The COVID-19 Employee Handbook: How Indie Beauty Brands Are Protecting Workers During The Pandemic

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 20 beauty business founders and executives: As uncertainty in the beauty industry mounts with COVID-19 continuing to spread, what steps have you taken or are you planning to take to protect your staff?

NIKITA MONTGOMERY Owner and Founder, Hazel O. Salon

We value them as essential players in the success of the business. We've really tried to take things day by day and not make hasty decisions regarding our team. Our state recently mandated that salons close effective Tuesday, March 24. This saddens us as our staff is not able to earn income since we are commission-based. As a self-funded start-up, we do not yet have paid leave, nor the budget to pay our staff without them working. We do, however, guarantee that our stylists' jobs are secure.  

We're willing to do what's necessary to keep our staff, and we're committed to pulling together to help them as members of the Hazel O. family. We've created a fund for clients and the community to contribute to in an effort to provide our employees with some relief.  The funds will be divided amongst our three stylists while they are unable to work.

Lynda Berkowitz CEO, Ilia Beauty

I’m not sure that any past experience has prepared us for what’s happening today. For myself, being open with our team and transparent about the challenges we face makes us more relatable as leaders. We made the decision to eliminate travel and ground our field team a few days before closing our home office. The goal [is to] keep everyone safe, our employees and our customers. 

For the most part, working from home has been an easy transition for HQ. Everyone is mobile and their jobs can be easily achieved between Zoom, Slack, FaceTime and conference calls. For the field, I’ve had to be more creative. We’re utilizing them in projects that their expertise can play into, for example, customer service, social content and education materials. We believe that, in order to be successful, during difficult times you have to adapt to the needs of the business and be nimble. You have to be willing to change.

I think seeing your co-workers visually is an important piece of staying connected, so like most other companies, we are utilizing Zoom regularly. I understand our director of marketing planned a happy hour on Zoom for later this week. In short, being sympathetic to everyone’s individual WFH situation, creating swing shifts and being there for them when they need human conversation improves productivity.

Julie Levin Founder, Leaf People

We were very proactive with our staff. Once we heard about local COVID-19 cases, we immediately separated the team into their own working environments and stocked them up with every type of sanitizer/protective product they wanted since that is an integral part of our business. Our little mountain valley had a small cluster early on—now recovered—and we wanted to halt the possibility of passing the illness while providing the opportunity for our staff to continue working since they were feeling well. 

Our business is segmented into a few locations. My office plus manufacturing in one, another satellite office about 40 minutes away, and other staff members already regularly working from home. So, very quickly, everyone ended up in their own spot, and I became Santa Claus, zipping around dropping off and picking up projects and assignments in the off-hours so that we did not come in direct contact with each other. 

It was pretty hectic for the first week or so as everyone adapted, but now we are in our rhythm, meeting daily via FaceTime and it is running smoothly. I do miss being under the same roof as my team, but our health and the health of others is more important than that. As of now, the entire team is doing well.

Joe Freeman CEO, Zone Naturals

We were preparing to go to Expo West several weeks ago to launch a new brand, and wow has the world changed quickly! We now have our morning staff meetings on Zoom and are focusing our priorities on products that can help our customers. We have a small staff in the office to process orders, but we ask each of them to adhere to social distancing, and we are using a lot of sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizers. 

Each member has cleaning products on their desk to utilize while in the office. To ensure they are not left out, our remote workers received a gift package consisting of a tub of wipes and a personal note to be safe. We want everyone on the team to know we care.

Our team has been very flexible and, as a leader, I appreciate that very much. Our customers and our company depend on them. We are balancing solving the issues that impact us today with strategic issues that are going to impact us in the future. It’s a challenge, but we are choosing to take a positive and proactive approach to current events. Our primary goal is to make sure our team and our customers are safe and taken care of!

Christine Martey-Ochola Co-Founder, Nuele

We have significantly reduced our manufacturing since we are not considered an essential industry and are only shipping out our current stock. We only ship out once a day early in the morning to minimize interactions with large numbers of people. We are very concerned about managing our stocks and may need to have product on backorder when our stock runs out. 

