As COVID restrictions on non-essential businesses begin to ease around the country, indie beauty retailers are busy planning how to safely yet effectively reopen their physical doors to customers. With different states at different phases of reopening, it’s a nuanced process that has even the largest chain retailers taking it extra slow. At the time of this posting, both Ulta Beauty and Sephora have reopened just 14 percent of their total storefronts in the U.S. What does it mean then for specialized retailers who serve a more niche customer base? CEW reached out to five retailers of varying size and asked them about their reopening strategies, contactless curbside pick-up and how they intend to manage new health and safety restrictions for staff and customers.

Romain Gaillard, Founder of The Detox Market

“The Detox Market has stores in NY, LA and Toronto, and we are opening each region at a different pace. Staring with California, then Toronto, then NYC. Our priority has been the safety of our customers and team members. As a result, we first opened our stores for curbside pick-up before opening for appointments as part of Phase 2. When the customer books an appointment, she will have VIP treatment and the full attention of one of our Detox Ambassadors. In Phase 3, we will open with a limited number of customers in stores. So far our customers have loved the curbside pick-up and everyone is very excited about the appointments. For all phases and until we reopen normally, testers are hidden and you will need to ask a Detox Ambassador for help to sample a product. Everyone has to wear masks and we are constantly disinfecting the stores. When it comes to experience, our intention is to be as safe as possible and elevate the experience. So far the feedback has been very positive.”

Marla Beck, Co-Founder & CEO of Bluemercury Inc.

“Bluemercury began its second phase of re-opening with 150+ retail locations welcoming clients back for in-store shopping on Monday, June 15, with the remaining stores offering contactless curbside pickup. We continue to take a phased approach to re-opening with the health and safety of our employees, clients and community taking priority.  With our stores located in neighborhoods and lifestyle centers across the country, our innovative retail strategy positioned us to successfully execute contactless curbside back in May, as demand for at-home skin care, hair care and self-care regimens continued to remain a priority for our clients. While COVID has changed how consumers will shop for beauty, the demand for honest, expert advice continues to drive consumers to our brand. Clients are eager to connect with our Bluemercury teams to assist with their new beauty concerns brought on by the pandemic, from updating their beauty routine for Zoom calls to replenishing their sun care as they re-start their active lifestyles. Bluemercury was founded on the goal of creating a more welcoming and personal experience for beauty shopper, and this remains a core part of our mission, even at six feet apart.”

Tara Foley, Founder & CEO of Follain

“We haven’t reopened our six stores yet but are planning to over the next few weeks. There were a number of considerations related to the decision about reopening:

1) Will our employees and customers feel comfortable and safe in the store?

2) Do state guidelines allow us to open fully (not just curbside)?

3) How can we deliver the educational experience we’re known for?

We asked those questions and decided what operations, technology, customer experience strategies and supplies Follain needed to put in place to closely replicate our retail experience from before COVID, with extra safety measures layered in. We finally feel confident in these plans and will begin making reopening announcements in relevant markets soon. We suspect these new rules and setups will be in place for a while, hampering our ability to grow our store channel as planned in 2020, so we’re also looking at potential opportunities to amplify our passionate store educators digitally once they are back in the physical spaces. We’ll definitely be ramping up our virtual consultation offering, wherein customers can video chat with us to determine the best products for their skin type and concerns.”

Dawn Dobras, CEO of Credo Beauty

“We have been planning for reopening safely since the day we closed and can’t wait to welcome our customers back in our stores.  We have been open for curbside pick-up in some markets for over a month now and are thrilled to have our NYC stores (Brooklyn, Soho and UES) re-open for pickup this week. It’s been a great way for all customers to ‘ease back into’ shopping.  Many customers are already very comfortable with the process from food takeout. Launching BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store) has made this an easier customer experience. In some markets we are preparing to move to the next phase and welcome a limited number of customers into our store for shopping.

But our top priorities are customer and employee safety and comfort. In every market, we are following local guidelines and our employees’ feedback. In most markets, this means that mask to mask is required; in some markets which have different local regulations, our staff will be wearing masks and we will be highly recommending masks for customers.  It feels different for all of us, but safety for customers and employees is key. Additionally, moving forward, our testers will no longer be self-service and will only be used as demonstration by a Credo staff member.

What we are finding in markets that have been opened for several weeks is that our customers are there to support us.  With this new way of shopping, customer comfort levels are building across the country week by week.  It’s too soon for us to predict what this might mean for our summer, but we have been pleasantly surprised at the strength of customer support.”

Mariless Gutierrez, Head of Global Operations at ONDA Beauty

“ONDA is focused on reopening safely with the wellbeing of our team and customers as our priority. We monitor the guidelines issued by the state, as well as government agencies, such as OSHA and the CDC. Our Sag Harbor store has opened for Phase 2, while our Tribeca location remains closed. We expected a slow return of customers to in-store but were surprised at the steady traffic we received. Customers are clearly ready to return to some kind of normalcy that resembles their pre-COVID routine. Our customers always come into our stores and express how much they love being in our space and this store environment is a very crucial piece of our business. Although we are now in a “new normal” there are still things within our control that allow customers to feel that they are in their favorite sanctuary whether it is beautiful flowers or candle-lit treatment rooms. However, we are also conscious that some of our customers will want to maintain strict social distancing and we will continue to offer curbside pickup to address this. It was very important that we had a curbside fulfillment option on our website to make the process easy from the time an order is placed to pickup. This is an unprecedented time for all businesses and there will be many changes and adjustments along the way. Our team’s commitment and the new structures we have put in place have helped us effectively manage the ebb and flow of these times.”

Emma Froelich-Shea, President of Naturopathica

“During this time away, a bright spot has been the shared sense of optimism that we will persevere and be together again soon.  Following guidance from the CDC, WHO, OSHA and the International Spa Association, we’ve taken great care to craft the most modern and sophisticated safety protocols in the spa industry which will be the hallmark of our reopening plans. We did this work not only for our own Spa Centers, but also as a service for our 350-plus spa partners who are similarly navigating these uncharted times.

Our first step will be to re-open our East Hampton Spa & Healing Center on June 22 for online purchase/contactless curbside pickup. Suffolk County is expected to enter Phase 3 of the NYS re-opening guidelines on June 24. If so, that will be our full-service opening day.

While our spas will look a little different when we open (we’ve eliminated waiting areas, product testers and glass cups to serve tea and water), and masks will cover the grins I know our staff will wear when they first see their much-missed family of clients, the Naturopathica holistic healing experience will remain unchanged.

There will also be some new procedures, including:

  • Online booking: Appointments must be booked by close of business the preceding day.
  • Wellness Screening: 12 hours in advance of appointments both clients and staff will complete online health screens.
  • Masks: All guests and staff will wear masks while inside the spa.
  • Temperature Checks: Upon arrival, all staff and guests will have their temperatures checked with contactless thermometers. Clients whose temperatures are 100-plus degrees will have their services canceled free of charge. Staff will be excused until it is safe for them to return to work.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Front of house staff will wear masks and gloves. Therapists will also wear goggles.
  • Social Distancing: Floors will be marked to facilitate correct social distancing.
  • Linens: A fresh set of disposable paper linens will be used for each treatment.
  • Sanitization: All tools, equipment, and surfaces will be sanitized before and after each appointment. Surfaces will be disinfected hourly.

The situation remains fluid and unpredictable, so we will proceed with caution and care, not to mention tremendous enthusiasm.”