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What It’s Like for Salons Opening in Georgia, Part 2


ZeeZor Founder and now Director of Strategic Development at Mindbody, Chris Nedza, talks to Brian Perdue and Tammy Cosper of Salon 124 Group in Georgia. Brian and Tammy share the difficulty in getting necessary items to reopen, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. With 150 stylists across over six locations, it’s a challenge to stay on top of procurement. Brian describes how he regularly shared videos with his team to offer reassurance and the importance of helping his team feel comfortable that proper precautions are in place. Brian and Tammy say they’re taking temperatures and asking clients to bring masks. They’re asking clients to sign liability forms and having clients wait in their cars until their stylists are ready (a trend we’ll see in many salons). With limited capacity, Salon 124 Group is asking clients to pre-book for the remainder of the year. It’s not easy reopening, but they’re adapting.  

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Chris   Hi, everybody, I'm Chris Nedza and I am the founder and CEO of ZeeZor. We were recently purchased by Mindbody. So now I'm part of the Mindbody Booker team. And because I've spent so much time in data analytics and employee engagement, I get to do now what I love to do, which is I meet with industry leaders, and I bring some of the best practices from some of the best people in the industry right into your living room. 

So today, we're going to be talking to Brian Perdue, who is the owner of Salon 124 Group. They've got a group of salons and a school, and they are absolutely top performers in the salon business. And Brian is a very good thinker, and Tammy Cosper, who also works with Brian. And so you've you've heard all the preparation for COVID. You've looked at the checklist, you've read everything, but these guys are in Georgia, and most of you people know that Georgia is the very first state to open up the salon business. So, rather than talk about what to do, we're going to talk a little bit about what they actually did and what they could expect. So, Brian, and Tammy, thanks for joining with me.

Um, so here's a question for you guys: What did you do to prepare? And then we're going to talk about a little bit about the preparation. And specifically, I think you were saying earlier about communication with clients. So, what did you do to prepare? And then let's, I want to talk about some of the unexpected. So, let's talk about preparation first. 

Brian   Sure, Chris, I appreciate it. And, and I would say that honestly, the person that did the most would be Tammy and her team. Tammy is my COO in the company and when it comes to preparedness, Tammy used to run a major distribution center, and when it comes to getting things done, she is top of the line.

And so, I think the first thing that Tammy and I realized that the procurement of the personal protection equipment here and sterilization products you're gonna need that is job number one. In fact, the reality is, that is what's going to allow you to open and to stay open is your ability to find this and Chris, I really believe being first out there was some advantages. It's already very, very tight but as more and more people come online, this is going to become a critical issue.

I'm almost afraid I'm going to set off a stampede with this but I think the stampede's already started and Tammy, you might, you might speak to it a little bit on specific types of items. What are you seeing that's in very short supply? Maybe speak to that a little bit.

Tammy   Well, I will tell you, we had a bit of advantage when it comes to the thinking and getting in the mindset of procurement. With the social distancing that was put in place, let's say the second week of March, when that happened, I don't know if people noticed in the grocery store, you started seeing people start hoarding paper products and that kind of thing. Well, that was a trigger for us that we're going to start prepping other items that are needed within the salon. So, I actually started that procurement of those items the second week of March, and it has not stopped.

Every week, I am looking for all of the different items. We knew that we were going to have to take temperatures. So, I started procuring those before we ever opened. And I think the key there is temperature checks. You've got to have that. You've got to have the sanitation, your Barbicide, and we always think of if that item runs out, what's my backup?

So, we went out started a protocol of looking at what can I purchase to sanitize with if I don't have Barbicide? I don't have Lysol? Lysol's almost non-existent now. You can't find it. So, what can I make it into an aerosol and you can do that with alcohol. So, then we started buying up alcohol. So, you've got to have a backup after a backup, and start now.

Brian   And I was saying, well, you know, Chris we're, well, first of all for people to understand our size and then really the dilemma with this. We've got about 150 stylists scattered through six locations. And, and so you know, multiply just, you know, maybe a salon, it will be 10 people times 15. Imagine what you got to find. And in our mind, I said, now, I believe we're really talking about what do we need for the next three months?

