Cork hairdresser: ‘When they called me, I assumed that I was in trouble’

With news that hairdressers may now not open until May, many salon owners are turning to new ways of keeping business alive. SARAH HORGAN chats to one Cobh woman doing just that
Cork hairdresser: ‘When they called me, I assumed that I was in trouble’

Hairdresser / Salon owner Caroline Bell, Cobh.

WHEN salon owner Caroline Bell started hanging out hair products for customers on her garden gate, to comply with Covid-19 restrictions it brought “click and collect” to a whole new level.

However, the Cork woman never imagined that what turned into a charming marketing strategy would capture the hearts of international hair care company Wella in the UK.

When she closed her doors over a year ago, Caroline initially thought it would just be for a few weeks. As the weeks turned into months — and business owners grew increasingly disheartened — she decided it was time for change.

The entrepreneur, who owns The Hair Salon in Cobh, started filming her morning hair routine for clients on Instagram.

“At first it was all very polished. You would have thought I was doing it for TV,” she laughed.

“Then I realised that this wasn’t sustainable so I just started doing it as I would normally in the mornings — just out of the shower with no make-up! Everything was completely stripped back and natural.”

The businesswoman found the process beneficial for her own mental health too.

“I needed to do it for my own headspace and found it really helped.”

Caroline also found it was an effective way to connect with her customers.

“A lot of my clients wanted to buy the products I was using,” she said.

The interest sparked an idea that jolted Caroline back into action. She got to work clearing out her salon and started a click and collect service with a difference.

“I hung the products for people within the 5km radius to collect,” she said.

“My garden gate was out of action for a while but it was definitely worth it. Local customers could order something online and immediately go to collect it.”

For many locals, Caroline’s service became like a lockdown rite of passage.

“It became a bit of a thing,” she admits.

“Young girls would get pictures of themselves collecting their orders off my garden gate and post them to social media.

“I depended a lot on word of mouth and it started working really well for me.”

Nonetheless, Caroline never expected the news would spread all the way to haircare giant Wella in the UK.

“When Wella’s Marketing Director called me, I assumed I was in trouble,” she laughed.

“My first thought was that I must have done something outside of their product guidelines unbeknownst to me.”

Luckily, Caroline found herself pleasantly surprised.

“They heard about what I did with my garden gate. They wanted to use my approach as an example to other salons trying to turn their business around during the pandemic.”

Despite having her salon shut and being confined to a 5km radius, a whole new world had opened up to Caroline. She was recently a guest speaker with Wella in the UK which saw her detail her experience of adapting during the pandemic for other salons online.

Even after updated restrictions meant she had to abandon her click and collect service, the business continued to grow. She is now taking orders from across Ireland which she sends out via post. Her mother has even got on board as a delivery driver for orders within the 5km radius.

Among her products are temporary colour depositing masks to make grey hair less obvious.

While her business has gone nationwide, the Cobh woman insists she will always maintain that personal touch.

For the brief time salons reopened during the pandemic, she set aside opening week to look after her older clients and ensure they were safe. The booking system didn’t actually open until her older clientele were catered for.

A major concern for Caroline during the pandemic is the number of people coming to her complaining of hair loss.

“Hair loss is a major issue as a result of Covid,” she said. This is a major issue for people who have had the condition. It’s like a delayed shock to the body that sets in after a couple of months. When our body is fighting an illness hair is often the last thing to go and this is where the difficulties arise.”

Caroline described how seriously she takes pandemic restrictions.

“During the first lockdown, I had a couple of people asking if I would cut their hair in the garden or mix colour for them.

“I’m not fearful of losing clients as I realise it’s more important to do the right thing and follow public health guidelines. Strangely enough, nobody has asked me to do their hair during this lockdown.

“They know at this stage that it’s going to be a straight no.”

The salon owner is grateful to have an outlet for her clients online.

“I do one to one consultations online so people can still chat face to face. I felt it really important that people didn’t miss the conversation element.

“For many people, going to the salon is like attending a counselling session and I wanted to keep that togetherness.”

To check out Caroline’s Instagram page visit @thehairsalon.ie

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