s cars one-by-one with a face mask and gloves, so be it.
Of course I shook my head at one customer who clearly ignored the sign on the door that says, “Please do not stand in front of door.” There she stood, oblivious and annoying. Not only does ignoring safety signs like this bring unnecessary attention to a small business trying desperately to keep its employees working; it also could do unnecessary harm to workers one-by-one coming out to bring orders to cars. (Standing six feet away from the door is not hard, especially if you were already in a car.) For that reason alone, I understand why there are mixed opinions on some independent businesses staying open. But the consumer wants what she wants, and unlike retailers that have CEOs making $117.3 billion (i.e. Jeff Bezos), smaller businesses clearly won’t be able to hire 250K new employees. But in a small industry that can find creative ways to still make the money it needs to stay afloat and help avoid putting its employees out of a job, I can respect that, too.
Although I do worry that the lady in the car next to me can safely find someone to put her bundles in — she bought plenty — this also makes me sympathize with beauticians who may have temporarily lost their client base. I’ve been sitting in a beauty salon since pre-school, so doing my own hair and others (from washing and oiling scalps to perming and a sporadic dye) is no sweat off my back. Once I have the supplies, I’m good to go. But this is also not my profession (even if I made reasonable side money from it in college and beyond).
The beauty industry will be rocky, if not altogether vanish, now and in the immediate future. Hair care professionals can’t really do someone’s hair if they cannot touch a head. But if beauty supply stores have figured out a way to still safely sell their products, I’d imagine beauticians (and barbers) will get creative at some point, too. YouTube videos are already bringing them profits for showing how to do certain hairstyles. I hope this is their time to shine and show the best of their social marketing and video skills, too.
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