So, if you look in our office right now, it's like a warehouse. We just got face shields in today, I believe, 200 facial shields in that we had ordered several weeks ago.

And so it's just like masks, masks is by far one of the hardest things to find. We've ordered thousands and we've got them layered in coming in and different weeks and probably paying two or three times what you normally would pay for it.

Tammy   Yeah, I mean, I will tell you the last thing I do before I go to bed every night and the first thing I do every morning is start checking sites for procurement. Because people get trucks delivered overnight or they get it late in the evening. Don't think about your business hours. You got to think outside of business hours when it comes to procurement, because you've got to be looking at when that supply chain is going to be refilling that store.

Brian   So, Tammy, if you were to, if you were to give the top four or five things that people need to think about, for procurement, what would you tell them?

Tammy   Hand sanitizer, hands down, you got to have it. One of the things that the state of Georgia is requiring not only that you have it for your clients, but each individual stylist station has to have it on their station as well. Get your hand sanitizer.

Get smaller bottles if you want to keep that on the station and then just refill from the gallons. So, that's number one.

Gloves. Gloves are going to get really, really difficult to find. We're starting to see that now. So, go ahead and start.

Here's another thing. One of the challenges is your stylists like one type of glove and you don't necessarily want to eat into those for sanitation purposes. So, get the cheapo depots for the sanitation piece, for that requirement, and leave the good ones for your stylists and that'll save you a little bit of money.

Chris   So what kind of changes and communications did you make to the stylists in order to get them ready?

Brian   Oh, wow. Well, communication was absolutely key. And the very first thing is I wanted to stay in touch with my staff. That was so important. And so, I almost nightly did a video, then we have an internal Facebook page that I would do just talking to the team. And at first, it was as much about talking to them about what I saw that was going on and sort of the things that I saw coming, just trying to offer some reassurance to them that things are going to be okay.

And I'll be honest with you, Chris, it was announced, so unexpectedly here in Georgia, there wasn't a lot there. Honestly, there was no preparation mentally, other than two or three days to let our staff know, hey, we're getting ready to go. And when it happened, it was such a shock to the system, not to us. I mean, it was a shock to our preparedness

Tammy   Right.

Brian   We've never worked so hard with our leadership team for the last week before we opened as this past Friday to set up. But it was a shock to the system.

People in their minds, they were thinking they were so gonna be out another month. And they were working on their houses and spending time with the family and all of a sudden, here you go. And so, I really had to start talking to them about what it was going to be like we when we came back, and I've even met people, some we've got quite a few that a delay for a week to two weeks, things like that. Sometimes it's just a set of things to have their children taken care of. Other times its fear.

Tammy   Right. 

Brian   This real fear. They've been at home and they are scared to come out. I met some at the door coming in, just to talk with them and, and really try to offer words of encouragement. And once they're in, and see the preparedness that we have, that's what puts them at ease. It's that they're coming to a safe environment.

Chris   So, would you say their anxiety, out of 100 stylists or whatever, what percentage kind of went with the flow and what percentage were you know, freaking out?

Brian   To me, I would say there was a higher level of people that had anxiousness. Almost to a tee, 90% or more are anxious. It's really according to the level of anxiousness they have.

Chris   Okay. But that was you opened up Friday, today's Wednesday, where so you've been at it for five or six days. Is their anxiety level decreased now?

Brian   As I said, once the ones that have come in are here and they see the protocols and the extent that we're going to, along with the clients, it's really put them at ease. But there are others that are still, you know, out there that are nervous. We've got a large contingent coming in next week that had to have time to get their children set up. And I, and again, I'm still communicating on a regular basis. 

Tammy   Chris, at the end of this week, we'll probably back to 80%.

Chris   Okay. So, some of the things that you guys have done you, you've communicated to the client, you are requiring everybody to wear face masks. Correct? 

Tammy   Correct.

Brian   Well, you know, the, I would say Chris, every every state Board of Cosmetology, my hunch is a lot of them are going to talk to each other. And I think that you'll see a lot of the same guidelines and so one of the things I would suggest, being the size we are, and I would say this to anybody out there, there is a high level of concern on my part for liability.

