Businesses work to gain customer confidence as they reopen

Signature Two Company is prohibiting customers from waiting in its salons and will require all guests to wear masks.
Signature Two Company is prohibiting customers from waiting in its salons and will require all guests to wear masks.

If any industry is prepared for the increased sanitation and hygiene protocols that businesses need to implement, it’s hair salons, said Signature Two Company co-owner David Hagemeier.

“Salons done right are all about safety and sanitation,” said Hagemeier, whose portfolio includes nine salons in the Milwaukee area. “That doesn’t mean we won’t need to make changes to deal with what’s happening here, but the idea of preventing transmission and operating safely is the most important reason we have licensed establishments and our people must go through schooling.”

Wisconsin’s more than 5,000 hair and nail salons have sat virtually empty since March 25. Now, as they reopen their doors to customers, salon operators are enforcing a new set of procedures to protect their employees and win back customer confidence.

For one, customers can expect significantly fewer people in the salon at any point than in pre-pandemic days. Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. reopening guidelines recommend that salons limit the number of clients in the shop at one time, including having clients check in from their cars until their chair is ready.

“It’s important to keep my people safe,” Hagemeier said. “I will insist on no waiting in the salon. Guests must wear masks without exception.”

For nail salons, because six feet of social distance isn’t practical, WEDC recommends using face shields or a plastic partition between the employee and client with space cut out where hands or feet can be slid underneath to conduct the manicure or pedicure.

Salons are also encouraged to cover their chairs in a non-porous material for easy cleanup or use a disposable cover similar to those used in dental offices, provide handwashing stations at the front of the salon, and treat all used towels and smocks as if they are potentially contaminated, putting them in a plastic bag after use.

YMCA of Greater Waukesha County is limiting treadmill availability to encourage social distancing.
YMCA of Greater Waukesha County is limiting treadmill availability to encourage social distancing.

Roots Salon, which operates three locations in the Milwaukee area, laid out its plan in a mid-May email to customers for when they return, including requiring all service providers, front desk staff and customers to wear a mask, stylists to wear gloves for all color, nail and facial services, offering hand sanitizer at all stations, and using freshly-washed aprons in between every guest.

Beyond social distancing and increased hygiene, Roots is also seeking to make its salons COVID-free zones by prohibiting talk of the virus.

“We are creating a space to escape how daily life has been for the last couple of months, we will encourage everyone in the salon to refrain from talking about COVID-19,” Roots said in its email to customers. “This will help ensure that we are providing this escape and that you can relax as you once did in the past.”

Milwaukee Public Market has been largely desolate since the onset of COVID-19 forced bars, restaurants and venues to limit operations or close doors. But the market is slowly coming to life again in recent weeks as it phases in a reopening plan.

The market’s leadership team – like restaurant and retail operators across the state – is focused on drawing customers back to the building, conscious of the ways in which the pandemic has affected customers’ comfortability with dining out and shopping in stores.

According to the latest Marquette University Law School poll, conducted May 3-7, 56% of Wisconsin registered voters surveyed said they would be comfortable going to a large retail store while only 42% said they would be comfortable eating out at a restaurant.

Even as local and state restrictions lift, it could be a while before the Public Market – ordinarily teeming with customers over the lunch hour – will look like the pre-pandemic version of itself.

For restaurants, WEDC’s guidelines recommend reducing the capacity of customer-facing businesses as much as possible, eliminating unnecessary physical contact between staff and customers, maintaining six feet of distance between individuals whenever possible, installing sneeze guards and partitions at cash registers and bars, and positioning tables six feet apart from each other.

The Public Market plans to maintain social distance by maximizing its outdoor seating space, which was recently expanded along St. Paul Avenue and across North Water Street. Having ample space, both inside and outside, is an advantage that public markets and food halls across the country are benefitting from, market executive director Paul Schwartz said, especially as full-service restaurants and retailers are faced with the challenge of creating distance often out of very little space to reopen with limited cash flow.

While Milwaukee Ale House in Grafton was quick to reopen its doors following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, co-owners Mike Stoner and Daniel O’Neil said they had been planning for it weeks prior.

Stoner measured out at least six feet between tables that will seat diners (some will remain empty) and placed social distancing markers on the floor of the entrance. The two-story restaurant with two outdoor decks is able to fit a total of 300 people, but with the business’ social distancing measures in place, the capacity is down to 110-115.

“I already have it in place that we will take reservations, I don’t care if it’s a party of two,” Stoner said. “I need to know that we’re seating properly, so no more than five tables every 15 minutes. By the time I turn things, we’re not going to ever reach 115 in here.”

Chris Becker, chief executive officer of YMCA of Greater Waukesha County, recognizes the challenges that come with gaining the confidence of members as the organization reopens its fitness centers.

“I would say it’s a rule of thirds,” Becker said. “A third of our members are chomping at the bit to come back. A third are a little unsure about what the facility will look like and whether they will be comfortable in a group fitness setting … Then there’s a third of our members who will take more of a ‘wait and see’ approach. But we knew from the beginning that the members’ confidence and the trust they have in our organization is key to people feeling safe to come back.”

Before deciding to reopen four of its locations on May 20, the leadership team spent “countless hours” examining its programs and operations, talked with government officials, sought out best practices from other Ys and consulted with its employees, Becker said.

Reopening has brought many new protocols, including floor markings to encourage social distancing, limiting availability of treadmills and exercise bikes, spacing out smaller pieces of equipment, and requiring staff members to disinfect equipment after use. Capacity limits will be based on the square footage of each location and individual spaces and studios. Each space will have a staff member enforcing capacity, flow and cleaning. For now, locker rooms, saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools are closed.

“First and foremost, everything related to our plan is centered on one key, which is ensuring the health and safety of our staff and members,” Becker said.

Now, YMCA of GWC is focused on getting the word out to members and those who might have let their membership lapse during the shutdown that its facilities are ready when they are.

“A strong majority of our members have continued to stay with us at this time and we’re thankful for that. We’ve heard numerous times from our members that they want to stand with us and support the organization,” Becker said. “We’ve had some that have canceled, but in many cases, they have said, ‘We’ll be back when the smoke clears.’”

BizTimes reporter Maredithe Meyer contributed to this report.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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