Hairpins You have probably heard of the lipstick effect which is the theory that when facing an economic crisis people will treat themselves with less costly luxury goods, such as expensive lipstick. During times of war and during the Global Financial Crisis, sales of lipstick were said to increase. So are we seeing similar consumer behaviours during the current pandemic and associated economic stress?
There was a story in June this year of an upmarket hairstylist in New York charging up to $1000 for a haircut and within days of reopening had a waiting list of 1200 people. The salon is struggling to get through the backlog because of the extra requirements to operate safely, but people are prepared to wait with some saying they would eat peanut butter and jelly if they had to just to get that fabulous haircut.

LauraWe asked Laura Pauletto from Hair About Town, a mobile hairstylist, why people would make sacrifices for a good haircut.
“It’s about feeling good about yourself and having a sense of normality”, says Laura.
“Most of us get our haircut and its part of a routine that we miss”.
In 2018 around 67,000 people were employed as hairdressers in Australia and the sector continues to grow and is estimated to be worth well in excess of $4billion dollars a year. It is difficult to find statistics on mobile or home-based stylists. Laura says that they do exist in Canberra, but the numbers fluctuate.

Getting into hairdressing

In high school, Laura was trying to decide between a career in childcare or hairdressing.
“So, in year 10 I decided to get some work experience after school. I worked Tuesday and Friday in childcare and Thursday and Saturday at a local hair salon. I just went up and asked”, says Laura.
“I was lucky that my friend’s mother managed the childcare centre and she was happy for me to look after the kids while they were playing and waiting to be picked up by their parents. Eventually, I decided on hairdressing because I preferred the creative side of it.”
Laura says she has been a hairdresser since she was 16 and has completed an apprenticeship, has been an assistant manager and manager over the years and has helped a number of stylists to set up their own salons. After about 10 years of this, Laura started toying with the idea of going freelance.
“I asked all my clients that had been following me for about 10 years if they would prefer me to get a small salon or come to them. I really wanted to go back to the personal side of the industry.”
“I got tired of work politics. In the early days of my career, it was about advancing and learning the craft and you had the support to do this. But over the years it became about targets and dollars. In some salons as a senior I wasn’t offered many opportunities for extra training and sometimes I had to seek it out myself.”
Laura says that now it varies from salon to salon in the industry. There are some who are excellent about developing their staff while others have a different focus – you hear different things from different people. “All I know was that I enjoyed doing hair and that’s what I wanted to focus on.”
Laura was surprised when her clients all said that they would prefer for her to go to them. “So I decided to give it a go. There were no statistics on competition or costs, but I worked out how much it would cost to get the gear I needed and decided to trial it for 6 months. I’m still doing it 23 years later. Not everyone wants to go to salons anymore. Many are strapped for time and prefer the convenience of a personalised service in their home”.
Laura has never advertised her services. Her business has grown through word of mouth and referrals.
“Canberra is a great place to be a freelancer. It has a big enough population to have the business even though there is a lot of salon competition. Yet it’s small enough to be able to drive around quickly and easily”, says Laura.

Who are your clients?

hairdresserMost of Laura’s clients are career people or those who have recently retired and are enjoying life.
“I do also have some seniors who have been long term clients. Some of these clients have health issues,” says Laura.
“I’m clearly over 40 and many of my clients have aged with me.”
Laura says that it is her understanding from personal experience and feedback from some clients, that some people with certain disabilities find that going to a salon to have their hair done can be difficult for many reasons.
Laura remembers that when she was working in a salon she was asked if she was interested in working at a not-for-profit that supports people with disabilities. She said she was happy to volunteer but then she was told that she needed insurance and had to meet a bunch of requirements.
“I was a young employee and this became a bit overwhelming, so I didn’t go ahead with it. The red tape made it too complicated”.
“Now that I have all these things in place I have worked with clients in palliative care and aged care homes. I’m happy to provide these services.”
Laura was recently referred to a number of agencies providing in-home care NDIS services. To provide these services, she also needs to have a Working with Vulnerable People and other security checks, so has decided to put this on hold until things settle down with the COVID-19 situation.
“My choice of clientele comes down to my personality. I see every client regardless of his or her age, illness or disability as a person. What they have is generally not catchy and they deserve to feel good about themselves and get the same treatment as anyone else’.
“One of my long term clients, an elderly lady, gets a lot of skin cancers and when I saw her last week she had just had surgery and the skin graft was still looking red and inflamed so I said why don’t we wait a few weeks for it to settle because I don’t want to get any hair trimmings in the area and cause an infection. She was really grateful.”
“This sort of thing doesn’t bother me, because I want to make her feel good about herself. I want to help people in need. It doesn’t bother me if the client has any medical issues. Together we can sort out the best way to do what is required.”
“I do wonder if apprentices today receive additional training in people skills, in order to be able to cope with people who have special or different needs. If not, maybe its time for this to be incorporated into their training?"

