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'One woman called the salon 425 times' - Irish hairdressers overwhelmed by demand as reopening looms

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Alan Austin and husband Gary Browne of Grand Barbers

Alan Austin and husband Gary Browne of Grand Barbers

Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers

Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers

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IRISH hair salons are scrambling to meet a relentless demand for appointments ahead of their reopening on Monday.

With the third phase of the roadmap to recovery approaching, salon phone lines have been overwhelmed by eager customers hoping to have their ends chopped and their roots coloured.

Alan Keville, who owns salons in Dublin, Wexford and Naas, said customers have been so persistent in their quest to bag an appointment that one client called more than 400 times in a row.

“It’s just been insane from when I came in on Monday morning. I had two staff in each of my salons just working the phones,” he said.

“We had one lady who put a picture on our Instagram showing that she rang the salon 425 times, and said ‘I hope you don’t think I’m weird, but I’ve actually tried to call you 425 times this morning, and I haven’t been able to get through.’ We rang her back and she got her appointment.”

Alan said the salon’s phone lines became so clogged up that they have now “just stopped working.”

His salons are set to be fully booked for the guts of two months even with stylists working longer hours in a bid to clear the backlog.

He added that the salon's price list is the same as it was before the pandemic, but clients in need of a "massive overhaul" could be charged more.

"It will be the price it was when you came in before, unless it's a massive overhaul. The last thing you want to do with your regulars is rob them on their first week back," he said.

Elsewhere, Noelle McCarthy of Blow Salons said she began receiving requests for bookings as soon as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced last Friday that hairdressers could begin operating again on June 29.

“With the announcement last Friday, people started emailing. We mainly do bookings online, so they were able to do that too, and I emailed maybe about 1,000 of my most regular customers,” she said.

Noelle said despite the “huge” demand, she has been able to book a large number of clients in for the next two weeks.

“A lot of our old customers are coming back, thank god. We have a lot of new ones as well. We have quite a bit of space so we’ve actually managed to book in quite a few appointments, which is fantastic.

“We’re booked up mostly next week and the week after, but I wouldn’t describe us as booked out yet because I have three salons. Some of the days, like Monday afternoon is very heavily booked and Monday morning is very heavily booked."

She said slight price increases for some services have been introduced in order to compensate for the costs that have gone into preparing the salon for a safe reopening.

Noelle added that the salon's revenue will take a further hit as they will not be able to serve the same volume of customers as they did before the health crisis.

“It’s been very expensive, which is a challenge because we’ve had no revenue for three-and-a-half-months. Hopefully we will get that back and obviously there is government aid and things happening on that line to reimburse us.

“We can’t take as many as we used to so that obviously then of course in in price increases, which is just unavoidable. We wouldn’t be able to open if we didn’t increase our prices."

Barbershops are also racing to keep up with the demand.

Alan Austin of Dublin's Grand Barbers said he has invested thousands into new equipment that is intended to reduce the risk of infection entering his shops.

Customers will go through a new ticket system and will be asked to provide their contact details in order to facilitate contact tracing in the event an outbreak occurs. They will also have their body temperature recorded.

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Alan Austin and husband Gary Browne of Grand Barbers

Alan Austin and husband Gary Browne of Grand Barbers

Alan Austin and husband Gary Browne of Grand Barbers

"When you walk in you will put your name in to the computer, your first name and your phone number. You sign in as a customer, and then you sign out. While you're doing that, your body temperature is being monitored by a screen. If it exceeds the normal temperature we won't be able to take you," Alan said.

"The ticket machine was €2,500, the contact tracing machine was €1,000 and it's €100 a month to be monitored. The temperature machine was around another €1,000."

He added: "We should get through the backlog in probably three weeks. There will be a huge demand, I was in getting the shop organised and I had to take the phone off the hook."

Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers in Co Dublin, said although five of his shops are "heavily booked", he is anticipating that the demand will wind down after next week.

"We're heavily booked next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then it dies off, and it's an average Thursday, Friday, Saturday next week. So we're going back to a surge for the first week. Then I'm predicting that it will just level out going forward.," he said.

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Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers

Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers

Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers

"Our phone lines are only open when our staff are in the shop so we're also expecting a surge of people making appointments by phone, and coming to the door on Monday.

"We even had a letter put under the the door of one of our stores requesting 'when you're open could you please contact me for an appointment'. I presume it was an elderly customer so we're making contact with them."

He said his barbershops will be allocating 30 minutes per client to give staff time to clean the shop after each customer leaves.

The safety measure means that the shops will not be making as much of a profit as they did pre-Covid 19.

"Our shops in the suburbs that would usually do 20 minute appointments, they're going from doing three customers an hour to doing two customers hour. So even though we'll be fully booked next week and we're heavily booked in all our shops for next week, we're going to be down by a third on every hour.

"We want to be able to give the proper service but we also want to allow an adequate enough time in between or appointments so we can clean our sections down.

"So it doesn't matter even if we're out the door, us being fully booked next week is not the same as us being fully booked Christmas week 2019. Regardless of how busy we are, we're still not going to be able to do the same turnover."

Online Editors