And so, I wanted to make sure that our company was protected. And so, because of that, I went straight to the State Board of cosmetology. And when I say that I said if I cannot meet every single requirement that they put down, meet it or exceed it, then I won't reopen. And a lot of that really came back to the procurement of the items that we needed. That is the thing.

I mean, we only had one thermometer per salon when we opened. If we had gone down a thermometer, it would have shut my shop down. We just got a shipment in two days ago for backups. So, thank goodness that we had that. So, um, so that was, you know, that was key.

Chris   Let's talk about the process, the customer process, now. So, how does that change and what are you doing with that process?

Brian   So, protocols, when clients get here, they stay in their car so we are communicating to them as we're rebooking their appointment, as we are confirming their appointments, and I'm even, as many stylists can, I'm having them call their clients, even if the desk or the call center has set up their appointments, I'm having the stylists call their clients before they come to really cover the protocols to understand.

So when the client gets here, they stay in their car, and they text our front desk that they're here. Our front desk confirms that they got it and they stay in their car. We asks them to keep the car, we're in the south, we're in Georgia, it's starting to get warm. And so because we're going to take their temperature at the door, we're asking them to keep their car climatized, keep the air conditioner on. Because the first day, we had several people testing high, they were getting scared. Our staff was getting scared and the reality was they were getting hot sitting in their car.

Chris   So, that's an unexpected thing. Right? 

Brian   Totally unexpected. I mean...

Chris The car getting hotter temperatures, you know the reading was, was false because of that which...

Tammy   Right.

Brian   And the standard, I elected to go to the highest standard. The State Board of Cosmetology in Georgia said if their temperature was above 99, I believe, Tammy, correct me if I'm wrong. the CDC, what was their recommendation? 

Tammy   100.4 

Brian   So, the CDC had a recommendation of 100.4. And I was initially going to go with that, but I could sense a little bit of concern on a couple of staff members. And so I said, you know what, I'm going to go with the strictest standard there is and even if we have to turn people away, I'm going to be above reproach.

And that also goes back to the liability issue. I want to be above reproach. I want to do what's right, number one. But I also want to guard the company, number two. So, we follow this the strictest standards. So, the State Board of Cosmetology laid it out, we take their temperature outside before they come in, and we also have a waiver form that the client signs before they come in.

Chris   That was required. You require your customers to bring their own mask?

Brian   We do. Because when we first opened, Chris, we only had one, all we could find was one box of 50 masks per salon. Now our salons, each, all six, service more than over 50 to 100 clients a day.

So, so we said to our clients, you cannot get in without bringing your own mask. Now, there's a few that say, I just don't have one. And we'll tell them, we've got you one. And we found some more masks since but it's still going to be one of the most difficult things you're gonna find. So we asked the clients to bring their own masks.

Chris   So, your protocol, your processes, you're communicating, you set the expectation with the client that you're going to fill out, you know, you have to have a mask, you're going to fill out a waiver form. We're going to take your temperature. We're not going to have you sitting in the lobby. You're going to go immediately to the chair. And that that I mean that's that's a big difference, right?

Brian   Yes. And it's one client at a time per stylist. No other guests. No children, no friends waiting in the waiting room. So, it's one person at a time per stylist. 

Chris   Alright, so, you know, how's it, how are they reacting? Is everybody okay with everything? Are you getting some issues out there?

Brian   You know, as candid as I can be, Chris, I was concerned about the liability form on the first day before we did it and  I said, you know what, I've got to do this. And I've been blown away and I think the clients, I'm gonna laugh a little bit, but I think the clients are less fearful of coming than the stylists. They have embraced us. I have never seen such a deluge of phone calls of people trying to get in. And even customers getting upset because they want to be the first in the door.

Chris   Here's an interesting thing that you told me that you did because they are interested. And you do have a limited staff, right? You're not fully staffed. You're not like you're not working around the clock.

So, but what you did do, which is really, really smart, is you actually have asked them to pre-book and schedule their entire year, the rest of the year, correct?