Changes and challenges in hairstyling

Scissors Laura believes that the hairdressing industry will continue to grow and evolve as the fashion industry does. There are many different areas/facets to the hairdressing industry.
“In the current economic and health scenarios we now all find ourselves in, as a hairdresser, I have had to give extra thought to how I am doing my work and the service I provide. I’m certain that everyone else in the industry is doing the same.
“Being a small, mobile operator means that I have been able to develop the business to cater to people’s needs and I have had to be adaptable to succeed. I have the ability to be flexible and adapt that salons don’t have”.
Laura said with a laugh that one of the main challenges of working in your client’s home is dealing with a variety of personal and ‘technical’ issues. “I use a portable basin for washing and rinsing hair and the increase in trendy taps and fittings means that my standard house fitting doesn’t fit. So I have to be pretty savvy in coming up with another option while keeping the client relaxed and not making them feel uncomfortable.”
“For one of my clients who is in a wheelchair, I can’t get the portable basin set up close enough to a sink. So her husband provides a tub of warm water and I wet a towel enough to dampen and ‘sponge bath”, her hair wet and to also remove the shampoo and conditioner once it's used. It does take a while but it gets the job done.”
“And then there is one of my older clients who has progressive dementia and I spend most of my time trying to keep her husband calm because he stresses about her doing things at her own pace.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Laura spent a lot of time listening to what industry heads were recommending. The industry actually wanted to be closed down to protect staff. Laura says she took a week off to see how things progressed, being conscious of her own aging parents that she lives with.
“I went week to week. I’d check in with next week’s clients and tell them my processes but leave it up to them as to whether or not they wanted to see me. I have some clients that normally come to my home because they live a bit out of town but they decided not to come over for their hairdos out of concern for my parents. They were happy to wait a while longer to see me. Some who had no issues were very concerned about things and postponed appointments, whereas others rang me wanting their haircut. I guess this was because they know and trust me. My business has managed to keep going but there was a lot of juggling of appointments especially in the first two months.”
“People still want to feel good about themselves and some of my clients don’t have family and I was the only person they were seeing for weeks.”
Laura says that it became very apparent to her how big an issue isolation is. “Older people often interpret information differently and they personalise it and sometimes they actually like to hear my views about what is going on and how I’m dealing with. They like to hear how I am changing my behaviour but not restricting myself completely.”
Laura has noticed that her clients are a bit less anxious than they were in the early days of the pandemic but they are certainly much more conscious of things. Her older clients are taking a bit longer to move back into what were normal routines.

Taking care of yourself in business

Laura says that she has always been very sporty and a big believer in work/life balance and freelancing has given her the opportunity to do this.
“I work really hard but I can take time off without having to worry about staff, rent, etc. I know my busy periods so I can work around them and I can take 6 weeks off a year. I carry my salon with me so I have to keep fit and I keep myself educated about how to maintain my health and wellbeing.
“I keep up to date by researching current trends and different ways of operating and I do a few training courses every year. Its up to me to make sure I know what best practice is. That’s the way it has always been unless you work in a salon that keeps a tab on things.
“I am still doing weddings and graduations but mostly only for the family members of existing clients as work and life is very busy these days.
“There can be a lot of personality management when it comes to cutting someone’s hair. Everyone knows what they want and they have no issue in giving you their opinion on how things should be done. At least working for yourself you get to choose who you want to work with. That’s a bit harder in a salon”.
Laura says that she could never go back to working for anyone else, even though she still misses having a team around her. “But I am the only girl in my family so I’m used to do things for myself and getting creative. I love being able to move around and provide a personal service, as I have been able to form a lot of wonderful friendships with a lot of very lovely people.”

“Maybe my unusual way of doing things will become the usual at some stage,” says Laura.

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