After over 30 successful years in the hair salon business, Evet DeCota jumped on an industry shift to a one-to-one model: one customer, one stylist. No more noisy salons with crowds of people talking over loud music and hairdryers.
Then COVID-19 hit, and one to one became one to none.
How does a business that requires in-person contact transition to a work from home model? Evet shares insights on how she’s shifted her business and the way forward when her industry opens its doors again.
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What you need to know
- Evet DeCota has over 30 years of experience as a hairstylist and small business owner. Today she owns Salon DeCota in San Rafael.
- After years spent owning and managing larger salons, she saw a shift coming from large scale salons to more intimate, one-on-one experiences and adjusted her business model accordingly.
- With a shelter in place order in effect, and in an industry not currently considered an essential service, Evet has had to alter her business model in order to keep customers happy—and her livelihood intact.
- But even before sheltering in place, she saw the writing on the wall and purchased the materials needed to offer services to her customers.
- Evet has a plan for moving forward safely when businesses like hers will again be open for business.
“I felt like it was maybe just the next step, something different for me, but mostly I always felt very pulled away from my clients a lot at the time because something was wrong in the computer or something was going on with a client or something broke in the back.”
“…we’re providing a very personal service to an individual, they deserve to have our full attention… I really think that the world moves so fast and we’re inundated with text messages and phone calls and YouTube and video calls all the time, all that stuff. They come into that environment, they’re given a glass of wine, it’s mellow… They just can relax.”
“[Regarding COVID-19] How can I still provide a service, how can I make people still feel good and then maybe actually make some money on the side?”
“I made these color kits. I emailed and sent text messages to every single one of my clients and said, ‘Here’s what I’m offering.’ It worked. They’re very, very pleased with it.”
“I keep seeing all this on the news about the emotional state of being in a lockdown. It’s true. I felt it. Everybody feels it. So when you tie all that together and then you look in the mirror and you see something that is completely not what it used to look like, it makes you feel down. So anything I can do to help that I’m going to try to do.”
“We just have to be as safe as possible, changing out everything all the time. Every single thing that we do, wiping it down, cleaning everything, every surface.”
“I think that we just have to be smart and we have to keep motivated. We can’t just sit back and not do our craft. We have to be ready when it’s time to go back and then we have to take every precaution.”
Robert Murphy: Hi everyone and thank you for joining me again for That Changed Everything. This week I have a special guest, Evet DeCota. Evet is the owner and operator of Salon Dakota in San Rafael, California. Evet, thank you so much for joining me today.
Evet DeCota: Thank you for having me.
Robert: I’m so excited to have this conversation. I think I’m a little obsessed as many people are with Twitter right now and I’m constantly scanning feeds and I have seen so many people talk about how badly they want a haircut cut right now. How they want someone… They want that sense of normalcy in this situation that we’re going through right now. I’m super excited about your story and how you’ve gotten to where you are today. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, how you got into this industry?
Evet: Sure. I went to beauty school when I was in high school in 1987, my senior year. My mom and my aunt were both hairstylists and I wanted nothing to do with hair. I wanted to be a horror movie makeup artist. Then I realized quickly that I didn’t care for LA, that I didn’t want to live in LA, and it kind of goes with the territory of movies. So they were offering scholarships to high schools to go to beauty school. I tried out for it and got it and went to beauty school and actually ended up really liking it. So that’s how I became a hairstylist.
I’ve been a hairstylist for 33 years. In that time frame I’ve owned two salons. I want to say two and a half because I changed a large salon into a smaller salon, but three locations, two salons. I was also a cosmetology school instructor for a little bit. So I’ve had a fun career of doing different things.
Robert: I’m curious, so you grew up around this industry and you made a decision early on that you didn’t want to do it. I’m just curious, what was it about it that you felt that gave you some hesitation before jumping in?
Evet: I don’t know. I just thought that maybe I wouldn’t like hair. I don’t like having wet hair on my hands, which is funny. It’s very funny, but I didn’t like it. But then once I started doing it and I saw how creative it was and I loved the color aspect of it. I really love doing hair color. I love doing hair cuts too, but it’s something about the hair color that it’s so transformative. I really, really like it. So I realized that there were so many facets to doing hair that it wasn’t as limited as I maybe thought it was.
