Ted Gibson and Jason Backe are co-owners of Starring Salon in Los Angeles, California. Starring is also a product line, which launched with a mousse called Shooting Star Texture Meringue. Ted is an influencer, independent hairdresser, salon owner and celebrity stylist. He has worked with models, actresses, fashion and beauty insiders and influential women. He was also the resident hair guru on TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and was responsible for the participants life-changing makeovers. Jason has established himself as a highly accomplished color artist. From editors and models to actresses and executives, clients love Jason’s color for its chic and complimentary wearability. They also love his friendly, down-to-earth personality and his positive, upbeat vibe.

The duo’s tech-forward salon opened a couple of years ago and was designed as a no-contact space featuring private workstations. Now the salon has even more in store for the post-pandemic world. Here, Beauty News caught up with Ted and Jason about their commitment to COVID safety, switching up their salon structure and removing the division between cut and color, plus, how they’re providing a 100 percent private experience for each client who books an appointment.

Our plan for Starring is about opening, not reopening. We’re thinking of it as a new business. We’re going to try to lead by example. Do what we do best, which is make people feel confident. In opening our new business, we’re focusing on the way we can build consumer confidence. We run a pretty tight ship, but COVID-19 sanitation involves a couple extra steps — wiping down every single touch point in between every single client with a disinfectant. It’s really about how we are going to make women feel more confident as they go into the retail and service environment.

We’re lucky because we’re such a small team. It’s me [Jason], Ted, and two employees, Eric Leonardos and Michael Janda, both of whom are colorists and stylists. We’ve created a schedule splitting up time between the four of us. So, there’s only one person working in the salon each day. Each client has the entire salon to herself, privately. We just want to make sure that the systems are proven and that they really work well, so we’re being very cautious, especially now.

We changed our booking time, so if you have a color appointment with a haircut, there’s no one booked in between. It’s just you for that whole three-hour chunk of time. We had to do a moderate price increase because we’re limiting our capacity and we’re limiting our hours. Until consumer confidence is back, we feel like it’s really important to just make sure that she feels super comfortable, taken care of. And we’re willing to take it slowly until we can resume full operations again.

We’re now open six days instead of five, and we’re open for five hours each day. Everyone who works at the salon has their own security code for the back door, their own card key for the front door, their own code for the alarm system. We take appointments, 24-seven. Let’s say you are flying out on a red eye and you want to get a blowout on your way to the airport at 9 p.m., you can send us a message, we can schedule that. One of us can just open up the salon himself.

When we decided to close [Ted Gibson Salon] on Fifth Avenue in New York City three years ago, we vowed we would never ever open a salon again. And then we decided we were going to open a salon in Los Angeles, but we knew that we couldn’t just open another salon. And we thought, ‘How can we make the salon experience modern and fresh and futuristic, and what will set the example for the future?’ So that’s how we came up with individualized service, cashless, no retail. Everything is shoppable on our app when you book an appointment. Just like Uber for hair. We created ‘clouds’ that are14 feet high, 9 feet long and 8.5 feet wide, so it’s built for social distancing. We already have in place most of the things that the California Governor and board of cosmetology say we have to. We were simply forward-thinking in the space.

From the beginning of creating Starring, there’s been no separation between cuts and colors. We haven’t departmentalized. The guys do both cuts and colors. This is the first time we’ve gone that route. We looked at what kids coming out of beauty schools today want to do with their careers. They don’t want to be an assistant for two years. They don’t want to have to choose color or cut. They’re creative, they’re artists, they consider themselves their own brand. They want to do the look from beginning to end; it’s a different time from when we opened our Fifth Avenue salon. That was even the pre-blogger era. And it’s changed so much since then.

When initially opening Starring, we approached manufacturers and told them we have this idea of creating a salon that doesn’t house retail. The Ted Gibson Salon had a 24-foot retail space with $30,000 worth of product. It was a lot to carry. We wanted to give a woman who already shops on Amazon this opportunity to shop via the app; and we will be the experience center for that. And the manufacturers all looked at us like we had three heads. They said we will never ship products that way. Even though they already sell on Amazon.

We sell Starring’s products in the salon if people want to impulse purchase. We also direct our clients to Amazon. Goldwell uses a third-party to sell on Amazon. They had been trying to figure out a way they could shift their selling approach to the consumer. They are a very forward-thinking brand.

We’re also working with a platform for salons where a client creates a profile, like Uber or Lyft. The client comes to the salon, our hairdresser will greet her because we have a secure front door there. She’ll get hand sanitizer and a warm towel, we’ll give her a robe to change into, and she’ll come right into the salon chair for the service. When the service is done, all of the products used at the station throughout the service are available for purchase through the booking platform. And because she already has a profile, she just adds whatever she likes to her shopping cart. When she closes out the ticket at the end of her service, it will automatically be shipped to her home.

As for client communications during this time of COVID, we have shared new best practices for the client. Like, we know what we need to do to keep her safe and here’s a list of things that she can do to keep us safe. So, things like showing up on time. Because if she comes late, there’s going to be an overlap with the next client and that will result in more people in the salon. We want to make sure that we’re keeping the capacity as low as possible. Of course, if she’s sick, don’t come.

What’s really important for business owners is to really be on top of what the federal, state and local governments say to do. We’re doing blow dries because there hasn’t been a piece of information that says that they’re unsafe — that I’ve come across. We’re a boutique salon — there’s just one touch point. The Starring experience is experienced with just one person. There’s no one else washing her hair, sweeping her hair off the ground or at the front desk.

As far as personal protective equipment [PPE] is concerned, California requires gloves during chemical services. They require the consumer, and the technician to both be wearing facial coverings. We also have plastic face shields. We’ll offer those to the client during a shampoo. We’ll ask if she would feel more comfortable if we wore the face shield, too. It’s not a mandatory thing it’s more of a comfort thing. With her head back in the bowl, she might feel a little bit more vulnerable.