As barbershops across the UK & Ireland and North America enter lockdown, Anna Elliott, barber and owner of Doc’s Barbershop in Shanghai, has re-opened her doors. She shares exclusively with BarberEVO her experience of Covid-19, self isolation, and the joy of returning behind the chair.
These are, without doubt, strange and uncertain times for all of us. Barbershops across North America are closed, with none of us certain when they might reopen. There are bills to be concerned about, staff to pay but above all, clients, friends and family to protect.
“If there is one piece of advice I can give right now it is please, stay where you are. Don’t visit friends or family in other cities, as much as you might want to. I’ve been where you are now and it is so important. We’ve proven here that staying home and staying safe really does flatten the curve,” says Anna, who was able to reopen both of her barbershops after closing completely for three weeks.
Being at the forefront of the outbreak in China, the government took swift and effective action to prevent further spread of the virus, from closing public transport to salons and barbershops, leaving only essential businesses open.
“We didn’t really know how severe it was, we were the first ones so a lot of us just didn’t take it all that seriously, myself included, so we fought tooth and nail to stay open, but the decision was eventually taken out of our hands and the government shut us down.”
Like any small business owner, Anna’s immediate concern was how she was going to continue paying rent and her staff wages without any revenue coming in.
Luckily, at one of her barbershops, one of her landlords agreed to cut her rent in half for the months of February and March, as well as a small tax break from the government, everything else though was up to Anna and her business partner to figure out themselves.
“One of our most senior barbers has offered to wait on her salary, so that’s been a huge help, but we’re still playing a bit of catch up, which is why it feels so good to be open again,” she explains.
“The first day we opened it was so busy, everyone was so happy to see us again, which was great, but we have put some practices in place. We’ve limited our opening hours because a lot of people are still working from home and the evenings are quieter, so we’re just open 12pm to 6pm right now.”
The shop is also not currently offering any shaving treatments in order to limit any possibility of infection. Not just because of any potential open wounds, but because a shave is a very up close and personal service, something that both clients and barbers will need to readjust to.
“You’re literally breathing on their face and they are breathing on your face, it requires a lot of close proximity so just limiting those kinds of services, at least for now, puts everyone at ease and limits the risk of infection,” Anna explains, and it is not the only precaution she and her team have introduced.
All of her staff currently wears masks, and on arrival at the shop, all clients are, for now, temperature checked and asked to show proof that they have not left the country in the last two weeks. Luckily in China, they can do this quite easily via a QR code issued from the government on their mobile phones.
“If you are closed right now, one of the things you can do to is consider what kind of precautions you want to implement when shops do start to open up again. One of my Chinese customers is a doctor and he said even one person wearing a mask during a cut is safer than none. Despite the controversy of masks, they are useful if someone doesn’t know they are sick.”
During the three-week period that Doc’s Barbershop was closed, Anna not only figured out what precautions she would take, but through her work with WAHL China, she was able to create online tutorials for her fellow barbers.
There are around six educators for WAHL China, and each one took turns creating a live stream of one haircut, some were cutting their own hair, others were working on one (temperature checked) model in their closed barbershop. Anna was able to share those tutorials with her team, but she also encouraged them to appreciate the time with their families and to give themselves a break.
“You can plan for the future and you can be productive but sometimes it is nice to slow down, stay at home, cook, watch TV, be present with your partner or whoever you are living with. It’s a good a time as any to plan new collaborations or new ideas too – everyone is in the same boat so everyone is fairly accessible by phone,” Anna says.
“Think about the fellow small businesses you can support when you get back to normal. If there is someone you want to work with in the future, maybe now is the time to make plans and give yourself something to look forward to when this is all over.”
Perhaps the best advice Anna can give is to use this time to put things into perspective because at the end of the day, yes, the financial element is scary, but the things that truly matter are your family, your friends, their health and your own health are more important than money.
This pandemic is scary for everyone, but for Anna at least, the sense of community she saw and continues to see, was reassuring. Support each other, take advantage of the break as much as you can, and plan for the future, because this too shall pass.