Brian   Well, the reality is that we have to use every other chair. So, we only have half of the salon available. And our salons range in size from 14 chairs up to 24 chairs. And so when you take in half, the stylists are working longer days, but they have less days to work. And so I said, well, I've heard before, never let a crisis go to waste.

So, the stylists sometimes are mainly concerned about the client saying I don't want to rebook yourself for this. So you can look them right in the eye and say, hey, if you want to get in, we need to go ahead and rebook. In fact, don't just do one and let's do multiple, and I've actually had a client, the stylists calling their clients prior to coming in, as I said earlier, and while they're on the phone, the phones are ringing so much, and the front desk is bogged down.

So, they're telling their staff listen, or their clients, if you want to be able to get back in and have an assured appointment. Let's go ahead and schedule several appointments out and they are filling their books up and really amazed of how easy it is.

Chris   Last thing I want to ask you about: the media. And what I want to know is did you give that any thought and any bad experiences out there?

Brian   Well, Tammy was that not one of the last things I said before we opened?

Tammy   Yeah, we need to be prepared for that. 

Brian   Yeah. And again, Chris, I don't know what will happen across the rest of the country. But Georgia, the governor here made national headlines with starting out with salons and spas and tattoo parlors and so forth. And so I knew that that would be a great story.

So, I said, we better be prepared for this. What are we going to do? And, and sure enough, at one of my salons at 8am, the first morning, the national one of the national news channels was setting their camera up, and I got a phone call and I went there very quickly.

And I and it's great because they did they, they were very interested in... Frankly, we have signage out in front of the salon, Chris, that asks the clients to wait in case we miss them. Wait here, text us, and it even has all of our protocols that they follow on a big board outside of the salon. And so this national media, which played all day on Friday and either Friday evening, showed one of my stylists going outside with the notepad, getting the release signed and taking the temperature and meeting the client outside. Awesome.

I also had a local paper call and with a national media they asked if they could come in and interview me. Again as open as I can be with everyone, I declined that offer because I knew there was such a there's so many there's no right or wrong. There's difference of opinions

Chris   Well, it's very polarizing, right? 

Brian   It's very polarizing and because of that, I had even not put anything on social media about us reopening. I just said let's service the clients because our internal clients were literally beating our doors down to get in. And so I didn't want to make a spectacle or even be a center of attention, although we were the first day.

So I didn't invite them in but it ended up being a nice one. The local paper, I did an interview with them and frankly ended up with some great press. The headline was something like, "Come to Salon 124. It's cleaner than a grocery store."

Chris   Right. But you also know that somebody didn't have such a great experience because of their media.

Brian   It was a friend of mine. They did have another national media and they allowed them in for an interview and, and did a nice interview. But the reality is, he had people out of state that were calling him and he told me, he said they literally were saying I hope you die. That is as polarizing as it can be. And so that that is why I guarded against that.

It's uh, you know, another thing that I'll say this is why I also there was no mandate to any of our staff. Every person can elect when they want to come when I think anything bad and if they want to stay home... I have one stylist that's been with me for years and years that worked part-time. Love her to death. She's part of our family. But it really rocked her world so much that she said I'm going to put in my termination for now and I don't know when I'm going to come back and I said, my door's here for you whenever you want to.

So, it is a very polarizing thing and, and we are allowing everybody, guest and employee, to make their own decisions with how they want to handle it.

Chris   Well, Tammy and Brian, you guys are awesome. You know, you only have six locations, but you guys do about 10 million. So, you guys are a powerhouse. You sell a ton of product, you run a great, great, great operation organization and I know you love your people, and you're what it's all about. So, thank you for sharing and sharing that information with us.

Brian   Well, I appreciate it, Chris. And, you know, this industry is really not just what we do. But we, one of our goals is to try to be a light to the entire industry. And we hope to do that. And so we knew stepping out upfront was a lot of risk.

But you know, for everybody out there across the nation, we love our industry. We are a loving bunch, a caring bunch of people.

The biggest thing we can do is make the most safest, inviting environment that you can do. You're going to work hard. Start now to prepare for it. And know that your clients are going to love you when you're there and your staff will too. Let everybody make the choices.

And this too shall pass. I'm not sure when. But I look forward to, you know, what was an old day one day soon.

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