14 Jul 2022
This week: What hair salons can tell us about the impact of inflation — and what to do about it.
BARBER KNOWS BEST
Is it warm in here or just the inflation making us sweat?
You’re not the only one feeling sucker-punched every time you check out at the cash register and see prices swelling each day.
This month, shoppers’ inflation expectations hit an all time high, a survey from the New York Federal Reserve found, and it’s not hard to see why. Prices for food, gas, and other necessities have been rising all summer, meaning it’s not just the cost of living going up, but also the cost of doing business.
• “Want to Understand Inflation?” reads one Wall Street Journal headline, “Check the Price of Your Haircut.” Haircut prices act like something of a canary in the coal mine when it comes to the state of inflation. Why? A haircut is a purchase most people can’t skip (and a service that can’t exactly be sourced from overseas). When haircut prices go up, the WSJ reports, it’s a sign that inflation has become deeply embedded in the economy. And even before the summer began in May, haircut prices were already up 6.2% from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. “Economists closely follow this price because a haircut is in large part the same service today as it was 10, 20, or 50 years ago, and is similar across countries,” Bill Adams, chief economist for Comerica Bank, said via Yahoo Finance.
• Hairdressers and salon owners are imparting nuggets of wisdom based on their experience with “The Great Ballooning.” And given their industry is more likely to feel the impacts first and most acutely, we are taking notes like we’re back in Business 101. Some salon owners have reported changes to their price structures as early as January of this year, and are preparing for another hike. “Everything it takes to do one [hair] service on a client has definitely gone up, and unfortunately that tacks on to the service fee,” Janina Canon, the owner of Culture Salon told KSBY News in California. “We’re trying to do things where we’re adding more value to our services,” reported another salon owner, Larella Ellsworth, of Tigerlily Salon. Ellsworth cited strategies like educating customers on how to prolong their haircuts for longer or helping them to achieve a certain look within their budget.
• If you’re feeling anxious about rising prices for your customers during the current climate, it can be helpful to think about small ways to add value in your own way. Your clients may be feeling the squeeze from inflation, but they will also understand that as an independent business owner, you need to make changes in order to keep the lights on. Small acts of shared understanding can make your clients feel seen and heard as prices change. That can mean including a low cost add-on to a hair service like aromatherapy or a simple cup of coffee, or lending your space during off-hours for arts or community programming. More simply, small biz owners can offer transparency into why prices are changing and what customers can expect. Meeting your community where they are is key, and helping your clientele afford what they’re able to is a winning strategy not just in tough times; it can create the the kind of personalized, lasting relationships that help indie entrepreneurs thrive (see: the success of niche and community bookstores despite the pandemic).
Dare we say it, this economic wobble might be an opportunity to show up in ways that are more compassionate, inventive, and community-oriented.
If the case study of the pandemic is any indication, the hairdressing industry has some lessons to impart on unexpected silver linings during times of uncertainty.
• Remember when people lost their marbles over the lack of professional haircuts during peak lockdown? 2020 may have been known as the year of no touching, but it was also the year of really bad hair. “Hair is directly tied to our deeper ideas of identity and community” writes Alex Abad-Santos for Vox. There’s a reason some people drove up to 600 miles to get their haircut in the U.S., or why when salons reopened in Denmark, customers crashed a popular booking site. As it turns out, we’re a bit attached, not just to our grooming habits, but to the ritual and therapy of sitting in our barber’s chair. Gymshark’s barbershop initiative is based on that insight exactly, having recently launched a dedicated space for men to chat with mental health professionals while getting their regular trim. Their Shoreditch space with Appear Here is now open for appointments and walk-ins.
• Throughout the pandemic, Chris Hugo of Hugo Barbers sustained his independent barber practice thanks to a loyal group of customers who were eager to book appointments when public life reopened. He was surprised to find that his original Winchester shop not only survived, but demand was so high after lockdown ended that he needed more space to accommodate new customers. Hugo found a pop-up space in Shoreditch and found that short-term leasing helped him hedge his bets in an uncertain economy. “That’s the amazing thing about pop up spaces: without all the lengthy legal and contract work, you can react quickly to how the market is moving”, Hugo told Appear Here.
• If you’re looking to make a go of it yourself, Appear Here has played host to several salon experiences, including beauty brand Benefit’s 1950s-style beauty parlor pop-up, which took over three floors in a space on Greek Street including a beauty salon, curl station, and cocktail bar. Benefit saw 3,000 new customers and a solid 30% conversion rate, thanks to the shopfront’s intriguing bright pink exterior (or so say nearly half of customers who checked out the store). Our Old Barber Shop space is now open for business, in London’s bustling Soho neighborhood and is perfect for burgeoning stylists or beauty school wizkids. The landlord is currently running a hairdressers and coffee shop out of the space but is looking for a new brand to take over.
What do barbers and hair specialists know that we might not? First, that the most challenging times for business don’t preclude periods of positive, often mystifying growth that follow.
The challenges of inflation for small business owners aren’t a zero-sum game. With some strategic chops and a bit of a human touch, shoppers and indie sellers can help each other stay afloat.
Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.