After four months in lockdown, NSW is finally preparing to open its proverbial doors – which thankfully means the return of salons and other in-person beauty services.
So in other words, our unkempt eyebrows, patchy tans and neglected nails will soon receive some much-needed professional attention.
With that in mind, BD recently spoke with Ella Baché CEO, Pippa Hallas, on her current leadership role in navigating the waters of re-opening 140 salons across Australia in post-COVID times and the effect the pandemic has had on the beauty industry.
How did Ella Baché cope when COVID hit this year?
The year 2020 brought many challenges. It was a year that I am sure the world will never forget. When COVID hit like a tidal wave the first time round I knew we needed to pivot, we simply had no choice and these unprecedented times saw us physically close the doors to over 120 Ella Baché salons across Australia.
With re-adaptation at the forefront of my mind we rolled out our all-new digital platform, allowing therapists and customers the ability to navigate expert skin consultations all from the comfort of their own home.
We also used this time to educate as many therapists and students as we could and approached it as a time of giving. It helped the teams get through and not only provided new learnings but also routine and a sense of community, albeit over zoom. I was also proud of the amount of engagement and learning that we saw across hundreds of college students – more graduated than previous years.
Fast forward to 2021, we sit in familiar territory, and with our virtual salons made readily available, we have continued to see an increase in flexibility with consumers. In my mind, we should be able to access great skincare and expert knowledge anytime, anyplace!
How did this year’s pandemic compare to last year’s in terms of business?
As far as business is concerned the outcomes of last year’s industry lockdown compared to this year have been somewhat the same with our traditional channels closed and digital channels taking off – we have traded on and off as per government restrictions across Australia as a whole.
What I will say is that we have grown to become very ‘adaptable’ and whilst we didn’t experience the shock like 2020, in some ways it has been more difficult on the team, as many have been home schooling, alongside work, and really feeling the fatigue, particularly our people in Victoria.
Have you experienced any positives during the pandemic, among the many negatives?
Of course! I think it is imperative to find the silver linings – we have used this time to invest in digital and technology like many other retailers and in a much broader sense than just an e-commerce platform.
We have innovated the ways we communicate, educate, book services, buy products, and work. We have also launched some amazing new high performance skincare products and treatments – such as a retinol serum and treatment mask, botanical hand washes and oils.
A-beauty or Australian beauty is really in demand because of the quality and trusted ingredients we have available to us because our R and D and Manufacturing is done here in Sydney. It has been a blessing – the silver lining has been the creativity and innovation on our local shores.
Can you please tell us more about your virtual salons? Will they still have a place once restrictions ease?
With gaps in the market emerging, along with the needs of our customers continuing to change I have noticed an increased flexibility with consumers, so we will continue to offer our virtual salon.
In saying that, after being heavily restricted for the better part of two years, I know our clients are dying for face-to-face contact and some well-deserved indulgence in the salon.
What challenges have you been faced with regarding the new salon opening restrictions?
The biggest challenges for Ella Baché are the continuous shifts between state protocols. As a national franchise business, we have salons nationwide, and all operations are currently limited as per each state restriction, so keeping abreast of these changes in each different state has been hugely time consuming.
With government regulations at the forefront of our mind we want to ensure we are operating in the safest possible manner for our staff and clients and in doing so are supporting staff with vaccination protocols, hygiene protocols and our own extensive cleaning protocols.
What beauty treatments do you think are going to be the most popular once salons open?
Good question! Honestly, I think any results driven facial followed by LED or MICRO will be the go-to. Consumers are after a post lockdown glow up, and thankfully we have the perfect individualised products and services for them. In saying that, we will see a massive pent up demand for everything from beauty – brows, hair removal, tanning to skincare treatments.
Our clients can’t wait to come back in. To have their support has been so humbling and wonderful.
Do you have any advice for other salons hit hard by the pandemic?
Our industry, like many others, has been hit HARD. But the end is near, and if there is one thing I know for certain – it is consumers globally are desperate to indulge in beauty and skincare services so it’s time to knuckle down and get back to work, just in time for the festive season!
If we have a strong summer and Christmas period, it will set us up for a successful 2022 year. We all need to stay focused on what we can control in times of such uncertainty.
Do you think COVID has changed the beauty industry forever?
I believe COVID-19 has been a great accelerator technology, but it’s been a great focus on healthy skin, (zoom has meant we have become hyper aware of our complexion), Australian made, quality, safe, trusted brands and products are what people are after.
Whilst it’s a great time change in the way we buy, book, work and learn, people are social beings and we need a balance of HIGH Tech and HIGH Touch in the way we operate in the future… consumers will always love the in-salon experience, and the expertise and indulgence that comes with it. Our clients and people will deserve it after these challenging times!