Exclusive: Research Shows a Recovering Beauty Industry

American Salon surveyed its audience recently to assess the current state of the industry. What we found in our first American Salon Business Sentiment Survey is an industry that’s quite optimistic about the future but one that has changed as well. Many salons are currently taking on fewer clients, raising prices and actively looking for new employees. Some have cut back on the number of retail products they are selling and sticking just with the hot items that are in constant demand. The one marked commonality is cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. A necessary fierce attention to hygiene, wiping down workspaces and chairs, and doing laundry is a major part of salon life these days, and yet, there remains a love for the business of beauty across the board.

The survey was conducted between May 23 and June 27, 2022. Of the 417 responses received, 57.55 percent were salon owners/managers, 23.02 percent were independent contractors, 6.25 percent were salon employees and 13.19 percent identified as “Other,” ranging from educators, retired salon owners and “working owners.”

The Predominant Vibe

Asked whether they thought their same-store sales for 2022 would be on par with 2019’s, i.e., prior to the pandemic, 59 percent said no; 41 percent said yes. However, when asked if they were more optimistic about the future of the salon industry than they were at the end of 2021, a slim majority of 51 percent said they were, while 49 percent said they were not.

Overall optimism was due to the fact that many more people are returning to salons, willing to spend on themselves once more, with less of a fear of contracting COVID. Beauty professionals also feel more valued by clients who now appreciate their services, having gone without for so, so long.

“We are in the business of making people feel good, feel important, feel accepted and feel better about themselves ... there’s not a lot of that anywhere else,” said one respondent.

“We are very important people in the time of crisis and we make clients feel good and look good, and for little cost,” said another.

Many beauty professionals have spent the past two years learning more about the industry, spurring more optimism. “I think education opportunities are circulating and it should elevate sales,” said a salon owner.

More Business for Fewer Salons
Because some salons sadly went out of business during COVID, there is now more demand for those whose doors are still open. Many areas across the United States are also in population growth mode because many people can now work remotely and are leaving urban areas. 

“There are fewer stylists in my area and more people are moving in,” said one respondent.

Another expressed optimism because a large apartment building was about to open across the street from her. It’s all about location.

A third also saw her customer base increasing. “There are lots of people moving to my area,” she said. “Even during shut down people still wanted their hair done. Also, I’ve just raised my prices and so far, everyone has been okay with it,” she added.

It works both ways; one respondent in Los Angeles reported that there’s been a “mass exodus” from his city. “But thankfully my client base keeps sending me new business and I keep plugging away,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Texas, things seemed to be getting back to normal in terms of the traditional 9 to 5. “It seems here in Dallas that people are going back to offices. I believe this will bring customers back to get salon services more consistently,” said a respondent.

Can’t Do It at Home
Weddings and special occasions are finally back on and with that comes the need for beauty services:

“Many events were canceled because of the virus and now are re-scheduled,” said a salon manager. “Proms, weddings and celebrations are back on and they all need their hair to be looking especially good for pictures."

“Many estheticians went out of business due to the pandemic so there are more clients for the remaining service providers,” said another, who added that clients are also demanding services now because they went without for so long.

“Many of those clients have stressed-out skin due to factors of the pandemic and have a greater appreciation for service providers since they had to go without access to us for a couple of years,” she said.

“Clients REALLY missed us during shutdown,” said another, who added that she had grown her staff to support the demand.

The latest trend for unique color applications that people can’t try at home is also fueling demand for salon services. In our recent web story, “The Top Summer Hair Trends According to Google Search,” we found that the trending summer haircolor ideas for the summer thus far are orange, dark red, rainbow, magenta and dark black. If you want that to look exactly right, we suggest a professional.

The Negative
Those feeling less than positive weren’t as vocal in terms of write-in responses, however, they had some solid reasons to feel down. One reported that he had COVID-related stress as an owner who had been working behind the chair alone during the pandemic. Others cited trends in customers who were still placing less emphasis on self-care and the ongoing trend of purchasing products online.

“Things have changed; people are growing out their color out and going gray. They are waiting longer in between cuts and buying retail online,” said one respondent.

“Getting your hair done is not a top priority now and people can’t afford to get their hair cut as often as they use to,” said another.

Then there’s the economy. “Things were getting better, but with rising inflation worries I'm afraid people will cut back on my services to save money,” said an owner.

“The cost of supplies has gone up. Some products are still hard to get,” concurred another.

The rise of the salon suite, or studio salons, have also made it more challenging, as beauty professionals can rent out space and run their own businesses. “It’s harder to keep a team,” said one salon manager.

“Commissioned base pay is not desired among stylists today, they prefer booth or chair rental instead," said another.

The loss of retail sales continues to hurt some salons. “E-commerce is taking over spa and salon sales. What makes money is not the service but the sale coming after the provided service,” said an owner.

The Good Will Overcome
All told, the majority of respondents are reporting a reinvigorated industry post COVID, one that has reinvented itself in many ways and is stronger than ever with a unified spirit. “Everyone is seemingly more passionate and authentic. There’s a camaraderie like I’ve not seen before,” said a salon owner.

Others have taken strong looks at their client bases, opting to go with fewer customers who are willing to pay more. “Our salon is incredibly busy,” said a manager. “We all raised our prices and weeded out the flakey clients by doing so. We leveled up!”

And then, there is the belief that if we’ve gotten through COVID and lived to tell the tale, the future can only be brighter. One salon saw the worst of it: “Because we not only survived the first COVID wave, we had to survive the Delta variant that had the salon owner in ICU fighting for her life, as well as four other stylists that got COVID but had minor to full flu-like symptoms. We had to reschedule 55 appointments overnight. We fought as a team and survived.”

In our next exclusive reports culled from the American Salon Business Sentiment Survey, read about how salons are changing their business models and how they are finding new talent at a time when labor shortages for all industries are a major challenge.