In a high-contact industry, hair salons are among the many types of businesses learning how to continue offering services while making their customers feel safe as they reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the Salons at Stone Gate and The Factory Cypress, owners Gino and Stephanie Hernandez saw 220 clients within the first two days of reopening after closing for several weeks. They were among the first salons in the Cy-Fair area to reopen as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott gave the go-ahead on May 8 and have implemented several safety measures in addition to what the state has required.

This included removing the furniture and coffee bar from the waiting area in the lobby and having clients wait in their car before their appointment to reduce congestion in the salon, having customers answer a series of health questions before entering, requiring all staff and customers to wear face coverings, temporarily halting blow-drying services, sanitizing each station and tools between clients, and having individuals stay at least 6 feet away from one another.

Once the initial rush of getting back into the salon dies down, Gino said he anticipates economic downturn will affect all salons in the Houston area.

“What we’re all trying to figure out now is, [after] this wave of customers—that pent-up demand—what does the new normal look like?” he said. “Because I don’t think it goes back to what it normally was. I think there is going to be some slowdown. On top of the COVID economy issue, [there is also] the oil and gas issue.”

The Hernandez family said while smaller, less-established salons may struggle during this time, they are not concerned about their business. They said they have worked for years to build their clientele and have overcome other challenges, including flooding during Hurricane Harvey.

Gino said the Stone Gate store took on 2 feet of water during the August 2017 storm, but staff members along with their spouses helped get the shop operational within two days and fully restored by December.

“These people didn’t care that we didn’t have walls. They just wanted to get their hair done,” Stephanie said.

Gino and Stephanie opened the Stone Gate location in 2006. With more than a decade of experience working behind the salon chair at the time, Stephanie said she started out on her own with just a receptionist and has since built the business to about 30 stylists between the two locations.

While Stephanie sets the salons’ standards, helps hold stylists accountable to high-quality work and continues to spend time behind the chair, Gino handles the business alongside niece Amber Hall, who worked her way up from doing laundry part-time at the salon as a teenager to serving as area manager of both locations.

Since 2006, the owners have expanded their original location and acquired The Factory Salon last year.

Gino said they planned to renovate both locations this year and were in contract discussions over a third location in the Fairfield neighborhood. But since the pandemic hit, all of those plans are on hold for now.

Many stylists in the salons had the busiest week of their careers and even picked up new customers when they reopened, Hall said. While the stylists were eager to get back to work, there has been no shortage of clients since reopening, she said.

Stylists build close relationships with their customers, and Gino said they have been glad to be back in the salon.

“The other part of being a great [stylist] is being a great counselor,” Gino said. “There’s definitely a counselor component to this business and making that personal connection and helping your customer get through those hard times.”

At the Salons at Stone Gate and The Factory Cypress, new hires go through at least six months of apprenticeship to learn cutting and coloring techniques from Stephanie and the more senior members of the staff. Hall said both locations have low turnover, which is rare in the cosmetology industry.

“How you cut hair, how you greet customers and how you color hair—I think that's also where Stephanie plays a big role,” Gino said. “When you’re going through our training program, you're getting to understand from Stephanie the proper way to do these different techniques.”

Gino, Stephanie and Hall live in Cypress and said most of their stylists are local to the area as well. Hall said advertising funds for the business are mostly dedicated to sponsoring the staff’s children’s sports teams.

“The community’s been good to us, so we try to give back to the community,” Gino said.

Salons at Stone Gate, 11734 Barker Cypress Road, Cypress. 281-256-2204.

The Factory Salon, 10920 Fry Road, Cypress. 281-256-7747.