When B.C. nail salons were given the thumb’s up to start reopening in late May, Zarina Ahamed, the director and owner of Joyride Vancouver nail salon, sent an email to clients with an appointment wait list. Within a few hours, some 150 people had booked services. “I was worried people would hesitate,” says Ahamed, whose five-year-old Kitsilano Beach spa, which specializes in non-toxic nail care, had been closed for over two months because of COVID-19. “But we were fully booked this week and next week is also pretty busy. A lot of people were very excited to come back.”
While we may be pumped to get our ragged cuticles under control, going to the nail salon will look a lot different in the after times. Like in the hair salons now open in certain parts of Canada, client and staff safety is the biggest priority; per new regulations, manicures will be done through plastic barriers and you can forget about catching up on any salon gossip — everyone will be wearing face masks. “Before it was like therapy for our clients; they talked to technicians, we’ve all become friends over time and there was a lot of chatting,” says Ahamed. “That’s different now.”
First, we had to reconfigure the inside of the salon. It’s an open-concept salon, so we removed the stations, spaced them out a bit, installed barriers between the manicurists and the clients, and at the front desk. We also created a separate room for private services. So, if someone is not comfortable in the open space, they have the option to do it in a private room for an extra cost. Before we had nine stations and we could have nine clients at any given time, right now it’s restricted to three.
What happens when a client arrives for a manicure?
Clients have always booked online, but now they get an email describing all of the procedures they have to follow. We call 24 hours prior to confirm and we do a phone screening [for COVID-19]. They have to have a mask on before entering. We’ve had to close down our waiting room, so when they arrive, we ask them to stand outside and wave at us. They wait outside until the technician is fully prepared for them to come in, meaning that the station is fully sanitized and sterilized. That takes about 15 minutes after every appointment. In addition to cleaning the station, which we’ve always done, technicians wipe down any surfaces, door handles, the POS machine, the bathroom, retail products. We do not take cash anymore. We take clients’ credit card information when we book an appointment to secure a reservation. Most clients prefer to charge it that way.
Your technician lets you in, and you go directly to your station. We have stickers on the floor to guide where to go. Before you could choose your polish colour from the polish wall. Now, you come and you sit at your table and the technician asks you what you want and brings you options. You know the plexiglass they have in the cash at the grocery store — I got mine custom-made with an opening large enough so we can put the curing lamp for gel manicures in. We do not have plexiglass for pedicures, but we have face shields. The face shields are not mandatory [per WorkSafeBC], but I got them just in case my team members want to wear them.
I’m really worried about the potential second wave because I don’t know how we’d come out of it. If we keep spending more and we don’t make up that amount, then how can we survive?
Are you doing facials?
We decided to start with nails. Facials, because you’re over someone’s face and the client cannot wear a mask, I don’t think myself or my team members are comfortable with that quite yet.
What are some of the challenges you've faced since opening?
We had a nice customer who was getting a service done. She removed her mask to say something and in that instant she coughed and said, “I’m sorry, I have allergies.” That’s something so innocent normally. But my technicians were very worried and that made them a little uncomfortable. Or we’ve had clients who are covering their mouths with the masks but not their noses. It’s very awkward because you’re in customer service and you have to ask them to put them to put their masks on properly, and they say they have, but you can see that it’s not, so what do you do? It’s very tricky.
Rent is pretty high, and even though there is rent-relief support, it’s optional for landlords. I had to pay the rent and all of the other expenses. We’ve had to introduce a small fee on our services; we call it a PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] expense coverage fee to help us cover all of the disinfecting and sanitizing and the gloves and masks. It’s 5% on our services. We view it as a temporary thing, for as long as we have to.
Are you worried about your business surviving?
Definitely. Right now, we are barely hanging in there. With all the changes that have had to happen — our number of stations cut in half and all our expenses the same — we are relying on the government’s help. We got the $40,000 small-business loan, which is great, it’s a zero-interest loan, but at the end of the day, it’s a loan. I’m really worried about the potential second wave because I don’t know how we’d come out of it. At the end of the day we’re a small business and we have to do the math: If we keep spending more and we don’t make up that amount, then how can we survive?
Switching gears, what are some of the polish colours people have been asking for?
A lot of brights. Before, most of our clients preferred nudes. And I actually stocked up on a lot of creamy nudes and light pinks. I’ve seen a complete opposite response. People want to get something bright so it shows that their nails are done. We’re seeing a lot of bright yellow, bright pink, red, bright summer blues.
If someone's city or province hasn’t re-opened nail salons yet, how can you keep your nails in shape?
If you still have gel polish on please do not peel the polish off. We’ve had some people come in with really badly damaged nails. Try not to cut your own cuticles because you can cut too far and you can give yourself an infection that way. If you’re doing a home manicure all you need to do is push your cuticles back and buff the nails a little bit and that’s it. There are a lot of home remedies to keep your cuticles healthy, like applying oil to keep them moisturized.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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