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Getting a Haircut in the Age of Coronavirus Transcends Mere Grooming

picture of the outside of Great Clips
Two customers wait to be called outside of a Great Clips salon on Courthouse Road. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

Great Clips owner Sandy Tarant told his staff over a Zoom call prior to opening the doors for the first time in months, that what they were about to do for clients transcends a mere grooming session.

“Getting a haircut is a psychological boost. And it's a boost to the spirit of people that we serve as well,” Tarant said.

Tarant, who owns several Great Clips in the Richmond Region, said people are yearning for a return to normalcy. After he opened, some clients were so overjoyed to get a haircut and reconnect with their stylist, that tips have doubled.

“We're finding that the clients are extraordinarily generous to our stylists,” Tarant said. “We had a client that came into one of our salons and handed out $500, as $100s to the stylists and to the receptionist,” he said.

Tarant said gestures like that underscore the point that it’s not just a haircut or a way to look better, but that his staff is providing a psychological boost and spirit lifting experience.

Like many of the businesses who were given the OK to open under Gov. Ralph Northam’s phase one, Tarant said he has followed all the safety guidelines and was even doing some before the statewide closures, such as encouraging online reservations.

“We’ve stopped walk-ins,” he said. “You can't walk up to the salon and say you'd like to get your haircut and then wait in the reception area. People have to wait out in their cars or wait until we call them.”

According to their website, wait times over the weekend to get a haircut were over two hours at some locations.

screen shot
A screen shot of Great Clips location wait times taken Wednesday.

Tarant says they’ve removed all the chairs in the reception area and that if people do walk in looking for a trim, the receptionists will help them get checked in, but they must wait outside. Because of the increase in online reservations, and dealing with people waiting outside, he says the receptionists are now called “hair traffic controllers.”  

Other guidelines they’re following include ensuring that all cutting stations are at least six feet apart. Plus, Tarant says he’s reduced the number of stations by 50%. In addition, every stylist has their temperature taken before shift and they have to wash their hands in between clients. 

And then there’s the new tactic regarding capes--those poncho covers barbers slip on over people prior to a cut.  

“Previously, up until around March of this year, we had like many others salons used capes,” Tarant said. “Repeatedly you shake it off and use it on the next customer. But even before we closed in March, we had already switched over to single use of the capes.” 

Tarant says that both stylists and customers must wear masks and that, for now, beard trims have ceased. 

As for business during the first weekend, Tarant says they opened with some trepidation and weren’t sure how it was going to go. He says even with his hair cutting stations at half the capacity, they were in constant use. 

That’s as much as he can hope for right now - but whether that will be enough to sustain his businesses long term remains unclear.