With many Americans still feeling anxious about visiting a hair salon during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for at-home services has never been higher. In fact, Shortcut — an app that allows clients to request an in-home haircut from a licensed barber or stylist in their area — reports a 600% increase in bookings over the past three months.
Will Newton, co-founder of Shortcut, built the barber-delivery platform back in 2015 (with no premonitions of a global pandemic). “We set out to design an Uber for haircuts: You download the app, input your address and the service you’re looking for, and we match you with a local stylist or barber who will come to you,” Newton says. “Today, demand for our at-home services has exploded because many people don’t feel comfortable venturing into a salon or barbershop, but still want a good haircut.”
With health concerns altering the salon industry as a whole, Newton had to
adjust the Shortcut model to cater to increasing demands while keeping safety a top priority. “We anticipated the surge in requests for at-home haircuts, and the widespread lockdowns across the personal-care industry afforded us the time to close business, increase our portfolio of hair professionals across 25 cities in the U.S., and institute best practices that enable our team to safely deliver haircuts in people’s homes,” Newton says.
For the health of the stylist and client, Shortcut has implemented safety measures to comply with each state’s guidelines as well as CDC recommendations. “We require our hair pros to complete a health and safety course before booking out to clients,” Newton explains. “They also have to wear a mask at every appointment and use disposable single-use capes and drop cloths to collect fallen hair. We also fully encourage our stylists to take appointments outdoors whenever possible — so haircuts are happening in backyards and rooftops all across the country.”
Similar to a meal-delivery service, Shortcut offers the convenience of a quarantine haircut without ever leaving your home. But considering the fact that you can’t practice six-foot social distancing during a hair appointment, even in your own home, we have to ask: Is booking an at-home haircut really safe during a pandemic?
According to public-health expert Karl Minges, PhD, it’s safer than going into a salon, but not completely without risk. “Compared to a salon haircut, an in-home service comes with a lower risk of infection because you have control of your space and only one person will be entering — so there’s no chance of interaction with other people, which might happen at a salon,” he explains. “For the stylist, the risk is likely the same as performing services in the salon, depending on the client and the specific infection-prevention steps taken in their home.”
Of course, if tight precautions are followed, the at-home service can be relatively safe for clients and stylists, both of whom should be masked for the entire appointment. “Even in your own home, you should wear a mask while having a haircut,” says Dr. Minges. “Other precautions would be to go outside for the appointment or, if that’s not possible, keep the windows open and A/C running with fans to increase air circulation — and thoroughly clean all surfaces, including door handles, that were touched during the appointment.”
Not only is Shortcuts providing a safer alternative for clients who need a haircut, but it’s also helping many stylists and barbers stay afloat financially. “Right now, hair salons and barbershops are struggling with capacity regulations, and many stylists and barbers have been laid off,” Newton explains. “As a result, we’ve seen an overwhelming increase in licensed professional hair pros applying to join Shortcut, especially in our New York and L.A. markets.” Because there’s no salon overhead, stylists on Shortcut earn 80% commission, and if a stylist brings one of their clients onto the platform, they keep 100% of that commission.
Shortcut currently employs over 400 hair pros across the country, including L.A.-based hairstylist Pierre Johnson who says he’s grateful for the opportunity to leverage his services during these uncertain times. “I need to cut hair in order to make money,” he explains. “Using Shortcut allows me to connect with clients I wouldn’t have met outside of my shop while maximizing my earning potential. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue doing what I love with the help of a company that prioritizes the health and safety of its customers and employees.”
Despite his modern business model, Newton says he’s not looking to put traditional hair salons out of business, but rather partner with them to move forward together. “We’re not naïve to the fact that people love going to the hair salon — in some neighborhoods, the barbershop is the cornerstone of the community — and that’s going to bounce back,” says Newton. “With that said, this is a tough time and many salon models have to pivot. To help, we’ve built an additional piece of technology that allows salons and barbershops to white label our app, so their stylists can use it to facilitate in-home services with their clients.”
Of course, many states don’t allow personal-care services to be performed outside of a licensed salon, but because Shortcut operates under the jurisdictions of each state’s individual guidelines — with safety protocols in place — salon-delivery is possible in some areas. “With these partnerships, a client can go to their salon’s website, and they’ll be redirected to the Shortcuts app to book one of the salon’s employees for an at-home service. What an Uber Eats or Grubhub is for local restaurants, we can be that for hair salons.”
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