No holiday joy for beauty salons

During the holidays, Katie McCranie usually treats herself to a trip to the nail salon and an appointment with her hairstylist.

This Christmas season, with a tight budget and a temporary job, the 28-year-old from Santa Monica said she can’t afford to splurge on those little luxuries.

“I do everything myself -- I’ve been doing my own hair, painting my own toenails,” she said. Instead of getting a leg wax, “I just went back to the razor.”

For many women, primping and pampering are as important to the holidays as buying gifts and decorating the Christmas tree. But with continued economic uncertainty, penny-pinching is taking the place of personal beautification this holiday season.


During what is usually the busiest time of the year, hair and nail salons around the Southland say they’ve seen a drop in business as customers pull back on services such as pedicures, haircuts and massages. Some clients are forgoing beauty appointments altogether.

“I’ve been doing hair for 10 years and this has been by far the slowest season ever,” said Carly Montelongo, who co-owns Double-O Salon in Eagle Rock.

Usually the salon is booked well in advance for the holidays with clients wanting to get updo styles for Christmas parties. But not this year.

“We have no one on our schedule for an updo style or a blow-dry style for Christmas Eve or for New Year’s Eve,” Montelongo said Monday. “If people haven’t called by the 23rd, then that’s that. We’ll just take the whole day off and enjoy it.”


The weak holiday season is just the latest in a string of sluggish months for the salon industry, said Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Assn., a trade group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Customers have been spacing out,” he said. “It’s an indication of how bad this down cycle has been, that you’ve seen an impact on the salon side that traditionally hasn’t been there before.”

At Gloss Nailspa in Silver Lake, which usually sees an influx of business during December, co-owner Thien Ho said customers have been waiting longer in between appointments, and year-over-year revenue has been down as much as 35% on some days.

“We’ve definitely taken a hit,” she said. “People are still coming in, but they’re just getting the basic services rather than adding on extras. It’s just a straight manicure or pedicure.”


Longtime Gloss client Ronna Albert was getting a manicure and pedicure recently but declined add-on services such as callous removal and waxing -- “treatments that I’ll now do myself,” she said.

When times were better, Albert, 43, also went to pricey day spas for massages and facials, paying about $100 each. Now the fundraising director from Silver Lake said financial concerns have her scaling back on the once-regular appointments.

“It’s really about the basics at this point,” she said. “The stability is just gone.”

The economic downturn has affected a host of companies but may be hurting salons even more because of the non-essential nature of most beauty services, said Al Osborne, senior associate dean and professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.


Before the recession, Osborne directed an executive salon management program for entrepreneurs. But the school canceled the program last year because of a lack of demand.

“You pay your mortgage, pay your rent, pay your car payment and feed your kid. Then maybe you worry about a hair appointment,” Osborne said. “What you see in so many communities is beauty salons, much like small retail operations, have to close.”

Tight consumer spending has actually helped some value salons.

At Floyd’s 99 Barbershop in Burbank, hairstylist Erin Haight said business has been steadily increasing as people trade down from higher-end salons that charge hundreds of dollars for a simple cut.


“People want more for less,” said Haight, whose haircuts start at $21. “They’re realizing they don’t need a $300 haircut to look good anymore.”

A budget haircut was still too pricey for Rayshell Chambers, 26, who asked her cousin to style her hair for free last weekend instead of getting it professionally done.

An outreach coordinator for the city of Los Angeles, Chambers said that with job cuts and an uncertain economy, she has also cut back on facials and has figured out a no-frills way to get by without a pedicure.

“I wear closed-toe shoes now,” she said.