Ottawa, Kingston hairdressers apply lessons from 2020 rollercoaster ride to manage reopening rush

Hair salon
Hair salon

Hair salons that have been allowed to reopen in parts of Ontario are scrambling to slot in appointments for a backlog of clients looking to clean up their lockdown locks.

Stylists have been snipping away since the province lifted stay-at-home measures in many regions last week, permitting personal care services to reopen.

Some salon owners say they’re mostly booked up for months as they struggle to find slots for a raft of clients whose appointments were cancelled during the shutdown as well as a growing wait-list of customers who are long overdue for a trim.

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“We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” said Lou Petrie, co-owner of Echo Hair Studio in downtown Kingston, as the phones rang off the hook with reservation requests.

“I’ve been on the phone some days for 12 hours, honestly. I just go home completely brain-dead.”

Petrie said she had to hire extra help to keep up with the hundreds of bookings for cuts, colouring and other services that have piled up since the salon was closed in January.

Some stylists are seeing their schedules fill up as far ahead as July, said Petrie, so the salon is asking clients to try someone new if their usual hair dresser isn’t available.

Despite scheduling challenges, Petrie said she’s committing to pencil in a time for every client, or she could risk losing them to a competitor.

Appointments tend to take long not only because of public health precautions, but because it takes time to tend to overgrown roots and extended split ends, said Petrie.

Other clients have come to embrace a more natural look, she added, asking hair dressers to shape their low-fuss cuts or help them transition to a full head of grey.

Still, Petrie said her scheduling struggles don’t compare to the stress of last spring’s reopening, which brought an ebb and flow of chockablock bookings for a few weeks, followed by a lull as stylists waited for their clients’ coifs to grow out.

“You go out of your mind too busy and then you just hit this wall,” she said. “There was a (period) of it being completely dead, because everyone was due at the same time, so no one needed their hair done.”

John Nguyen, president of Hair Republic, said his Ottawa salons were better prepared for the reopening rush this time around.

Nguyen said Hair Republic kept online booking open during the last lockdown, forcing staff to keep pushing back appointments.

He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Nguyen asked some staff to stay on top of scheduling, creating individual wait-lists for each of his stylists.

Between about 30 staff across two locations, Nguyen said his salons are booked up through the end of March, prompting some regulars to call in with special requests for after-hours services.

But Nguyen said he has to stick to the schedule to prevent staff burnout between increased demand for their services and enhanced cleaning protocols.

“We can’t fully accommodate everybody in Ottawa,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

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