We know the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on practically every industry. Restaurants, hospitality, travel, sports, events, healthcare and yes – the Black hair care industry. This is a challenging moment because Black businesses are the least prepared entities to deal with cash-flow shortages.
While some are celebrating Washington approved legislation worth $2 trillion to help sustain the American economy – I’ll wait to see how this rescues Black-owned business. I’m a student of history. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, popularly known as the “Stimulus Bill” left many African Americans feeling less than stimulated.
The business of Black hair is not for the weak and timid. I won’t bore you with all of the possible pitfalls. You should know about the challenge of opening a beauty supply store. Building a client base for a Black-owned hair salon or operating a profitable Black-owned barbershop is no less difficult. In the piece, Congress is About to Bail Out Everyone – Except Black Business Owners, commentator Mike Muse explains this in more detail.
Entrepreneurs face difficulty in gaining access to capital. Acquiring and owning property in the time of gentrification is a big hurdle.
Attracting, retaining and developing staff keeps many shop owners up at night. Marketing and promotion still rely heavily on word of mouth. The digital game is often just an Instagram and Facebook page. Integrated websites, lead magnets, sales funnels, and marketing strategies are a foreign language.
Haircare entrepreneurs have survived these roadblocks. It’s a cash-heavy business and many spend long hours on their feet to get it done. But the explosive growth of coronavirus is unlike anything we have experienced.
As confirmed U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus surge past 85,000, more than two dozen states have ordered nonessential businesses — including salons and barbershops — to close their doors to slow the outbreak’s spread. Some are continuing to find creative ways to work.
This pandemic shows how the local hair salon, on that corner shop in the ‘hood, can be impacted by the global logistics and supply chain that starts in southeast Asia.
Hair importer and stylist Shannel Wallace runs District Cheveux, a haircare business in Bowie, Maryland. She told WUSA 9 that orders made from her supplier in China, dating back to January had still not arrived by March.
The wigs, weaves, and extensions are the lifeblood for her customer service. But as her vendors are unable to ship products local clients are unable to receive the beauty supplies they have come to rely on.
Said Shannel, “I just never imagined coronavirus would affect me, being in the States”. “Not directly as far as being sick, but my business.”
There are other ways coronavirus will impact Black hair salon and barbershop owners, stylists, and customers.
With no timeline to return to “business as usual” keep these factors in mind as you plan your business and haircare maintenance.
1. Vendors: Increased need to be able to find inventory online from suppliers and brands ready to ship. As a buyer, you need to confirm these businesses are reliable and can deliver. Many haircare entrepreneurs think their smartphone is a supercomputer. It isn’t.
They are unable to effectively use online research strategies, tools, and tactics that require a desktop or laptop computer. Doing business in the coronavirus-era demands using new programs, plugins, and extensions that won’t run on an iPhone or Android.
2. Customer Service: Some customers are afraid to buy products from China. They may think products may contain coronavirus and can be passed on to them. They don’t. Based on similar diseases like SARS and MERS-CoV this is highly unlikely. Products from China are packaged and can take weeks or months to reach the US.
It appears the coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets. In addition, the CDC experts say the virus struggles to survive on surfaces. It is highly unlikely to be spread to hair consumers given these factors.
Winners: Chinese doctors celebrate closure of the last temporary hospital in Wuhan – the coronavirus is defeated and they can remove the masks
Not so bright for the rest of the world though pic.twitter.com/7LVs5iQUpu
— Best of Aliexpress and China (@coolstuffcheap) March 11, 2020
3. Products: Hair importers’ orders cannot be met due to restrictions meant to contain the virus. China is the epicenter of the disease. Many exports were frozen and warehouses closed as China looked to resolve the crisis. Even as China resumes business the backlog of orders will have to be cleared.
Some shipments must pass through additional countries. Depending on their status around coronavirus these products can encounter further delays. At ports of call, customs, and even last-mile delivery services there are people shortages. These logistic bottlenecks’ will extend for the foreseeable future.
As an eCommerce merchant and global marketer, I see the longer delivery times and my advice is to double or triple your best estimates.
4. Lower sales: Coronavirus is driving down revenue by 60% and more for some businesses. Restaurants are closed, schools are closed and people are working from home. Combine this with the idea of “social distancing” and you realize people won’t want to spend hours sitting in your hair salon.
If you’re bucking the warnings and finding a way to open or service clients pre-cautions must be taken. Is the staff washing their hands frequently? Are you wearing N95 face masks? Has everyone been tested for coronavirus?
Fewer heads equals less money.
5. Under-banked: For some industries and geographies, plans are underway to increase economic relief with disaster loans for economic hardship. To access these loans will require being “bankable” in terms of business documentation, records, and collateral. Now is the time to make sure any legal, licensing or regulatory matters for the shop are handled. If not you probably won’t be able to access the government money for months.
NPR has an article detailing what’s inside the 2 trillion coronavirus aid package from the federal government.
6. Staffing: Salons and shops are a gathering place. And it is the staff that creates the environment for service, engagement and generating business. Coronavirus is demanding people adjust their lifestyle, It could mean staff has to take care of children who have days off from school. Maybe a spouse is working from home or not working at all because of the coronavirus spillover effect. These realities will impact staff performance on the job. Increase levels of stress and anxiety can be expected.
7. Public Support: Surviving the coronavirus is not something you can do alone. This is a time for the community including the government, other business owners, family, clients, churches, mosques to all band together.
The coronavirus pandemic introduces new levels of fear, misinformation, and prejudice. This starts at the top in the US and trickles down to the average woman on the street. You probably heard the rumors that a Chinese or Asian-American is likely to spread the disease. Another falsehood is melanin protects Black folks from contracting the virus.
Stereotypes and bad information spread like butter in this environment. As a business owner, you are an educator. Keep this in mind and apply your skills as you seek to maintain, grow and expand your relationships during this time.
The Black hair care industry is not immune to the impact of coronavirus. We will all need to work together to reach the other side of the COVID-19 challenge. We know in every challenge there is also opportunity. So go forward with the mindset to thrive within the environment. Wash your hands and stay informed of the best information from a range of sources.
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