Our goal is to keep all our employees with the company, and we will have to assess the business climate over the next six months to identify potential pivots, if necessary. We remain optimistic that we will be able to ride out the devastating economic havoc that this virus is wreaking and want to ascertain that our staff still have jobs while this public health crisis is being managed.

We don't have a set time that we require people to work except for scheduled meetings, so folks have a lot of flexibility, and our key marker is completing allocated tasks within the required time to meet our timelines. We try not to have morning meetings to enable those with school-age children to address homeschool matters and lean toward afternoon meetings instead. We also encourage one another to take some time to relax or even watch a movie or show. We totally enjoyed watching "Madam C J Walkerrecently and spent some time the following day looking at our company strategy and discussing next steps after totally relishing this series on a trailblazer in the haircare industry.

We recommend intentionally engaging with team members, and picking up the phone and calling rather than just texting. We also suggest using platforms such as Zoom to enhance communication when needed, but don't take offense if someone doesn't turn on their video because they may not feel comfortable being seen at that particular time. Be flexible in finding the communication mechanism that works best.

JULISSA PRADO Founder and CEO, Rizos Curls

We have already assured our staff that we are in this together. Our primary concern is safety and following all steps needed to ensure that. There are a lot of questions regarding what we should do, and we are taking it one day at a time and following all safety precautions as advised by the city of Los Angeles. 

There are also a lot of questions about job security as people hear that a recession might be coming.  Luckily, we are a small team, and we are tight-knit, like a family. We have assured them they will continue to have a job, and we will face the future together. After all, one of the pillars we have built on is community.

Young Lin Founder, Derm Institute

Our staff does have the ability to work from home during this time, and we have made it very clear to our contractors and hourly sales team who work in the field that their jobs are not in jeopardy. When stores reopen, they will have an opportunity with Derm Institute when this is all over. Their hours will not be affected. Freelancers are particularly vulnerable. There is so much uncertainty at the moment, so we feel very fortunate to be able to provide them with some level of security. 

As a brand, we are working to provide our customers with individualized support. We've actually been making phone calls to loyal consumers. We're checking in on them as people first. We are also providing them with ways they can adjust their regimen now that they are experiencing less exposure to the sun as a result of being quarantined. 

A phone call is not something you would expect from a skincare brand, but our most loyal customers are happy to hear a voice on the other end of the phone during a time of isolation. We wanted to do a bit more than just send out a mass email. We just want them to know that we're here and experiencing this whole thing with them.

As a beauty brand, we may not have the cure for this pandemic, but the least we can do is let our customers know we are here with them. If we can make them feel cared for in the process, that's a win for us. This is all so new, so our team is coming up with ways to provide more direct support to the many people affected. In addition to providing discount codes for our products, we are also working on partnering with relief organizations here in New York. We're hopeful that we'll get through this and are excited to be able to make a real difference in the coming days and weeks.

Sarah Akram Aesthetician And Founder, Sarah Akram

I closely monitored the advice of our health officials and leaders to determine the best way to keep my staff, clients and community safe. Our team stepped up sanitation and decontamination policies. We began using the medical-grade disinfectants we use to clean our tools and rooms on door knobs, stair railings, countertops, pens and other common areas. 

A little over a week ago, I made the difficult decision to close down my flagship location in Alexandria, Va., until April 1. Since then, the governor has mandated that all non-essential businesses shut operations for 30 days. 

Our team launched an online store, and we take orders over the phone. We also added new virtual consultative services to our menu, so that our clients can keep in contact with their aestheticians even when quarantined at home. So, my staff is still working. We are confident that, once normal operations resume, our amazing clients will support us and other locally owned businesses in our community.

Lindsey Donnelly Co-Founder, Sow Eden

Since Sow Eden is a small family-owned company, we have a very small staff, and we have been fortunate enough to keep everyone on board. Although our wholesale accounts have shown a slowdown with COVID-19-related closures, our online store is bustling, which helps to keep our staff busy while we weather the storm. We feel for all of the brick-and-mortar stores small and large that have had to lay off many of their employees.

