Even before lockdown in March 2020, fewer customers were passing through the doors of Venus Hair and Body Care. “We noticed people were in fear even before the first mandated closure,” says Kelsey Wilson. Normally, the owner of the Neepawa hair and esthetics salon loves her clientele, who can range from toddlers fearful of a stranger approaching with scissors to 80-somethings coming in for their weekly roller set. “I love the people and how their faces light up when you’ve given them a style they’re happy with.” Originally from Carberry, Kelsey became a Red Seal-certified hairstylist after her studies in Brandon. When she heard the Neepawa salon was for sale, Venus was born, “I’m celebrating 20 years in business this year.”
Today, Wilson rents salon space to another hairstylist and a registered massage therapist and acupuncturist, who operate their own practices. For Venus, the spring lockdown was “devastating financially.” Once they reopened, some adjustments had to be made to ensure customers’ and workers’ safety. Wilson is thankful to have received support from their salon product distributor, ESP (known for surface products), who helped with information on the best protocols to prevent infection and schedule clients safely, along with a discount on their first product order post-lockdown. Wilson is also grateful to their local public health officer, who came by to check they were following provincial government health requirements: “She did it in such a positive manner. She approached it as: “How are you guys doing? What are you doing to follow protocols?” She asked if we needed help with anything.”
While Venus has always used hospital-grade disinfectants and cleansers, the salon added a UV sterilizer to sterilize equipment, along with masks and hand sanitizer. The salon had to cover the expense of personal protective equipment, and when lockdown lifted, Wilson provided a month of free rent to the hairstylist and massage therapist who rent salon space. To minimize capacity, they reduced the number of appointments, expanded their hours, and all three workers moved their practice into a separate room of the former house-turned-salon. The waiting room was also eliminated: no more family of multiple young children waiting while the first sibling gets their trim.
On a more positive note, the pandemic prompted Wilson to take a long-considered step to launch her own boutique, which currently offers curbside pickup. “I am proactive and saw where things were going, so in the summer, I created an online store,” says Wilson. “COVID pushed me to try some of the goals I’ve had for myself.” The boutique sells makeup, hair and body products, with plans to expand into waste-free living products, and it focuses on products from Canadian companies, including Surface (from Saskatoon), Wild Prairie Soap (from Edmonton), CraftedBath (from Winnipeg) and Pure Anada (from Morden).
Besides helping to provide income during the November 2020 lockdown, the boutique has also proved a way for customers to demonstrate support. “On social media, they tell people they’ve tried our products and loved them—they’re showing support that way, even if they go to a different hairstylist,” says Wilson. “We have an amazing customer base. They reach out and say; we miss you; how are you? They send text messages supporting us.”
During the second lockdown, Venus workers use their time productively to focus on social media, make how-to videos on hair braiding and makeup, check inventory, and take advantage of online education. Wilson is asking customers to remain positive as they look forward to reopening: “I would ask for people to be kind and understanding as we try to navigate the pandemic.” While 99% of their customers say positive and supportive things, unfortunately, that’s not universally true: “It’s a very few number of people, but unfortunately, words can hurt,” says Wilson.
The salon will be busy when it reopens, based on what workers saw after the spring lockdown: “It was not the crazy COVID hair that you’ve seen online, but there was some overgrown, long hair, in need of colour,” says Wilson. For this lockdown, while it would be easy for Wilson to colour her own hair by herself, she’s letting it go: “I accepted that I was going to be the same as everyone.” That’s leading by example when it comes to lockdown hair.
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