The article was first published on Newshub:
As hairdressers gear up to reopen under COVID-19 alert level 2, it's expected they'll face a rush of customers wanting to look and feel their best.
Thursday marks seven weeks since the country went into level 4 lockdown, forcing small businesses - including hairdressers, to close. For customers who religiously book a six-weekly trim, it's likely to have been a lengthy wait.
As the country plans to move to alert level 2 on Thursday, Newshub spoke to business owners of nationwide haircutters Just Cuts and Exile Hair Design about their plans to reopen - and how they'll provide personal grooming services under the new normal.
Nick Bolster, salon owner of Just Cuts in Westfield Newmarket, said that the last piece of the puzzle was to get clarity on PPE requirements. In preparation for providing personal grooming services such as beard trims, he'd ordered a "shed load" of gear, including gloves, face masks and face shields.
As a no-appointments business, Bolster plans to manage social distancing using the existing text-back service and spreading seating at a one-metre distance across the floor.
"If you're walking towards the salon, the first thing you'll notice is (standardised across all the Just Cuts stores in New Zealand), we'll have social distancing markers on the floor, signage saying the waiting area is closed, magazines removed and no tea/coffee.
"The check-in process is the same as it's always been: we take a mobile number, a name, our clients will sign the contact register, we'll encourage the client to go back into the mall or shopping environment and send them a text message when they're next-in-line," Bolster said.
As the salon takes a range of age groups, the biggest change in the salon will be to ensure that family members don't enter the floor area.
"For a child particularly, we'll do the consultation with the parent outside of the salon, or in the reception area and we'll only take the client through," Bolster explained.
Hand sanitiser will be placed at each station, capes sprayed down with disinfectant and hung up to dry and tools cleaned between each visit.
"We've always done the clean (eg scissors and clippers) in front of the client as a demonstration, but we'll do that [after] the cut, before we bring the next client through," Bolster added.
Chairs would be spaced to allow a minimum one-metre distance, or in other Just Cuts salons, people might be seated in every second chair.
Face-to-face services, like shampooing, a fringe trim and a beard trim would continue. Stylists could use a face shield if required, although the aim is to minimise use of equipment that would be confronting to clients.
"People have been through a lot in the last seven weeks… you come in and you're looking for rest and relaxation and to be pampered a little bit.
"If the stylist's got rubber gloves, a face shield and a disposable apron, it feels like you're going for a surgical exam rather than a haircut," Bolster added.
Ahead of re-opening, Bolster revisited his 'purpose statement', which hadn't changed, although achieving it under alert level 2 is more of a challenge.
"[It's] that every client leaves looking and feeling amazing - we've got to do that in a new environment.
"We've got to make sure that people get that level of service and relaxation, just with a few more protocols in place."
Joanne Plant salon owner at Exile Hair Design in Epsom, said that as soon as alert level 2 was announced on Monday, her phone "lit up like a birthday candle". To clients who hadn't been able to get their hair cut, having this restriction removed is "very important".
"Garden centres were opened [under alert level 3] for mental health, but looking and feeling good is also for mental health," Plant said.
Under alert level 2, styling stations will be removed to provide social distancing and cleaned and sterilised between each visit. Face masks will be provided for staff and clients, client tracing maintained and the team will be staggered and rotated to maximise safety.
"Just a couple of us are going to come in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we're going to halve the team then rotate: we've got our own little bubbles," Plant explained.
Plant said that undoubtedly, the biggest challenge to business owners during COVID-19 is lack of income, but there was also plenty of support.
"It's been amazing seeing businesses ban together to support each other, whether it's on messenger or Zoom.
"The amount of love and support from clients wanting to pay in advance has been huge," Plant said.
Describing Monday's confirmation of the move to alert level 2 as a relief, Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope said that COVID-19 levels 4 and 3 had put pressure on Kiwi businesses, adding that "recovery of the economy is still some way away."
Employer and Manufacturer's Association chief executive Brett O’Riley said that members are pleased the focus has shifted towards restoring livelihoods.
"The Government trusted businesses at alert levels 4 and 3, and it is good to see that trust further extended at level 2 to allow the majority of businesses to return and begin the task of restoring their own operations and the national economy," O'Riley said.
The country will move to COVID-19 alert level 2 on Thursday, May 14, allowing hairdressers, shopping malls, cinemas, playgrounds and gyms to re-open, including cafes and bars where the primary purpose is dining.
Schools will reopen from Monday, May 18. Opening of bars which primarily serve alcohol is delayed until Thursday, May 21.
Further information about COVID-19 alert level 2 is available on the COVID-19 website.