Robert: The horror movie makeup, what was the inspiration for that?
Evet: The Exorcist. It was the Exorcist. I was very scared, but that makeup was amazing and I just was fascinated with it. I really like Halloween. I have a good time on Halloween doing makeup. But hair is my full-time job, that’s what I do.
Robert: We chatted for a few minutes before recording this, and you were mentioning something about a transition in the industry that’s happened in recent times. The earlier salons that you owned were larger salons with multiple seats. You had employees and you’ve moved over, transitioned over to something called a Sola Salon. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Evet: Yeah, so basically it’s your own salon inside a building of many salons, multiple salons, dealing with anything to do with beauty. So you have hair salons, nail, makeup, eyebrow, micro-blading eyebrows, facials, skin, any kind of massage, teeth whitening, Botox, name it. Anything to do with beauty could be one of these sola studios. We call it a little city of beauty. That’s what it is. So it’s pretty cool. It’s like little glass dioramas of people doing their trade.
Robert: Why transition from a bigger experience too to a smaller one like this?
Evet: I felt like it was maybe just the next step, something different for me, but mostly I always felt very pulled away from my clients a lot at the time because something was wrong in the computer or something was going on with a client or something broke in the back. I never felt like I could fully focus all day long on my clients and it just started to wear on me. After 12 years I just thought, I need to change this up a little bit. I had seen these studios before in San Francisco and I thought it was an amazing idea. Then I learned that they were doing it in San Rafael, literally around the block from my house. So I thought, oh that seems good. So I did it, I did it. I don’t regret it whatsoever. I absolutely love it. My clients feel so pampered. They have my full attention at all times and they just absolutely love it. They love that it’s not noisy. They love that it’s the one on one attention. It’s a very pretty salon. It has a lot of windows, a good light in it. They love the whole experience.
Robert: You see this as a trend that’s going to be shaping the industry moving forward?
Evet: I do, absolutely. I think I had said to you earlier that it’s the I Generation or the I time right now. So having that one on one experience where there’s not this cacophony behind you. I think people feel more settled, they feel more relaxed. They just enjoy their experience a lot more. I think that hairstylists like it better as well. There’s no competition. There’s no gossip, there’s nothing. It’s just your environment, what you want to make it.
Robert: What is it about your industry that seems to be ideally suited for this more of a one-on-one experience, like you’re seeing happen now?
Evet: I think because we’re providing a very personal service to an individual, they deserve to have our full attention. They deserve to have a nice environment. I really think that the world moves so fast and we’re inundated with text messages and phone calls and YouTube and video calls all the time, all that stuff. They come into that environment, they’re given a glass of wine, it’s mellow, or espresso or whatever time of day it is, sometimes both going on at one time. They just can relax. I don’t think anybody relaxes anymore. They just run constantly. I think it provides that environment. I really do.
Robert: We’ve talked about how you went from a much larger experience in a salon to a more one-on-one experience to now we’re about a month in, in San Rafael or a little over a month in, of where it’s really one to zero is the ratio now, right? So we’re all sheltered at home. You are as well. Your industry is not considered essential. How are you adapting to this?
Evet: Well I have a bone to pick with us not being essential, but I understand that we can’t social distance from our clients while we’re doing their hair so, okay. But I will tell you that the majority of my clients believe that we are essential. So with that in mind, I was thinking, how can I still provide a service, how can I make people still feel good and then maybe actually make some money on the side. We sheltered in place here on March 17. On March 16th I ordered from Amazon everything I would ever need to make a color kit. A tint brush, a container with a lid, travel-sized bottles for peroxide gloves. I made directions. Actually, one of my friends simulated putting hair color on video and then I dubbed over it all the directions so that I could send it to my clients. I made these color kits. I did emails and text messages to every single one of my clients and said, “Here’s what I’m offering.” It worked. They’re very, very pleased with it.