Urmila Ratnam CEO and President, Alima Pure

We are a super small, independently-owned company. Our amazing team is at the heart of everything we do and taking care of them is of utmost importance at a time like this. Many in our team are working remotely right now. Our online store is open, orders are going out, and we’re responding to our customers promptly as always. 

Our hope is to keep these pared-down operations going as long as permitted so we can continue to pay our entire staff without any cutbacks. We’re checking in every day to make sure that everyone is doing okay and feels supported. We are a family and are truly all in this together. We’re also committed to doing our little part to help support our local global community. To that end, we will be donating a percentage of our daily sales to Feeding America.

Jamika Martin Founder, Rosen Skincare

Fortunately for us, most of our team is remote anyway, so we haven't been hit too hard when it comes to the workforce. However, we do production in-house, which is a positive and a negative at this time. It's a positive because we can be nimble and flexible when it comes to actually producing products since our team is so small. We are able to abide by social distancing rules and minimum business operations while continuing to stay in stock, plus we could even bring it in-house, too.

As a founder, I work from home most of the time anyway, so I haven't seen a change there. However, one huge change for us has been financing and debt. Fortunately, sales have not plummeted. However, we were experiencing a lot of issues around expenses and debt prior to this outbreak, and this has helped me understand that everything is negotiable. Obviously, partners are more understanding during times of crisis, but, if it hadn't been for all of this, I probably would have still been in a very stressed state of finances. 

Not accepting terms that harm us is now top of mind for me, which sounds so obvious, but I honestly was just saying yes to so many obligations that I didn't even consider negotiating until all of this. Your partners want you to win, and no one wants to put a business under, so work with folks during this time so you can all survive!

Feisal Qureshi Founder, Raincry

Transparency has always been important for strong leadership, and the team has regular calls to not only discuss work related projects, but also release personal worries and concerns as we all self-isolate without a release. 

Another challenge is that we have two jurisdictions that we are tracking—U.S. and Canada—and an international border in between that requires constant monitoring. So, compartmentalizing personnel to track specific areas and stepping up communication is the only way we can try to stay ahead of the situation.

At this point, our office is closed with our complete team working from the safety of their homes.  Running the brand and determining next steps is a real challenge at this point because government policies are changing by the hour. We are doing our best as business as usual in extraordinary circumstances. There is a lot of uncertainty at this point, so it's best that we wait, gather as much information as possible and allow things to settle in order to make qualified, informed decisions.

Christine George Owner and SH-RD Stylist, Luxe Parlour

Unfortunately, this pandemic has hit us all. My stylists know that we're all in this together. They don't have a choice in the matter as much as I do. We are all under the impression that we will be allowed to work as soon as this crisis blows over. We’re hoping that will be in the near future. 

As for reception, valet and assistants, we have had to let them go for the time being. The salon in not generating income, and our reserves that we have saved up are crucial to keep intact as much as possible so that the existence of the salon stays intact.

Alicia Grande Founder, Grande Cosmetics

Our corporate office consists of 27 people, all of whom started working from home on March 9. The week prior, we worked with our IT consultants to make sure all staff were set up to work remotely by either having a personal computer or laptop. If they didn’t have a laptop already, we purchased one for them right away.

Our corporate office has been successfully working within Microsoft teams that are broken into groups for marketing, sales, e-commerce, finance and operations. Each director or C-level person within each group has daily video calls and chats with their team members and, then, reports back to me on the group's performance. As a result of our daily video calls and group chats, I’ve been able to see more clearly how all of our departments work together.

Our warehouse consists of 22 people. They started this week to divide the team into two groups, alternating their shifts with one week on and one week off. Everyone is practicing social distancing, taking all necessary safety protocols and of course wearing gloves and masks. Next week, we will change it to two shifts: the first between 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the second between 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. So, all warehouse employees will work 6 hours a day with a 30-minute break, and each group will clean 15 minutes prior to the next group starting.

Our retail sales are up 30%, and we are donating 15% of all sales to the charity Feeding America, which has food banks across the country. This is a cause that we are deeply committed to serving and as a team, we are working hard to achieve our donation goal, which is $50,000.

