"I don’t know how many people are going to survive it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great upset on the hair and beauty industry across different parts of Birmingham.
Desi owned hair and beauty businesses, which includes traditional men’s barbers have been immensely suffering since the first national lockdown in March 2020.
The first lockdown came to a finish on July 4, 2020, However, just when Desi hair and beauty businesses began to pick themselves up, a second national lockdown thwarted their efforts once again.
Customers’ reluctance and fear of COVID-19 risks, as well as government regimes, have caused a staggering decrease in the quality of livelihoods for many.
Some of these businesses are doing their best to work on an appointment-only rota, ensuring that they meet the guidelines. Having said that many clients are not walking through their doors.
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Despite their utmost care for customers’ safety, their income has seen a drastic decline. This has not only affected their businesses but also had an impact on their home lives.
Many Desi hair and beauty businesses fear whether they will be able to recover from the detrimental impacts of COVID-19.
DESIblitz exclusively visited four hair and beauty businesses to gain a deeper understanding on how COVID-19 has impacted them.
Hair Style Beauty (H.S.B)
Before the second national lockdown on November 5, 2020, Hair Style Beauty (H.S.B) opened a second branch in Acocks Green located on 9 Shirley Road.
Director of the unisex salon, Naushad Bandali explained why the business made such a bold move during such unprecedented times:
“The reason why we opened this branch during the COVID crisis is because…we were looking at sites to open a second branch as we already have one in Hall Green.
“The prices were quite high. So we decided that in order to get a good deal maybe this is the time to look for a site where we have desperate landlords out there, desperate tenants.
“Obviously, landlords don’t want to keep their units empty so we will hopefully take advantage of some good deals.
“Fortunately, we were lucky to get a good deal on this site. It’s quite a big site and it fitted in with our budget and we then went ahead with it. We opened towards the end of August.”
Describing what business has been like since opening their second branch, Bandali said:
“As far as the gent’s side is concerned, this has been a new venture for us. This is because our other branch is purely ladies only.
“When we got this site, we saw that there was space for a unisex salon.
“We thought we’d take a new venture on the gent’s side and fortunately we have got a great barber who has helped build a business.”
The health and beauty salon offers a range of treatments from hot towel wet shaves to steam facials.
However, Bandali mentions that despite their venture, their efforts have gone to waste because of the second national lockdown.
Explaining what work has been like since August 2020, Bandali said:
“It’s been tough because over here a lot of people are still cautious about COVID-19. They are worried about walking into salons and taking that risk.
“So, it has been tough but we’ve tried to market, put out promotions. We have our other branch, which has helped create a relationship in this area as well.”
Expressing his view of the impact the national lockdowns had on business, Bandali said:
“After the first lockdown which lasted three/four months, everyone thought the infection rates dropped, everything was opened up in one go and there were no real restrictions of social distancing.
“I think if all businesses had stuck to the rules with social distancing, face masks, protective screens then I think it would have helped.
“But I think a lot of businesses took a laid-back attitude and decided to think we’ll carry on as normal as we did pre-COVID.
“That is where it’s led us to a second lockdown.”
Bandali ensured H.S.B conformed to the COVID-19 guidelines. These include social distancing, temperature checks, screen protectors between chairs and masks.
In addition, H.S.B is complying with the COVID-19 tracing regime by recording the contact name and telephone number of customers.
Asked whether the hair and beauty industry can recover, Bandali replied:
“It was a struggle after the first wave and to rebuild it, ourselves personally with setting up another branch was not an easy task.
“Now, after the second lockdown I feel not just for this sector but all the sectors whether it’s hospitality or salon businesses, everyone is going to struggle.”
Bandali is critical of the idea of national lockdowns and instead favours the Tier system:
“What we had with the Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and the local lockdowns I think was working.
“They probably should have stuck to that regime a little bit longer rather than the full national lockdown.
“I know there are parts of the country, which have had very few cases in areas such as North Devon, which hardly reported any cases.
“If we look at results from Liverpool and Manchester, their localised lockdowns have helped them. There was no need for a national lockdown.”
Bandali criticises the government, citing the second national lockdown came into effect to bring families together for Christmas.