Robert: How did you get ahead of this? I just think this is such an interesting story. On March 17th everyone was sheltered at home, but on the 16th you saw what was coming and you acted accordingly.
Evet: I had surgery in January and had a hip replacement. The hip replacement went a little awry and so I was in a wheelchair for two months and then just starting to walk, just had permission to walk on a walker on March 5th. So I had not worked that entire time. Then they were starting to talk about there was going to be a shelter in place and I thought, oh my gosh, now it’s going to be more weeks of not making money. So a couple of my hairstylist friends and I started talking and we’re like, we need to do color kits. Then my cousin called me and she’s like, “Are you doing color kits?” I was like, “Yes, I’m trying. I got to get all the supplies.” It took probably a week and a half to get all the supplies and then I started. I basically just brought all my color home and made a color bar on my dining room table.
Robert: Business moved home. That’s incredibly interesting. So you’re providing the hair coloring services for people. What’s the delivery mechanism? Is it you’re mailing or how does this work?
Evet: So for me, I live in a really large apartment building and I actually contacted my manager and asked him if it was okay for the client to come in as long as they were protected, to my apartment door. I leave it outside my apartment door in a bag with their name on it and they just pick it up. That’s how I do it. I have delivered too because I’m more mobile now, but in the beginning, they had to come to get it for sure. But they do it. They come to get it.
Robert: They’re going to come to the salon anyway.
Evet: Yeah. They ring my doorbell and then they stand very far away from me and tell me they miss me and I tell them I miss them and that’s how that goes. Yeah, it’s a little love fest.
Robert: What other services are you providing right now for your customers?
Evet: I am doing, like I had said previously that I was a cosmetology instructor, so I thought, well I could teach virtual haircutting tutorials on Zoom or FaceTime. So I purchased a mannequin and a tripod stand and a light, anything that I needed to help myself do this. Then I created a haircutting manual basically for laypeople just to understand what sectioning and the difference between vertical and horizontal. You would not believe how people do not know that. So basically just trying to get them ready. Sometimes I send them a link for haircutting scissors that are like $24 on Amazon. If they’re going to use their kitchen scissors, I don’t want that. That’s what I do. It does take a long time because they’re not used to this. But it’s been an overall good experience with everyone and they feel pleased with themselves, so it’s good.
Robert: Absolutely. No, I think that’s great. I want to go back to a point you made earlier, in that was your customers argue that this is, in fact, an essential service. Why is it an essential service today?
Evet: Why is or why isn’t it?
Robert: Why do your customers feel this should be an essential service?
Evet: People say, oh beauty is only skin deep. That is true right. There’s a lot of other things to worry about, but I think when you get up and your hair looks good, your skin looks good, your makeup looks good, whatever it is, you do feel better about yourself. You feel put together. You feel ready. When you’re sitting at home with gray roots that are two inches long, or guy’s hair that used to be a fade and now it’s all just filled in and looking unkempt. It just makes you feel down. It really does. I think I keep seeing all this on the news about the emotional state of being in a lockdown. It’s true. I felt it. Everybody feels it. Sometimes you feel it more than once in a day and then you’re back up again. Your resolve comes back and then you plummet again. People aren’t sleeping, all that stuff. So when you tie all that together and then you look in the mirror and you see something that is completely not what it used to look like, it makes them feel down. So anything I can do to help that I’m going to try to do.
Robert: It sounds like you’re not really even providing hair color. You’re providing a sense of normalcy to people.
Evet: I think that’s part of it, absolutely. I know that’s part of it because when they come to pick up their color kits, they tell me how happy they are to do this and they don’t think they can do it. Then they go home and they do it. They watch the video, they look at the directions. A lot of husbands putting hair color on in the back of people’s heads. They feel so happy. They send me these pictures like, look what I did. Okay. It looks great. Thank you so much. Anything I can do.
