Christina Alphonsus, the Head of Marketing at Silvacos (a BP De Silva company), Sothys Sri Lanka and the Estheti Centre, speaks of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Sri Lankan beauty industry.
On the status of the beauty industry prior to COVID-19, Christina commented, “Considering the uphill climb all industries had to face post the Easter attacks in 2019, if I had to give a snapshot of the beauty industry pre COVID-19, I would say that the industry was doing well over all for a couple of reasons – firstly, customers are increasingly more conscious about taking care of themselves and secondly, there is a vast amount of information out there on innovation in the industry, new brand offerings, customer reviews, research etc. Thus, our customers are extremely ‘tuned in’, articulate and aware of what is going on in the industry, and exactly where they fit into the cycle, in terms of what their specific needs are. This in turn, has required brands and service providers in Sri Lanka to keep pushing the envelope when it comes to marketing and catering to these developing needs. Over the years, there have been pioneers in the beauty industry in Sri Lanka who have opened doors in terms of offering more services that straddle the line between cosmetic and medical beauty practices. Therefore, enabling customers to have more access and choice when it comes to beauty practices and products that support personal preference, lifestyle and objectives.”
Describing the impact of COVID-19 (including the lockdown/curfew) upon the beauty industry, Christina stated, “Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic and the immediate shutdown of all salons and skin care centres – The initial impact on the industry was twofold. Customer Access – Due to the concern of spreading the virus through contact, there was a shutdown of all salons, spas and beauty care centres, which fall into the category of ‘non-essential goods and services.’ Having no access to our clients deeply impacted revenue for businesses across the country who in some cases were not able to sustain being closed for 2 months. During this quarantine, businesses needed to take closer look at how to manage costs better, support their employees and adhere to the protocols stipulated by the government for our safety in the long term. Long-term Availability – With the suspension of imports there was/ is a concern about the sustainability of businesses in the months to come. Again, businesses have had to take this time re-look at strategies, stock management and their approach to the market, post COVID-19.”
According to Christina – “All in all, the changes across most industries have been tremendous. As businesses we have all had to take a deeper dive into understanding the factors that will determine whether a business survives the impact of this pandemic or not.
The first thing we have to understand was that customers are changing their mindset on the way they want to allocate their funds, based on revised salary structures, company restructuring, increased cost of living, etc. As a business and a luxury product/ service we have to ask ourselves ‘How can we remain relevant as a brand/ service provider, considering this shift in lifestyle?’ and ‘How are we as a business, going to address the main concern – Safety?’
As individuals and as businesses we have to evaluate expenditure, and understand what exactly we can do to reduce waste and utilize the resources available to us to their optimum capacity. As bouncing back to normal is going to be a slow and uphill task, it will be some time until businesses are able to get back to the kind of revenue they are used to and managing costs is going to play a pivotal role in the sustainability of businesses everywhere. I strongly believe that how we manage costs and safety from now till then, will determine whether our businesses will survive or not.
Due to the nature of the beauty industry, human contact is an integral part of the work we do and a necessary one at that. Further to the information that’s out there so far on the nature of COVID-19, we are looking at spending at least the next 1 year living in a world that has to maintain a distance of 1 meter apart. As a business, I feel it is time to break down the processes and see how we can incorporate the necessary safety measures whilst giving our customers the best possible experience and results. It’s time to unlearn and relearn how we do things.”
“I was asked the question on how I think the industry will recover post COVID-19, and my answer was very simple – if we don’t recover as individuals, a nation and a global community, we will never recover across any industry – and I say that solely because of the nature of the pandemic. The only way forward is slowly, one step at a time and by making safety and the containment of this virus the most important part of any plan we make for the future. The way to do that is to follow stipulated protocol without taking short cuts, staying educated on the subject and by keeping in mind that responsibly handling this situation will impact our lives on so many different levels. It’s important to remember that safety protocols are not light suggestions, they are the difference between life and death, and it’s important that we adhere to them whether we are in our homes, in the office or in any other public space”, responded the marketing expert, when asked how the beauty industry will recover post COVID-19.
Christina listed the safety precautions, which salons and other related places are required to adopt as such –
From the perspective of the beauty industry, so far, the protocol is as follows (in a nutshell)–
- Wash/sanitize hands upon entrance to the location.
- Anyone with a temperature above 98.4 F or 37 C will not be allowed on to the premises.
- Maintain a distance of 1m apart.
- Remain in the vehicle till it’s time for the appointment.
- Wear a mask/ eye shield while attending to customers.
- Wash hands before accepting a new customer.
- No sharing equipment.
- Bare minimum contact with the customer.
- Disinfect any items used on the clients.
- Ensure clean linen.
- Offer specific treatments only – Treatments that limit contact as much as possible.
- Ensure that the staff information is shared with the relevant department and that they do not show any symptoms of COVID-19 upon entering the premises.
- Limit the number of people in the salon/waiting area.
- Furniture to be rearranged to accommodate social distancing protocol.
- Remove magazines, service menus, etc.
- Countertops, doorknobs and furniture need to be sanitized every 3 hours.
- All services and safety measures taken by the establishment to be published inside and outside the same.
- Waste to be disposed of responsibly.
- Disinfectant solution to be available throughout the location.
- Mask availability.
- Inspection and approval by the MOH prior to opening.
On the topic of the steps taken by the Estheti Centre to ensure the well-being of its clients and staff, Christina stated, “Just as many salons / beauty centres across the country have worked towards creating a space that is safe for our loyal customers, the Estheti Centre too, is doing our part to ensure that our staff and clients alike are taken care of and in a safe environment. From following stipulated protocol to adding on precautions of our own like disposable sheets, rosters to ensure that at any given point of time there is a limited staff on the premises, etc. We created an SOP for staff and clients alike to ensure that we are all operating in the safest possible space.
As a business, our relationship with our clients is a key part of our success and we had to adjust to a situation where we had limited contact with them. ‘How were we going to offer them the same level of service with so many (much needed) restrictions?’ The 2 main aspects of our strategy were to breakdown the processes and restructure according to the new ‘normal’ and have open communication with our staff and clients alike. On the communication front, social media helped to keep our clients connected to us for any questions or concerns they had over the quarantine period. Our team worked hard to address what was going on around us and turn the existing conversations into more positive ones. The main idea was to keep our customers motivated during this uncertain time, which was a great learning opportunity for the team as well.
When it came to Sothys as a brand, we had to start thinking outside the box on how to stay at the forefront of our customers mind as more than just a skincare brand, but a brand that was with them even in situations such as this. We had to find a way to communicate this to our customers and share whatever tools we had at our disposal to encourage a calm environment during the lockdown situation. We did this by sharing motivational ideas on how to spend the lockdown period, we shared home care routine tutorials, steps on how to do a ‘DIY’ facial, etc. The biggest challenge we faced was catering to hundreds of requests from clients asking about how to get their hands on the retail products – This proved to be a challenge to mobilize due to the curfew and other restrictions, however after much deliberation, this is something we are now able to offer our clients. In terms of facial treatments, due to restrictions (as at today) on performing facials, Sothys Paris has risen to the challenge and developed revised protocols to limit potential risks, and we are in the process of fine-tuning the same to sharing the same with our salon partners so that all our partners are ready for action as soon as the restrictions are lifted.”