Gavin Botha: Why Formal Salons Will Survive and Thrive Post Lockdown


Industry icon Gavin Botha, co-owner of Tangles in Rosebank, Jhb, speaks to Jassy Mackenzie on his view of the industry post-lockdown, why he believes clients will come back to the formal salon environment and why this environment is so crucial to a thriving industry. He discusses why too much fragmentation, one-person shows and freelancers are detrimental to the industry.

Before and During Lockdown

Before lockdown began, there was an atmosphere of fear in the country as we prepared for the unknown. With lockdown imminent, salons worked like crazy in order to service clients before it was imposed.

Lockdown and Adapting to Change

Before lockdown our industry had a well organised structure with every part of the structure playing an important role – from the EOHCB and Bargaining Council, all the way through the salon, the landlord, the clients, and including the suppliers. However if there was one thing lockdown taught us it was that in order to survive, businesses had to adapt! We have to regroup and rebuild to restore our world and grow.

Working Illegally to Keep Food on the Table

In a crisis situation, with UIF slow to pay out, I had to do whatever I could to survive and pay the bills. Fear set in as I travelled door to door with my boot packed with stock and equipment, rinsing clients over baths, just to provide a service. I was not at my best! Cut and colour were the only services offered, none of which were catwalk-worthy! This was pure survival mode.

Back to Work and Seeing the Industry Fragment

The EOHCB and Council finally persuaded government to reopen the industry with strict safety controls. I was so happy to get back to work with the salon at 30 percent capacity but I was concerned by what I saw – all across the country, contracts were broken, stylists were not returning to work, salons were closing down, and hairstylists were setting up as freelancers and one person shows. The problem is that these new freelancers were not complying with all the regulations!

The Disadvantages of Home Visits and Home Environments

Home visits are limited in the services you can offer and they are also a higher risk to the hairstylist as you are entering an unsanitised environment. I question whether home visits provide the same quality of service. In a salon, you can provide a safe, warm, friendly atmosphere that helps the client to relax and enjoy the service, as well as escaping the pandemic for a while in a sanitised environment. In a salon you have a full backup staff and this provides a special, seamless experience that guarantees the client will return. A formal salon environment supports the industry through the correct legal contributions to the industry organisations. These organisations are in place to protect the industry and work for the industry. There is a lot of wrong being done by going solo!

Salon Safety at Tangles

At Tangles we are a “home environment” in that we operate from a private house. However we do so as a fully staffed, fully equipped and very spacious salon. I found in our environment, and in most formal salons whether they are in a shopping centre or in private property, that the environment is spacious by nature and already well ventilated. In addition, hairdryers provide additional movement of air. In this environment if you are responsible and maximise safety precautions, it really is a minimum risk environment. Best of all you can do this with a full backup service, with every person in the salon working to make the client feel special and well cared for.

The Limitations of Going Solo or Freelancing

Having done this out of desperation during lockdown I can say from experience that going solo is not always the right solution. Yes, you make a quick buck, but it is a much more fragile setup. A salon service is all about a motivated group effort – from the front desk to the styling station to the basin. Running a full salon comes at a cost, as it costs a lot to be correctly stocked, but it means that you can offer every service to every client who walks in your door! Plus, the wheel of fashion turns, and inevitably products that have stood on your shelves for a couple of years will suddenly back in fashion again!

Additionally, by going ‘underground’ you may be avoiding paying the correct contributions, tax or VAT. This means you are not supporting the industry or contributing to the fiscus and this means you are part of the problem rather than helping make South Africa better. It is also worth noting that salons who were not doing things correctly were the ones who found themselves with the most serious problems when lockdown arrived.

Keeping Standards High No Matter Where

Being in a centre is expensive. Rentals are high and it is not viable for every salon business. However the alternative is to create a formal, viable, thriving salon business in an actual property – even better, invest in the property and you then have an asset that can be sold at a later stage if needed.

Wherever your salon is located you need to keep it an inspirational environment. This is much harder in a small or home salon but it is so important. Even though we consider ourselves at Tangles to be a full, professional salon, I am always aware that I need to dress just as if I was heading out to a shopping mall, and not the way I would “at home”. You are walking into a “look” when you walk into a salon. The environment is all about fashion. Doing hair in a client’s home when she is in her pajamas is not inspirational and it doesn’t help you perform at your creative best.

Chair rentals are an option for salons who need to supplement their income and who are finding it difficult to attract the right staff, but it is important to remember that people often undervalue their chair rentals. You need to include lights, water and maintenance. Also, you need to be prepared for “drama” if the wrong person rents. You need to have a very watertight contract in place.

Working to a Bigger, Brighter Future

My take home message is: Do not move home if you are working for a viable salon! These salons are like gold and they will become destinations once again (and already are!) And even if you have to make a move, think carefully about what you are doing it. Always try to plan for growth. Do you really want to stay a one person business? There is no community work ethic, nobody to bounce ideas off, no support or laughter, a smaller range, and you can end up getting too “intimate” and relaxed with clients and less professional.

Even if lockdown has left you in a predicament, you should look at how you can regroup and regrow. Get together, unite, attract like minded people. Turn your one man show into a two or three man show. Strive for greater things and do not remain stuck in a limited environment. There is so much more that you can do and be! And please be aware that it is your responsibility to register yourself formally and contribute correctly. It’s all about supporting our industry and each other.

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