However, he believes this will only create another wave of COVID-19 in early 2021. Bandali recognises that although there is financial help being provided by the government and banks, the latter is not worth it.
“Like all businesses, we are being offered small business grants.
“Businesses have also been offered loans from the bank, which as great as it sounds is deferred for the first 12 months but you’ve still got a big debt on your shoulders.
“All the banks are throwing money at you which is fine at the moment but 12 months from now a lot of businesses are going to burn their fingers. So, I don’t think it’s a great idea.
“Grants – yes, it is non-repayable. That sort of helps towards paying the rent because landlords are not going to let you off paying the rent.”
For Bandali, the government should change its plan and assess businesses individually:
“I think what they have to do is look at individual businesses rather than looking at it as a uniform.
“Make sure that the individual industries are following the rules and if they are and the councils are sending out inspectors to check out, for example, our salon.
“Are we following the rules? If we are, then we should be allowed to stay open.”
Bandali adds that everyone should have the opportunity to prove that they are abiding by COVID-19 rules.
By doing so, he believes businesses can remain open without posing a threat to people’s health. Bandali is the husband of Sharmina.
Sharmina and Nuzhat Naz who have over 15 years of hair and beauty experience each are the co-founders of the business.
Silver Blade located on 420B Ladypool Road in Balsall Heath was extremely popular amongst many local men pre-COVID-19 period.
Owner Aamir Matloob expressed his frustration towards COVID-19, in particular the national lockdowns. Opening up about the loss of clientele because of the coronavirus pandemic, Matloob said:
“Our business has been greatly affected because of corona. It is not like what it was, work is slow and we don’t know what the future holds.
“We have very few customers and if there are no customers there are not sales. People are scared because of this.”
Describing the lockdowns as “a waste of time,” Matloob believes businesses are being made to close unnecessarily:
“They are not making a difference. People are still going out but they have messed up businesses telling us to close etc.”
Despite his beliefs, Matloob confirmed that Silver Blade is abiding by the COVID-19 guidelines set by the government:
“We are social distancing, wearing masks and have put up a notice asking customers to wear masks. We also have hand sanitiser and have a secure system set up regarding this.”
Expressing his uncertainty over what the future holds post-COVID, Matloob said:
“I think it will take a lot of time to recover. It is not like what it once was. I also have many barbershop friends and they are saying there is no work at all. I don’t know what will happen.”
Although Matloob appreciates the support from the government, he says that the grant only goes so far:
“We have got the government grant but that was used for rent and bills.
“But we also have house bills, food etc. So it is going to be very difficult.”
When asked what he would do differently to the UK government, Matlood responded:
“I probably would have done a lockdown because of the way people are being affected by the coronavirus. But I would allow businesses to remain open telling them to work on an appointment basis.”
Matloob continued to tell us that he has not heard that any of his customers have had the coronavirus. He added that lockdowns should come to an end and everyone should go back to life before COVID-19.
Farah Hair & Beauty
Before COVID-19, Farah Hair & Beauty on 924 Stratford Road, Birmingham was bursting with clientele.
However, owner Farhat Choudhry stated that COVID-19 has “turned the whole business scheme upside down.”
She says COVID-19 has brought “a new way of life which we have to accept.” Unfortunately, this new way of life has affected her salon as she reveals “the business is down from 30-40%.”
Farhat stresses on the COVID-19 guidelines that have greatly impacted her business:
“We have had to adapt to the changes where we have to make sure just one bubble of people is in one area.
“This restricts us from doing multiple tasks and getting the clients done. And we had to go appointment system only.
“It restricts us to have about three parties in at a time which is very hard to cover the expenses overall.”
She continued to express that because of the low income, she has had to let go of staff.
“We had to let go of a number of staff. It’s not affordable. The hours are unpredictable due to the uncertainty of keeping on having to change the opening hours and trying to make it work.
“Sometimes it’s long hours and we could just be going away after being here for ten hours by just doing two clients a day.
“People do make appointments, but they are scared to come out. Sometimes they will let us know they won’t be coming in or sometimes we don’t get a call.”
Farhat also goes on to clarify that the uncertainty of the coronavirus has left her helpless.
