People with remote-unfriendly jobs are improvising ways to stay in business during the pandemic.
Nail salons are mailing out bespoke fake nails to their clients. Some tattoo artists have turned to selling stickers with their designs. Bartenders, hair stylists, fitness instructors and makeup artists are offering their services virtually via online services like Zoom and Instagram Live.
Since mid-March, 38.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time. Many nonessential businesses, including personal care service and gyms, were ordered closed.
With survival on the line, some business owners are getting creative.
From tattoos to art
“People are really trying to at least use this time to do something productive and positive,” said Tina Marabito, 38, owner of Poppycock Tattoo in Wilmington, Delaware.
Marabito and her two employees pooled together their art, sew-on patches, and T-shirts from past events to sell in an online shop. They also raffled off two $400 gift cards for $25 an entry.
Marabito estimates the store and the raffle promotions have generated $7,000 so far, less than what the shop typically makes in a similar time period from March to May. But since she owns the building she expects to weather the storm.
Many businesses expected the stay-at-home situation to be temporary. But as time passed, they realized they needed to pivot to a remote-friendly business.
“We left the salon thinking, it’s gonna be two weeks and we’ll be back,” said Osmeily Marte, 25, owner of the nail salon Smileys Glam Studio in East Brunswick, New Jersey, which had to close down on March 17. “Seeing the news and everything that there was no word on when we were coming back… that’s when I started brainstorming, ‘What can I do to bring in some income?’”
Marte began by selling nail care products for people to use at home.
“Nobody’s gonna be able to get their nails done for months,” said Marte.
Then, she noticed her set of gel nails at the salon and realized she could turn them into press-on nails. She enlisted one of her employees, Timothy Zhen Wei Ho, 24, to paint various designs and mail them to customers.
Since the pandemic started, Smileys Glam Studio has been able to expand beyond New Jersey to reach customers in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and elsewhere. Marte said they’ve earned $3,000 since March 17, but the business’ bills and expenses exceed the income by a lot.
It’s all about Venmo
A 44-year-old bartender in San Francisco who goes by Chalè Tamale has been teaching regulars and friends how to make drinks at home out of the ingredients they have.
Tamale, whose real name is Christina, usually works at three bars: Nitecap, Mission Hill Saloon, and Winters Tavern. She worked her last shift on March 15 before all three closed down.
When she first starting teaching drink mixing, she said customers didn’t have all the right ingredients, because many people were afraid to go to the store. That’s changed, she said.
“Now people are able to go shopping, and Instacart is now a thing, it’s a little bit different,” she said. “Now they can get these different ingredients and make the drinks they really want.”
For her drink expertise, regulars and friends will send Tamale money using the payment app Venmo. One of the bars she works at, Nitecap, also hosts virtual happy hours where patrons can donate via Venmo.
Tamale said the amount she has made has not been enough to live off of and she has gotten approved for unemployment benefits.
A successful transition
Some businesses are looking to offer both online and offline services once they reopen – keeping the successful online ventures they just recently tried out.
Jayne Matthews, co-owner and creative director of Edo Salon, 47, from Oakland, California, said her hair salons would offer virtual haircuts as they have done during the pandemic as well as in-person appointments once they reopen.
Matthews estimates that the salon has earned tens of thousands of dollars from virtual haircut classes and sales commission from directing customers to purchase branded hair products during the pandemic, but it’s still less than what the two salons would typically bring in.
“This has been a lifesaver for our business and helped us pay our past, current rent and bills,” said Matthews.