Massage, Salon Franchises Discuss Reopening Plans
Massage Heights CEO Shane Evans
Like the entirety of this pandemic, which for most businesses has been a dizzying series of adjustments, the process of reopening storefronts is anything but straightforward. The health and safety of workers and customers is paramount, franchise leaders agree, and for those brands operating in beauty and wellness segments where close contact is unavoidable, turning the salon lights back on takes careful consideration—and a high tolerance for change.
“You want to provide leadership to your franchisees, and you do, but it feels like you’re constantly pivoting,” says Shane Evans, CEO of Massage Heights, which she co-founded in 2004 and that today has 123 locations. “States will issue their guidelines and then they’ll change them after you’ve reopened.”
Case in point is Colorado, where six Massage Heights locations could reopen May 1. “We opened with all the sanitary procedures in place as recommended by the CDC” and industry groups, says Evans, including face masks for massage therapists and customers, whole-room disinfectant fogging, hand sanitizer in every treatment room and disposable face cradle covers. While each Massage Heights location has between 10 and 12 treatment rooms, staffing was adjusted so that no more than 10 employees, including just four therapists, were scheduled at once.
“We opened up with a bang, our retreats were super successful,” says Evans. “We did 180 appointments in three days at one location.”
“But now they came back and said, well that won’t work, you can only have 10 people,” including customers, “in the location at one time. So we just can’t get in as many appointments. It does affect our model,” she continues. “There’s just no method to the madness.”
Massage Heights is committed to helping franchisees navigate these changes, stresses Evans, and is also working with others in the industry to get massage services designated as essential businesses by states by focusing on the health and pain relief benefits. “That probably won’t help now,” she acknowledges, with more states already in the process of allowing wellness and beauty operators to reopen, “but the hope, really for me is, if there’s another shutdown—you know, there’s talk of another wave in the fall—that we would be designated an essential business.”
As many franchises are scrambling to rehire employees, Evans says “so far” Massage Heights operators haven’t had those challenges, crediting “hyper engaged” franchisees who’ve constantly communicated with workers. She points out 75 percent of the system received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing them to keep employees on the payroll, and as a whole, Massage Heights “only lost a very small percentage of members” who elected to freeze or cancel their monthly membership.
“We’re blessed to have a model that generates cash even if locations are closed,” she says.
For stylists and their clients, hugging one another “is very much a part of the culture,” says Sola Salon Studios CEO Christina Russell, pictured. “We had to put guidance out that you can’t hug anymore.” That’s just one of many nuances that come with the personal nature of the salon industry and that Sola, whose franchisees rent space to hair stylists, massage therapists, nail techs, skincare professionals and makeup artists at 500 locations, addressed in its back-to-work plan.
“We anticipated this early on and started looking for an authority on this to partner with,” says Russell of the complicated reopening process. The company selected Barbicide, known as the industry leader in cleaning and disinfecting products for salons and spas, to collaborate on a comprehensive reopening guide and new certification program for salon professionals.
That certification, says Russell, “will be very reassuring to clients,” and is another differentiator for Sola, which she believes already has a leg up on the more traditional salon setting when it comes to customers—and stylists—feeling comfortable coming back.
“It’s a closed studio where it’s just you and your stylist,” says Russell of Sola’s individual stylist rooms. “They don’t share shampoo bowls,” don’t reuse capes and have the option to implement SolaGenius, the brand’s online scheduling and touch-free payment processing app. Sola also partnered with fellow franchise Jan-Pro to provide fogging disinfectant services to franchisees.
More than 200 locations have reopened in states such as Georgia, Utah, Tennessee and Colorado, with others coming in Missouri, Arkansas and New Hampshire, but it’s up to each stylist to decide when they want to reopen their individual studio.
“Our recommendation is for franchisees to follow state guidelines and then consult closely with their stylists,” says Russell. “Largely what we’re seeing is absolute enthusiasm for stylists to get back to work.”