When the pandemic forced salons to close in Canada, and many for more than a year, Raphael Azran, owner of Colour Lab in Toronto, Canada, found himself at the Dollar Store searching for bottles, Tupperware containers and little paint brushes so he could assemble color kits to sell to his clients.
“It looked a little like I was organizing a Kindergarten class, but it got us started,” he said.
For about a month, Azran delivered the kits to clients’ home. “It wasn’t too bad because there wasn’t much traffic on the road, but it was a scheduling nightmare,” Azran says. “I’d deliver about 10-15 customized color kits each day, but I had to deliver each in a window where clients could apply the color right away so it wouldn’t oxidize.”
As clients requested more kits and as traffic picked up, home color delivery quickly became Mission Impossible for Azran. Around that time, he received an Instagram message from Thrivo, a company that sells the Omni1, a machine that allows professional stylists to seal customized hair color and toners for more than six months without oxidation.
With Thrivo, Azran could allow clients to pick up their color without them having to rush home, and he could ship it to new clients from multiple Canadian provinces, as well as clients in the United States. While offering customized color kits definitely helped the salon pay bills during the shutdown, Colour Lab has continued to sell them once they reopened in Summer 2021 and they don’t plan to stop.
Offering the at-home color options to clients keeps Colour Lab competitive with professional color services like Madison Reed and eSalon, as well as box colors, but it's also changing the way owners think about color services in the salon.
“With the Delta variant spreading, we still have clients who are nervous about going out in the public, but we also sell the kits to clients who are coming into the salon for their color services,” Azran says. “We can offer toners to blondes to use in-between their color services to keep their shade icy or golden, we can offer root touchup color to clients in between their highlight or lowlight services, and we sell multiple color kits to clients who are going up to their cabins for several months.”
Establishing an e-commerce site was a dream for Kat Marcus and Ronnie Dag who opened Palm Sunday in Toronto in 2014, but like most owners, working in their business left them with little time to work on their business. “We appreciated the time (during the shutdown) to optimize and upgrade the salon in every way possible,” says Marcus.
On top of creating customized home color kits with the Omni1, they also got all their hair and skin care products into an online boutique.
“Opening the online boutique occupied all of our time, so we felt driven and focused through all the uncertainty,” she says. “Our guest list also grew and we expanded our it beyond the salon and were forming new relationships with people who didn’t live in our city. Our top online sellers were our custom color kits—the Omni1 helped us build a new business within the business.”
Palm Sunday finally opened in July 2021, and they quickly booked up through September. “The color kits are still flying out the door for people who can’t get in soon enough or live away from the salon,” says Marcus. “We specialize in big color corrections, blondes and creative colors, so having more basic services like grey coverage, toning and glosses being done at home also opens our chairs to more technical services that can’t be done at home.”
While Azran says there was some initial questioning from staff members who worried they were missing out on service sales, he quickly showed them offering kits to use in between haircuts or more complicated services freed up their time to book clients for more extended, more creative services. Like many salons right now, Colour Lab has more demand than they can keep up with as social distancing continues to limit the number of people they can have in the salon.
For salons, the color kits represent less cost and more profit, because they don’t have to pay commission on the in-between color services. There are less headaches too, as fewer clients resort to boxed color which often results in complicated correction services. “A color correction can be a pretty emotional process for everyone involved,” he says. “You have to assess hair quality and what it can go through, as well as the client and what she can mentally go through.”
For the staff at Palm Sunday, doing virtual consultations and having access to salon products online keeps them going deeper into the virtual experience. “We have started an online consultation quiz and are continuing to market our color online, as we believe we are just at the beginning of where this could take us,” Marcus says. “Today’s clients have access to the same information that we have as stylists. When we entered the industry, it was status quo to guard your secrets, but now the key to success is to share everything.”
While Marcus doesn’t believe the color kits will ever replace the in-salon experience, she also believes they are here to stay: “It helps us reach people who can’t access the physical salon for whatever reason and creates a connection that transcends beyond the chair.”
The Omni1 from Thrivo costs around $1,200 in the U.S. and Azran his keeps near the front desk. At his salon, most stylist mix up the color kits for their own clients, but with formulas recorded in client files, even guest service members can mix. Thrivo offers a subscription service for the eco-friendly glass jars.
Azran retails his color kits for $70 for root touch-up color, $15 for toner, and $15 for a tool kit that includes a brush, gloves, mixing bowl, smock and cotton to clean the hairline. The salon also provides their clients with instructions on how to apply the color. An inserted card allows them to scan a QR code with their phone to access an application video.
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