On the other hand, our wholesale business is down due to brick-and-mortar stores like Sephora, Ulta, Macy's and our professional beauty distribution channels like SalonCentric, which are closing a portion of their stores, all of which will reflect a decline in sales. To overcome this challenge, we plan on increasing our digital marketing efforts on Facebook and Instagram as people are home and looking at their social feeds more than ever.

Starting next week, we will be hosting webinars for our professional channel of salons and spas, sharing best practices on how to sell direct to their clients. My heart breaks for the professional salon and spa industry, which is suffering greatly as a result of COVID-19. So much of their business relies on the power of human touch, which is, of course, difficult in the midst of social distancing. The professional channel is dear to my heart as they were Grande Cosmetics' first supporters, and I consider them to be the biggest influencers for the brand. Stay tuned for more information on the webinars with dates and times to be announced soon @grandecosmetics on Instagram and @grandecosmetics on Facebook.

Fiona Sahakian Founder, Posh Peanut

We are committed to keep on and continue paying all of our staff. Even as we work remotely, we’re keeping busy and looking ahead creating and designing new collections. We’re taking it day by day, but staying positive!

MÉLISSA OBEID Founder, La Fervance

It’s a question of understanding, adapting and flexibility. We need to keep the wheels in motion to ensure we are prepared and correctly resourced for when this phase passes. We are monitoring our suppliers and manufacturing partners to also ensure the continuity needed to meet demand. It’s challenging given the unpredictability around timeframes and the impact the virus will have, but knowledge and information sharing is key, and we will continue our transparent relations with staff and suppliers so we’re as well-equipped and prepared as possible.

Selmin Karatas Founder, Kazani Hair

We have a family business, and it is my father and I. We are both working from home, and I make sure he remains inside and doesn't go outside until all of this is over due to his age. He continues to think and create new products while I create content and blogs for my customers in these unprecedented times.

Jamyla Bennu Founder, Oyin Handmade

We’re taking a moment to chat about practicing self-care in these swiftly changing times. Around here, we focus on our loved ones. We unplug when we can. We listen to scientists, we use humor to diffuse anxiety and nerves, and we work to protect our most vulnerable community members. We try to respond to our customers with flexibility and grace if we need to build new routines in place of those that may be disrupted.

Jennifer Yen Founder, Purlisse and YENSA

On Wednesday, March 11, when President Trump addressed the nation about COVID-19, I thought to myself, "This is going to be bad for everybody and every business." On Thursday, March 12, we had a team meeting and, by Friday, March 13, our team was working from home.

I start by being grateful that we have a business model, tools and technology that enables our team to be safe and work from home, yet stay connected and remain productive. And I know my team feels grateful, too. I never forgot the hard lessons from the Great Recession, so we have always been a scrappy team and operate by two rules:

  1.  Do more with less or create under constraints

  2.  Solid, steady and sustainable wins the race

I’m thankful our entire team is intact, and we didn’t have to do any layoffs. My next step was not to be blindly optimistic when I should be clearly realistic with our team and prepare everyone to take action.  Being preemptive, preparing for the worst and adapting gives us a better chance to survive.

Strong communications with team members with a daily Zoom meeting and strong engagement with Purlisse and Yensa communities are top priorities. I remind the team that I’ve been through this in 2008 and survived it. It is in times like this that really tests us as a team, our will, our character, who we are and what we are capable of enduring and achieving, not only in good times, but in harsh, unpredictable times.  We will get through with a strong and clear mindset and a healthy body.

Stephanie Scott-Bradshaw Founder and CEO, First and Last PR

Being a modern PR agency that focuses on both traditional PR and influencer engagement, we were already pretty digital from an operations standpoint so able to make the transition to work from home pretty seamlessly. We still conduct all of our team and one-on-one meetings as we did from the office, but now they are via phone and computer. Zoom is our go-to for meetings and video calls due to its seamless integration and ability to host a large number of attendees at the same time. 

We have also begun to offer our clients new services like our virtual press meetings to keep the beauty news moving and reach a wide range of press and influencers seamlessly. We use a secure online system as our digital press kit to maintain all of our press releases and images making it easier to send hi-res files to the press and react quickly in a time of need. This same platform allows the team access documents remotely as well where we can collaborate on documents in real time. All of these tools help my team and me.

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