Beauty and the fleeced

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

SUZANNE FAHEY used to get her hair done every six weeks and treat herself to a facial or massage once a month. “My hair was costing me the guts of €160 for a full head of highlights and a cut. I couldn’t afford it any longer, so I had to cut back. Now I make it stretch. I get my colour done every 10 weeks and I’d get it cut only every second time,” she says.

Trips to the beautician have taken even more of a back seat. “I’ve cut out facials and massages. The last massage I had was a year ago. I wouldn’t pay for one at the moment. It’s expensive. Unless I see a deal on the deal sites. But I’d be wary about where it would be. I’d be looking out for somewhere I’d know.”

Fahey has noticed salons where she lives cutting their prices in an effort to get customers through the door. “I got a text message today saying a particular salon had dropped their price for a spray tan to €12 for a full body. There’s a lot of weekend specials, too,” she says.

Joanne Rourke was never “a big beautician person” but getting her hair done regularly was important to her.

“I’m quite grey and it means I have to get my colour done professionally. Otherwise I get a build up of colour and it goes slightly green,” she says.

“I used to go to the hairdresser once every six weeks, but now I try to stretch it to three months, if I can. I find hairdressers in Dublin cost an awful lot more, so I’ll go down to Kells where my mother lives, and I’ll get her to book me into a hairdresser there, and it’s about a third of the price for a colour and cut.”

Rourke has noticed salons have been reducing their prices, with some running deals offering 20 per cent off. “I would go to a salon if it had an offer on,” she says.

Weekly blow-dries for Eavan O’Connor are a thing of the past. Now the mother-of-two gets it done only for special occasions.

“I also used to pay top dollar for colour and cuts at well-known city-centre salons and found that I got just as good a service and results from salons which would not have been as well known at far less cost,” she says.

O’Connor is another who has noticed good deals in hair and beauty salons in recent times.

“On the deal sites I regularly notice offers for colour and 12-week blow-dries. Also a lot of salons are doing packages for holidays, debs, balls and occasions like that, where you can get your hair, tan and some beauty treatments for a lower, fixed cost.

“One salon close to where I live was also running an option to bring a friend for free for certain treatments on selected days of the week,” she adds.

Greg Clarke, president of the Irish Hairdressers’ Federation, says more salons have closed in 2012 than in the previous two years.

“Roughly 50 salons have closed since January this year. As long as the customer out there has less disposable income, the industry is going to struggle,” he says.

Clarke, who owns a salon, says everyone in the industry is dealing with the new reality in different ways.

“We’ve done the offers, we’ve reduced the prices. And you have to remember it’s not just other salons we’re in competition with. Salons, hotels, restaurants – we’re all competing for the same euro.

“People are looking at having a meal out – is it a necessity or a luxury or having their hair done?”

Clarke says the proposal by the Government for employers to pay for the first four weeks of an employee’s sick leave will “buckle” the industry.

“Our industry will suffer; salons will continue to close, which means no revenue to the Government,” he says.

One salon in west Dublin has taken a proactive approach to getting people back through its doors by cutting its prices in half once a week.

Creative Cutz in Mulhuddart first introduced the offer on the first Tuesday of every month but found they couldn’t keep up with demand, and now everything in the salon is half-price on Tuesdays.

“We wanted to bring people back to the salon, to give the salon experience to people who could no longer afford it,” says manager Sarah Keating. “Before we introduced the offer we would have one member of staff on duty on a Tuesday. Now we have five. We are out-the-door busy.”

Keating gives the example of one Tuesday before they introduced the offer where they had one customer all day for a cut and blow-dry at a cost of €28.

She contrasts that with the €600 they take in on their half-price Tuesdays.

She has heard that other salons locally are planning to introduce the offer.

“The other advantage of the offer is that people who are reluctant to try a new hairdresser can do so at half price, and if they like it are happy enough to come back another day and pay full price,” she says.

Across the city in Clontarf, Jenny McGrath of Lemons Hair Salon charges €10 for a blow-dry. A snip compared to prices triple that amount charged by other salons.

“My mother was a single parent, and she reared three kids on her own and could never afford the €20 or €25 to go and treat herself once a week and get her hair done, and she would have loved to.

“I was looking at it from that aspect – I wanted to make it affordable for people to be able to treat themselves. People don’t have money anymore and it is a treat to get your hair done.

“I found then that if I got a person in for a blow-dry, if they came back for their colour or their cut, that’s where you started to drum up business.”

McGrath opened her salon just over a year ago – a tough time for any business to open.

“It was difficult. It was very hard to open up. The lucky part was I already had a good clientele; people moved with me to my place. And it’s been successful through word of mouth. It’s so rewarding to have your own business,” she says.

While most people we spoke to have cut back on trips to the hairdresser, they have not cut them out entirely. The beauty industry seems more vulnerable to constraints on their clients’ wallets.

Former beautician Stefanie Prizeman agrees. “Beauty is more of a luxury for people and definitely would be second to the hair. People will go and get their hair done but facials and stuff?”

Prizeman closed her beauty salon in north Dublin last October after 10 years in business.

“I closed down in 2011, but I could see business dropping off for about a year and a half before that. I tried my best to keep it going. I reduced my staff hours, I reduced stock, I did specials. I was constantly texting clients with different specials, on a daily basis, on a weekly basis,” she says.

“Depending on how the book would look I would say, Right this morning I will send out a text for half-price waxing. I tried anything and everything. I tried different kinds of advertising and it still wasn’t helping the way I thought it would and I decided to close down.”

Prizeman has since set up another unrelated business but keeps in contact with some of her regular clients from her salon. “I do a little bit of beauty here and there for old clients and family and friends, but my main priority is to make my new business work.”

Maria Lendaro, owner of the Brasilia waxing salon in Dublin city centre, says it is tougher doing business at the moment than it was a few years ago. But she has introduced new products and communicates regularly with her customers.

“We now also do tanning and nails. We offer packages with nails, tan and waxing and have introduced Friday specials where clients can buy products at reduced prices. We’ve gone on Facebook.

“We’ve looked at every cost, made the business more efficient. No member of staff has been let go, though, otherwise you’d have rooms lying empty. Our USP [unique selling point] is that we’re a high-quality premium salon, and I’m adamant that’s not going to change.”

The good news for consumers is that there has never been better value on offer from beauticians and hairdressers.

“Salons are probably offering a better service now than they were going back pre-recession,” says Greg Clarke.

“They’ve reduced prices and are providing service at a higher standard. Because they know they have to really compete on service and quality.”

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