“Unpredictability as well as financially. It’s very hard. It’s the matter of surviving and trying to beg and borrow to keep up with the expenses which are going out. But the income is not there.
“If it is there, it’s just not enough to cover financially.”
When asked if lockdowns work, Farhat replied:
“It worked for us when we opened up for the first two weeks because everyone was trying to get in and now that the lockdown is happening it’s worked over the last couple of days.
“But it is a rather heavy pressure of trying to keep the safety according to the restrictions and trying to produce at the same time.”
Farhat also spoke about the necessary COVID-19 measures the salon has in place:
“We have tried to get all the measures in by working with appointments only, working with the doors locked to make sure that large groups of people don’t come in or to allow any extra people in.
“If it is babies, one parent is in here with us. Keeping the distance, PPE is used, a lot of sanitising. I felt that I’m a cleaner now instead of a therapist since the change with COVID.
“We all use masks and the customers are provided with masks as well when they come in.
“If they refuse to wear masks we don’t allow them in unless they have a medical reason and exception to show us.
Remaining hopeful about the possibility of recovery after COVID-19, Farhat said:
“I have very strong hopes to survive. Whether it recovers or not is another question.”
Acknowledging the government’s help with her salon, Farhat continues to feel the pressure:
“The government has helped. I think they are doing a very good job. But with this ongoing COVID situation it is very uncertain, which way it is going to go in the future.”
“The difficulties are still there trying to make ends meet.
“With the first lockdown, the amount of help that was available I think that would make us survive if that sort of funding was available whether it’s a second lockdown or a third.
“But with the cut downs of the help available, I don’t know how many people are going to survive it.”
Despite the ongoing hardship facing the hair and beauty industry, Farhat has faith in her customers and believes they will keep her business going.
Situated on 366 Stratford Road, owner Gyansham Rathod, bought the shop, JB Barners to set up his hair and beauty businesses.
This Desi business has felt the brunt of COVID-19. Rathod highlights some of the core issues that his business is facing:
“Business is 60% down, it’s very quiet. We are struggling too much because people think it’s an Asian area and they don’t social distance so they’re not coming to the local area.
“Before people from Solihull and Hall Green would come here to cut their hair. Now, people don’t come. They buy the machines at home and their wives, sister, brother cut.
“Plus, you see Stratford Road, there are 80-90 barbershops from here to Hall Green.
In order to attract customers, Rathod offered £5 haircuts. Unfortunately, this did not work and business continues to remain quiet.
He went on to discuss that because his business is struggling financially, it has impacted his home life.
“I have to pay rent. I have a £2000 outgoing each month, £500 a week. But if it’s not busy then how can I afford it?
“It’s £1000 for the shop and £1000 for home with electric, water, council tax, home insurance, car insurance, children, petrol, mobile this and that.
“Before it was busy. I moved to this shop and I sent £5000, £3000 deposit, spending money, selling new stuff, everything.
Rathod, who was clearly upset by the situation shares how COVID-19 made him feel.
“Bad, it’s very quiet. I need money I want to work. I don’t want the government’s grant I just want to cut people’s hair.”
Despite the lack of customers, Rathod stated that the government has done the right thing:
“I follow Boris Johnson, what they do is right they are clever, we don’t know. I am scared.”
Like the other Desi hair and beauty salons interviewed by DESIblitz, Rathod also follows the guidelines.
Rathod is not as hopeful about what the future holds: “I don’t know. The future looks very dark.”
Rathod revealed that he has received a grant from the government but is still unsure about how long his business can continue for.
This is because “people are scared. They think a barber cuts lots of people’s hair so he’s got the infection.”
Customers’ unwillingness to travel to barbershops like JB Barbers has affected Rathod’s mental health as he is no longer busy working.
He added that it is better to work at Tesco as they earn more money than those in a similar position as himself.
On December 2, 2020, the second national lockdown came to an end after a four week period.
However, the Tier regime has been reinstated with Birmingham going in Tier 3, meaning very high alert.
Hair and beauty salons can reopen but must continue to abide by the strict rules. It is clear after speaking to these hair and beauty businesses that many customers are reluctant to visit salons.
Despite the reopening of these businesses, they still have a long journey ahead on the road to recovery.