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What I Learned While Growing My Spa Business During Covid

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Stephanie Nguyen is an entrepreneur and the owner of DC Lash BarWashington DC’s best eyelash extension rod.

The beauty industry has been one of the business sectors hardest hit by Covid regulations in the past two years. Barber shops, nail salons and spas across the country were considered non-essential and had to close their doors for months in 2020. Some have never reopened.

For most physical entrepreneurs in the beauty industry, the hope was to survive the pandemic. But as the new owner of an eyelash extension business in the highly regulated city of Washington, DC, I was determined to turn this crisis into an opportunity for expansion.

My company has diversified our service offerings and reached a new customer base during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s how we did it and what I learned.

1. Let the dust settle first.

When your business is in crisis from outside forces beyond your control, you feel the pressure to respond quickly. But responding without taking the time to thoroughly research your unique challenges and consumer needs can be an even more costly mistake. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I took over DC Lash Bar’s sole proprietorship in early 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, and jumped straight into survival mode. I invested in regular employee testing and drafted lengthy waiver forms for clients. I made significant changes to the store operations to create a more contactless experience for customers. Whatever I had to do to comply with local regulations and get our customers back in the store, I did it, and I did it quickly.

But often my plans were canceled overnight due to unexpected changes in local Covid guidelines. The constant changes in regulations were a nightmare to keep up with. Sometimes I felt like a dog chasing her tail.

An important consequence of my hasty conversion was staff turnover. I lost good talent during the first year of the pandemic which I think I could have held on to if I had slowed down. My employees were stressed and unhappy, but I was too busy solving problems beyond my control to notice. The struggle to find new talent in the meantime and complete their tasks on their own was the wake-up call I needed to change my approach.

From then on, I’ve made it a point to take a “day-to-day” approach to running a business during a pandemic. Rather than change our store operations as soon as a new rumor spread about a new virus variant, I waited for the local rules to take effect before making a decision. I also turned my attention to my employees. Were they satisfied? Do they have feedback about a particular surgical change? I strove to understand how their personal and professional goals aligned with the overall direction of my company.

Letting the dust settle first is a sensible approach to responding to an industry disruptor that is beyond your control. Before you turn around your day-to-day business or make major decisions, wait for the path forward to become clearer – and remember to make your employees’ happiness a top priority.

2. Look for opportunities by learning about your customers’ changing demands.

I got closer to my customers during Covid and leaned on communication. Not only has my company expanded email communications to keep customers informed of every health precaution and operational change, but I’ve also contacted many of them by phone to read about their changing preferences during the pandemic.

Were they comfortable interacting closely with an eyelash technician? Was there still a demand for beauty services without weddings, galas and parties? Would implementing strict in-store health protocols beyond local regulations bring in more customers, or just add unnecessary costs? Intuitively, I already knew some of the answers to these questions (yes, there would be a significant drop in demand for beauty services while major events were cancelled). But I wondered if clients’ beauty service demands might change in unexpected ways.

I researched national spending habits and found that those in my average client’s income range were ready to excess when businesses gradually reopened in the summer of 2020. After months of incarceration, Americans were eager to treat themselves to travel, dining out, leisure and self-care.

I also learned that skin care, including eyelashes and eyebrows, had become even more important to my clients during the pandemic. Makeup was less important to a home lifestyle, encouraging my client base to embrace their natural skin and focus more on the health of their skin. Masks also created pimples (“maskne”) that could not be ignored when looking in the mirror at home. In addition, semi-permanent eyebrow enhancement services saw a big rise they are in high demand, although the trend of fuller and thicker brows has been around for a few years – perhaps because brows show above the mask line.

The challenges we faced increased, but I saw an opportunity.

3. Make moves.

Based on my market research, I took action and expanded our service offering from eyelashes to eyebrows and skin care. We attracted new customers and introduced existing customers to our new services. As other spa businesses scaled down, my business saw incredible growth and had our most successful year of the five years we’ve been in business.

I believe that setbacks always present opportunities. It takes serious courage to persevere and create something new when everything around you seems to be burning to the ground. But the best entrepreneurs are always looking for opportunities – not just to reduce company bloat – but to expand their business, even in the midst of a crisis.


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