Management Practices

Surviving Sandy: Stories of Courage and Strength

Karie Bennett | November 6, 2012 | 12:07 AM
Karie Bennett, stylist, writer and owner of Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose, California

The owner of Rare Salon by F.S. Charlie, Fatima Sheikh, came to work dressed as the Cowardly Lion, but there was nothing but courage in her heart the day she saw the power go back on in her New York salon. On Monday, November 5, the team at Rare Salon by F.S. Charlie had a Halloween ‘do-over’, since official Halloween fell into the middle of the week the salon was closed due to the storm-induced power outage. After five days of communication confusion, worry for the clients and staff, cold showers and candlelight, Fatima and her team decided a little laughter was in order, so costumes and candy were what was in style at the salon on this day.

The hurricane’s impact began on Sunday, Oct. 28. Rare’s creative team was scheduled to work a photo shoot, but the subways were shutting down service, so Fatima cancelled the shoot. There was no sense in having people get to the shoot location but not be able to get home. Plus, Ruth Roche, Rare’s Creative Director, was being evacuated from her home, so texts were exchanged and everyone went home to wait out the storm. Like so many New Yorkers, the Rare team thought that Sandy would prove to be like last year’s Irene—no big deal—and they’d be back in the salon by Tuesday.  But then the electricity went out, and the hurricane hit, and it became obvious that this was no small storm. 

Surviving Sandy: Stories of Courage and StrengthThe staff of Rare celebrate their post-Sandy reopening with a belated Oz-themed Halloween celebration.

Notifying the clients proved impossible, since the salon’s software system was backed up locally, and since the power was out, the client phone numbers were unavailable. (Fatima has since had the software company switch her to an offsite backup so she can access the system from anywhere.)

She communicated with her team via text, since not everyone was able to get email, and luckily, everyone was able to keep their cell phones charged up and stay in touch. Since all of the client emails were stored in Rare’s Constant Contact account, Fatima sent out a mass email, as well as a Facebook and Twitter message, giving out her personal cell phone number for clients to call if they had questions or needed help themselves. The response she got was overwhelming—clients and friends offered help, but even more amazing were the generous and heartfelt offers from other salons for Rare’s stylists to take their clients at other locations. “If we could have reached our clients and had their appointment information at that time, it would have been an option, but it was hard to connect with our clients, many of whom were also out of power.” 

Surviving Sandy: Stories of Courage and StrengthBy Friday, November 2, electricity was returning to the dark neighborhoods. Fatima heard that the salon’s block was scheduled to light up that night, so she drove to the salon, and stayed out front till 5 am, when she finally saw the lights go on. “On the one hand I was exhausted, but on the other hand I was excited to get back in business. I went back home and slept for 2 hours then was back at the salon at 7 am to get ready to open. We had a slow start, so we did each other’s hair until the clients started to come in.  We started to get phone calls, and pretty soon we were full steam ahead. We’ve even opened extra hours on Sunday and Monday to make it convenient for our clients.”

Fatima says she is connecting with the Small Business Administration and FEMA to get some kind of help to offset the business interruption. Insurance won’t cover this kind of business loss unless there was actual property damage, which, in Rare’s case, didn’t happen. They were lucky, so many salons are still closed due to water damage.

In the meantime, Rare is offering clients who still have power and hot water issues discounted shampoo blowouts, and they are keeping their spirits up. Happy belated Halloween to Rare Salon and their courageous leader, Fatima Sheikh.


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