James Vivian ran a beauty treatment-free salon during 2021: here’s how

2021 was the year of the “serviceless salon.” While sadly, many beauty businesses struggled and closed, some salons thrived using social media, e-commerce and brand partnerships to navigate the lockdowns. At the time of our conversation, pre-Melbourne’s reopening, James Vivian clinics were only 30% down on revenue YOY – sans skin services. In our November-December issue he shared his experiences.

Deepening connections:

“Communication has been key to maintaining relationships with our clients over this period. From the very beginning, we made it clear we were talking to whoever wanted to listen. During these times, it’s important to understand that skin won’t be a priority for everyone. We’ve been told by the government that we’re a non-essential service, and while we might disagree, you have to reality check. We’re in a global pandemic – some things are crucial, some aren’t!  

For some, skin is going to the bottom of the pile of concerns. For others, they want to spend the free time they have investing in their skin. We wanted to make sure for those clients that they knew we were very much there for them just because our doors were closed.”  

“This has always been our strategy, though. As therapists, we mustn’t be sending people out the door saying, ‘see you in four weeks.’ Therapists and clinicians need to understand that during treatment, you’ve set into motion a chain of events that will occur once the client leaves. We don’t want to know how it went when they come back – we want to know how their skin felt and how any products they took home worked for them. So for us during lockdowns, it was never all of a sudden “how do we communicate!?”  

“We use a system called Podium that gives us a direct line to our customers’ mobile phones. We communicate by text – nobody is answering their phones or listening to voicemail! We’ve always offered complimentary consults – whether you’re coming for a facial or not, it’s complimentary. So we’ve continued that during lockdown. We don’t like clients to just repurchase products blind. We see every product purchase as a way to improve their skin. Sometimes the way to get the best results is to keep doing the same. Still, there might be an opportunity for more potent retinol or more exfoliation, or they may have had a flare-up of dermatitis from mask-wearing and need something different. And this service is extended to anybody who wants to talk to us. Through the powers of social media, we have garnered a whole new clientele that was traditionally buying their products from department stores or online. And now they’re aware that we, and other businesses, are offering expert consults, and the penny has dropped: “Why don’t I talk to an expert about my specific skin, and get products that are curated for me?” 

Business development:  

“I’ve branded this whole COVID period business development. We’ve been talking to a new clientele, getting to know them and their skin and building relationships. We can make plans with clients, not just for retail purchases now, but for treatments we can perform once we’re open.  I have been through six lockdowns in two years. What has kept me motivated is seeing how our client base has expanded with every reopening – all due to the business development we’ve had time to do during lockdown.  

James Vivian, Toorak Road exteriors
James Vivian staff were able to work through the lockdown at his Toorak road business.

Partnering with retailers:

During the first lockdown, I noticed that people were going with our complimentary consults, “great, thanks, I’ll just pop to Adore Beauty and grab that!” You’re always aware when somethings complimentary that will happen – but I saw it happen a lot. So I reviewed our offering and invested in some brands that actually cannot be sold online. But I’ve also worked with Adore Beauty! A lot of business owners do get frustrated with Adore – they range products that we traditionally retail. But I think they’re good for our industry. They present information in a very sophisticated, professional manner. They grow trust in professional skincare and provide platforms for people like myself to contribute content and establish ourselves as expert voices. Adore Beauty are not going anywhere, and they’re supporting the community by pushing consumers in our direction. Working on content for them, working on the podcast and being part of the Adore family has ended up being great for our business! 

Mainstream media has also been important, having the time to do interviews. We had a profile in Broadsheet, which led to a lot of new interest and new business.” 

Ready for reopening:

“With every reopening we’ve refined the process, so now we are very ready. One thing I’ve done differently is given everyone the week off before reopening. We’ve been lucky to work through lockdown on our retail side. Despite being shut, we’ve only made a 30% loss which I am so grateful for. But, on the flip side of that, I don’t want anyone to feel burnt out or get unwell during the next few months because they will be so busy.  

In terms of legislation and conversations with clients, we are following a government mandate. There is not much room for discussion at the moment. We’re doing as we’re told, and I take a lot of comfort from that because I’m certainly not a public health expert and dealing with the emotional and professional elements of those conversations, well I’m not an expert there either! 

When the decision falls back on me? From my perspective, I always have to act in my colleagues best interests. It will be a conversation with the team around who is comfortable with what. We are all vaccinated at James Vivian. That was a conversation, too – checking in on how everyone was feeling and what they were planning on doing. I will need to find out what everyone’s comfort levels are like and make decisions accordingly. Ultimately, if I don’t have the staff, there is no point in welcoming everyone back in.  

Having had my business for 10 years, I acknowledge that we entered the pandemic in a privileged position. Whatever reputation we have, it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over years, so the fact that lockdowns hit when we were doing well – I’m grateful for that.  I feel so sorry for businesses that have just launched because it does take time. Now I feel like all the work we did beforehand hasn’t gone to waste.” 

James Vivian, Toorak Road
James Vivian, Toorak Road

Why social media is essential for business continuity:

“During the last two years of lockdown, I’ve learned the power of social media for businesses. It sounds boring. Historically, Id always hear ‘you’ve got to be on social media or ‘the more effort you put in, the more you get out of it.” I’d always just sort of roll my eyes and be like, ‘that’s not for me.’ But once we were in lockdown, I did have the time to devote to it, and we’ve never been busier. With no skin services, we are only 30% down in revenue compared to this time last year. So the amount of product we’ve been selling is insane compared to what we were traditionally doing. That has all come from new clients through social media. We’ve been creating so much content, so much free information. I had a client who called to book a few services today, and I said, “is there anything you need between now and then?” and she said “No, I just need you to do more social media posts because they bring my family and me so much joy!” 

I’m not trying to be immodest, but it does keep me motivated when people say things like that. There is a serious element, but I’m also not opposed to putting a wig on and breaking into song – it’s reignited my passion for music which I had lost many years ago. So there have been a lot of silver linings. We’ve grown our presence. Adore beauty has given us access to a huge market of people buying skincare online. The minority of people would consider seeing a dermal therapist, and those are the people we are now talking to. They’re shopping online, buying active products skincare can be wonderful when selected appropriately, but when people are shopping randomly and having reactions – that’s when they start thinking skincare doesn’t work. You do need a guru to guide you, and that’s what we’ve tried to be during this period – and it’s worked.” 

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