Robert: It sounds like people are taking a lot of pride in being able to take this on and try a new skill. I have a couple more questions for you. The first one really is around, you’ve talked about this transition of how businesses are moving from salons you see some kind of a transition to a more one-on-one experience, a more intimate experience. You’ve mentioned about your relationships with the people that you work with and the customers that you have. It sounds like there’s a certain level of intimacy and friendship associated with this. I think it’s really interesting that nothing feels like a conveyor belt or you’re just getting people in and out as fast as you can. Do you see this level of one-on-one, especially given what we’re going through with the COVID-19 situation, is becoming more of a lasting trend moving forward?
Evet: I do, I absolutely do. The organization move.org, they keep petitioning for one hairstylist, one client at a time, to go back to work. I feel they’re speaking to me obviously. But I do feel that I can control my environment and the sanitation way better than I would have been able to control it at a bigger salon. Are the hairstylists doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing? I don’t have to worry about that because I know no one’s coming in until everything is sanitized over and over throughout the day. I think because of COVID, that is one trend towards that. Then also the California Supreme Court also came down with being an independent contractor and what that means. It started with Uber and are you an independent contractor? Are you an employee if they’re booking you? There’s a lot of red tape right now that is messing with people that are independent contractors in salons or renting a chair. I see a trend towards the hairstylists just going, I’m just going to do my own thing, which is awesome.
Robert: Very interesting. Yeah, absolutely. You see moving forward, this could be the way of the future for salons?
Evet: I think so. Yeah. I do. Or a lot more of them. That’s what I think. You might always have big salons and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s lovely if you can do it. But I think that the rules, especially now because of this deadly virus, it’s going to be harder. It’s going to be harder to have mega salons.
Robert: How do you think that people in your profession will be able to keep themselves safe as cities and states start to open up again?
Evet: Right. My plan is I took this… Do you know what Barbicide is?
Robert: Oh yeah.
Evet: It’s that blue cleaner that you see. They put their combs in it. Okay. Barbicide kills 99.999999% of all bacteria and germs. I went online and I took a Barbicide course of how to disinfect everything and anything with Barbicide and how you mix it and all this stuff. I feel, first and foremost, I’m only allowing one client at a time. No double booking, like when somebody’s coloring and I do a haircut, none of that anymore. Then because I have two chairs, I can clean one chair, keep it there and use the other one. Everybody has to wear a mask. I’m having a girlfriend make a bunch of masks so that I have extras in case you come in with a mask that goes around your head instead of your ears. We need to have that. I will have gloves on at all times. I will wear a smock of some kind at all times. No one else will be allowed into my studio. I will text people, okay I’m ready for you now. I mean we just have to be as safe as possible, changing out everything all the time. Every single thing that we do, wiping it down, cleaning everything, every surface.
Robert: That’s great. So any final thoughts as a small business owner, an experienced small business owner, you’ve had multiple businesses in the past. Any final thoughts for those listening, whether they work in your industry or otherwise about how to adapt to the present and future circumstances?
Evet: I think that we just have to be smart and we have to keep motivated. We can’t just sit back and not do our craft. We have to be ready when it’s time to go back and then we have to take every precaution that we can to not get sick. You have to take the time. I don’t care if we’re running 10 minutes behind. It’s okay. Take the time, sanitize everything, change out your PPE, and move forward. It’s the only thing we can do. The other thing I did was buy that infrared temperature gauge where you don’t put it on the person. I don’t know if that’s a weird thing, a violation if it’ll make somebody feel nervous, but I feel like you don’t come in without me zapping you with that thing. I want to see your forehead. I just feel like that might be a good idea.
Robert: Absolutely. That’s the idea right now with restaurants moving forward. I think that’s what Governor Newsome said, is that’s what it looks like in a restaurant or these smaller, smaller restaurants, fewer tables. Everyone’s going to get checked before they come in. It’s the way it’s going to happen.
Evet: I think it’s all of these safeguards are just that. They make us feel like, yes we can interact, but we have to take these precautions. It’s not a pain. You have to do it if you want to stay healthy and I want to stay healthy.
Robert: I do too. Evet, thank you so much for your time today.
Evet: Thank you.
Robert: This is a really fantastic story and good luck to you with all these changes coming soon.
Evet: Okay, thank you so much.