Ted Gisbon and Jason Backe opened their Los Angeles-based smart salon, STARRING by Ted Gibson, in 2019. Although it was designed to be a ‘salon of the future,’ no one could have predicted what the future would hold only a year later.
Now, amidst a global pandemic, Gibson and Backe are learning that their atypical salon model was crafted to thrive, even under the current COVID-19 restrictions.
American Salon sat down with the power duo to discuss how their salon operated before the virus, how they handled business during the nation-wide shutdown, and what life is like since reopening.
First, tell us about your salon pre-COVID. What steps did you take to make it a luxury experience for your guests?
STARRING by Ted Gibson is the world’s first smart salon powered by Amazon and Alexa. Our salon concept was based on a woman’s’ desire to have an intimate, individualized, luxury experience in the salon. Within the salon we have five “pods” which we call our clouds, and clients sit within them when getting their service. Each pod is equipped with Amazon and Alexa, enabling clients to adjust the lighting to their individual preferences. Additionally, we have been cashless since we opened!
Can you tell us about the few months while you were closed—did you do anything virtual to help your clients?
We felt the best way to stay connected to our clients was by e-mail. We only sent a few emails because there wasn’t any sense in bombarding them with information we didn’t have yet. When we found out when we could re-open, we sent an e-mail to explain the new protocols in our salon.
You’ve been open for almost a month now, how have things shifted?
The great thing about STARRING by Ted Gibson is that we’ve been a ‘COVID-safe’ salon from the start. The salon’s advanced technology coupled with its unique, socially distanced design makes it a safe environment for our clients. As mentioned, the boutique environment features five individual, private pods known as clouds, where salon chairs are 8.5 feet distanced and partitioned from one another. Plus, the lighting and music are controlled by voice-command technology.
The salon also offers an unprecedented retail experience that’s entirely cashless, allowing clients to purchase products used on them during their appointment through the salon booking platform or Amazon to be shipped directly to their home. We make sure we sanitize chairs, tools, handles, etc. in between appointments, and we give clients a warm towel and sanitizer for their hands when they arrive. We also spit shifts so that everyone is not working at the same time or same days—this way, if someone gets sick we can easily track infection.
I know different states have different guidelines—what do California’s look like?
We thought we were going to have to wear masks, shields and gloves for everything, but California only requires us to wear masks. It is strange to wear them all day, but it is to ensure that everyone in the salon remains healthy and safe.
Has COVID-19 affected your day-to-day in the salon drastically?
Yes, it has. We used to have clients come in in-between color services, but now, due to the new guidelines, we don’t double book. We have always booked our clients on TIME, not on each service—meaning we book by the hour. It’s a better way of doing business for us. We also raised our prices by 20 percent and guests haven’t even batted an eye.
We talked about your salon being cashless in addition to the distanced pods—two things many salons are now implementing to keep their spaces safer. What made you want to do that in the beginning?
We felt like the salon experience has been outdated for decades. We have had four salons in four different states over the last 18 years. The three other salons in NYC, Washington D.C and Ft. Lauderdale each had 20+ chairs and 50 + employees. We think these big salons are a thing of the past, and that clients want a more specialized luxury experience. With that in mind, we came up with the idea to create the first smart salon, and it worked! We love STARRING and we’re so glad we went ahead with the concept.