As co-founder and director of the multi-award-winning Botanica Wellness Spa and Clinic in Melbourne, Sofie Gillard was one of the city’s many beauty industry professionals to endure over six months of lockdown closures in 2020. Here, she talks to Timely about launching new initiatives, preparing for reopening, and the positive outlook for post-pandemic business.

How did the Melbourne lockdowns impact your business?

We’re a boutique spa in central Melbourne and, pre-Covid, whilst we did have an online sales platform, the majority of our business income was from in-person visits, so lockdown had a massive impact.  

The first Melbourne lockdown began at the end of March 2020, and it was a very strict lockdown that lasted until June. Unfortunately, following the first lockdown, we had only reopened for a few weeks before a second wave hit.  Lockdown, and consequently salon closures, then lasted until November.  

What did you focus on during lockdown?

In ‘normal’ times, the day-to-day running of a business is obviously very time consuming, so one of the positive things to have come from lockdown is that it gave us the time to step back and really evaluate things.  We realised that e-commerce was the way to drive business during the closures, so we looked at new online initiatives and developed a new brand strategy. 

What were the new initiatives that you launched to drive business during lockdown?

We introduced a number of things, including a loyalty scheme and a membership package in which clients receive rewards, perks and discounts when they purchase a 12-month membership.  We also launched subscription based products; essentially skin care to your door. 

The online initiatives mean that we have regular monthly income, even during any closures, but they also drive business back into the spa. The discounts and rewards are often treatment based, and when clients begin to invest in high-quality at-home skin care, they usually want to complement this with professional in-salon treatments. Although initially launched to generate sales during lockdown, these initiatives will very much remain part of our business plan going forwards. 

How did you prepare your business for reopening?

The membership and subscription services we launched during lockdown really helped to prepare us for reopening as they provided clients with added incentives to come in for treatments, and launching those new initiatives had enabled us to both stay in touch with clients and to reach out to new ones. 

Keeping in contact with existing, new, and potential customers was a key part of our preparation for reopening.  And it definitely paid off; so many clients have personally thanked us for regularly communicating with and checking in on them during lockdown.  

Social media is hugely beneficial in terms of staying in touch with clients and creating greater awareness of the services you provide.  People love to connect with you as a person, so it had a profound impact on business and connections when I put my face to the brand by sharing videos of myself and doing social media lives. 

How did you prepare your staff for reopening?

Again, staying connected during the closures was the most important thing.  We kept in touch via Zoom every week, and we organised things like trivia nights and virtual cocktail parties, which really helped us stay bonded as a team.  

We also used the opportunity to enhance our skill base, via online education.  It can be challenging to find the time for training when the spa is open, but lockdown enabled our staff to focus on learning and professional development. 

How have things been since you reopened in November?

It’s been really busy. I had been a bit concerned that people would be reluctant to book close-contact treatments, but the opposite has proved to be true.  People have really, really missed the level of care and attention that you get from a professional treatment.  They’ve missed the contact.  There hasn’t been any hesitation from clients at all.  We’re actually booked out a month in advance, which is amazing. 

Has there been any change, or trends, in the type of treatments clients want?

Yes, there’s definitely been an increase in skin-based treatments and maintenance treatments. One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed since the start of the pandemic is a greater awareness of the importance of self-care.  

What advice would you give to hair and beauty industry professionals currently preparing to reopen?

Stay positive.  My prediction for our industry post-pandemic is that demand for services and treatments will be high.  It’s always been very normal for beauty businesses to have good and bad months, so don’t panic if, or when, that pattern reemerges.  We’ve been overwhelmed by how much business we’ve had in the first three months since lockdown, and I’m sure that will be the same everywhere else. 

The other piece of advice I would give is to really build on the initiatives and practices you put in place during lockdown, especially in terms of staying connected to clients and reaching out to new ones.  Even when business is back to normal, a client may only spend an hour a month with you, so it’s what you do outside of that 60 minutes that’s really going to build a long-term relationship with them and ensure they come back again and again.