A few days before the world went on a lockdown, a client visited Emphasis Salon at Joya Tower in Rockwell, Makati City, for her usual nail services. She would become one of the first reported casualties of COVID-19.
Emphasis was shut down for two days as the Joya Tower underwent thorough disinfection. Since contact tracing was not yet organized then, the salon examined the CCTV to warn the customers who came on the day of the client’s visit. Meanwhile, the manicurist was put on a three-week home quarantine.
Considered nonessential, the salon industry lost millions of pesos in revenue. Operators of high-end establishments such as Emphasis and the Piandré chain have been candid about the pandemic’s impact on their businesses.
The reduced capacity to maintain physical distancing discourages walk-in customers and has forced clients to prebook appointments. Since the services require physical contact, salons have had to invest in more health measures.
Emphasis Salon has been known for its lively community of patrons, industry practitioners and friends and as a go-to place of the Who’s Who. Its figurehead, stylist Vicente “Teng” Roma, vice chair of the board of directors of Emphasis Salon Systems Inc., has trained hairdressers and discovered talents.
In its halcyon days, the 380-square-meter salon raked in millions every month. Yet, as with many salons, it hardly earned 10-percent profit after rent, payroll, utilities and taxes, says general manager Marie Trini Amboy. These operational costs won’t go away just because the pandemic has devastated the salon’s income.
During the shutdown, the board paid Emphasis’ 66 employees their salaries, 13th month pay, and vacation leaves from March till June. Moreover, the Social Security System gave the employee wage subsidies in May.
Although the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) allowed salons to reopen in June, the salons could only offer haircuts.
“The board was very concerned,” recalls Amboy. “We rented an old office building in Rockwell for the staff house. Those who came back to work were housed in that dorm and given food. We likewise spent a lot on weekly rapid antibody tests. We had to double the price for the haircut to pay for the added measures required by the IATF. Still, we lost millions from mid-June until the second lockdown on Aug. 4.”
The 23 employees, who worked on a rotation basis, received full salaries. Manicurists were on standby until the IATF would allow nail services. They needed to undergo a 14-day quarantine before they trimmed nails.
Since Emphasis only had three stylists on board, it could only accommodate three customers at a time. On the other hand, the nonworking employees consumed their vacation leave credits until they subsequently went on leave without pay.
The huge losses and the uncertainty drove the board to close down the salon, and give the employees their separation pay. During the three-month shutdown, Emphasis’ freelance stylists pleaded for reopening so that they could have a venue for their work.
Loyal clients missed the big salon, which was once abuzz with life. When Emphasis rebooted on Nov. 11, 2020, the staff went down from 66 to 11. The regular employees consist of the administrative staff, the custodian, the janitor and a gofer. The stylists, assistants and manicurists are paid by commission.
Although the IATF has permitted 75-percent capacity and full salon services, the board maintained to keep the customer flow to only 50 percent. Customers pay an additional P150, which includes the client’s disposable personal protective equipment and other safety practices.
Amboy says Emphasis is vigilant about health protocols, “To win customer confidence, we purchased two hospital-grade UV machines for disinfection, air cleaners, top quality disinfectants and disposable manicure sets. The nippers are soaked in Barbicide (a high-level disinfectant). IATF required all bags to be placed in plastics. Everything is disinfected after each use. ”
The salon executive adds that Emphasis has been getting back on its feet. Its landlord, Rockwell Land, gave rent concessions to help its tenants.
“We haven’t reached 40 percent of our normal sales yet. Our aim is to break even and walang abono (not paying from our pockets),” says Amboy.
Since its reopening, the salon has been entertaining their patrons’ requests and idiosyncrasies. Every weekend, a client has his manicurist picked up in Makati and brought to his second home in Batangas. Other clients, who have relocated out of town, have similar arrangements. Wary of viral contagion, one patron has been setting appointments for her monthly haircut, color and treatment at 5:30 a.m. before the opening, and willingly pays twice the price.
“Our stylists, makeup artists and wax specialists do regular home services. When they arrive, they undergo the rapid antigen test, and do the services outdoors,” says Margarita Olives, Emphasis’ customer service manager.
Although Emphasis’ elite clientele have been returning, Amboy is prudent about the outlook. “This will be a survival year. We hope to recover when many have been vaccinated. We’re doing this as a venue for people to earn their income, especially for those who have been with us for 10 to 20 years.”
Meanwhile, Roma’s eponymous salon, Teng Roma Makati, is operating under different circumstances at the Fairmont Hotel. His partner, Japanese hairstylist Yasunari Ito, is married to a Filipina (a major shareholder) and manages the salon.
Before the pandemic, the salon did brisk business from free-fall traffic—hotel guests, mall goers and Emphasis’ spillovers. Because Fairmont is a quarantine hotel, the salon’s business relies solely on appointments. Operation hours are irregular as the salon is closed when there are no bookings. The staff gets a fixed rate, and the stylists and manicurists get a commission for their services. Business is limited to basic hair and nail services and sales from Japanese hair care products.
Ito is optimistic. “The rent is affordable. The salon earns a little despite having fewer customers who are our loyal patrons,” he says.
Faith and love
Prayers and faith have kept Piandré salon chain afloat. Its workforce of 380 in its 14 branches had been given their full wages from the lockdown until today, despite working on a part-time basis. Salon professionals are likewise given commission on services rendered.
To augment their earnings, employees have been doing home service. “We added a peso amount ‘service charge’ for every home service,” says CEO Rosalinda Francisco. “That goes directly to the operator to compensate them for the day. Sometimes, the staff will only be able to do one home service a day instead of several services at the salon. Hence, we give them the service charge.”
Since the quarantine in March, Francisco buoyed the spirits of the employees with her mantra of “walang iwanan (nobody will be left out).”
“As part of management’s commitment to our staff, we continued paying their salaries as in pre-COVID times. There was neither retrenchment nor implementation of the government-sanctioned ‘no work, no pay’ plan. The staff had no one to turn to and nowhere to go.”
To assuage fears of uncertainty, Francisco and her children launched Piandreflix, a daily online platform which gives informative and inspirational talks on such topics as ikigai or purpose in life, Filipino culture and character, metamorphosis and COVID-19.
Its regular recollections, masses by Fr. Francis Alvarez and holy feasts became virtual, as with its three-day retreat with Dr. Bobby Guevara and the annual Blessing of the Hands for the staff.
“Trust is pivotal in the recovery period. We continue to take care of our staffers who, in turn, have been taking care of our clients who have come out to support us to this day,” says Francisco.
Customers, who pay Piandré’s premium rates, know that they are in safe hands. There are designated rest and eating areas for employees. Salons have installed a sanitation station near the entrance.
Home service clients can request a rapid antigen test for the salon worker with an added fee. Employees are sent home for a two-week home quarantine when they come down with a cough or cold.
Francisco adds that Piandré continues to be vigilant about improving staff training skills and work ethics through its online cosmetology courses.
On its resilience, the CEO quotes business mentor, the late Ed Morato, as saying, “Just love! Look into your balance sheets and assets and give to your employees out of love!”