Water Woes Plague the Professional Beauty Industry

From drought in California to lead poisoning in Michigan, it seems the country is experiencing a plague of water woes caused by bad decisions, criminal behavior and the vagaries of climate. But solutions are thin on the ground for salons struggling to maintain one of, it not the, most important service within their business – the ability to rinse clients’ hair or body in clean water.

In 2016, it was discovered that in Flint, Michigan, a change to the water source combined with insufficient water treatment over two years had exposed more than 100,000 residents to lead poisoning and other toxins.
Meanwhile, back in 1995 long before the Flint crisis, Massachusetts drew up regulations that impacted directly on salons with little reference to businesses in the area. It defined all salon water as industrial waste that could damage the state’s water supply. Since then many salons have been paying millions of dollars to collect their waste water in tanks and ship it out by truck.

“Instead of involving the industry in the development of a thoughtful, long-term solution, they simply forced beauty salons to install a separate holding tank,” explains Frank Zona, co-owner of Zona Salon Group, who has been fighting the ruling ever since. “We must now pay to have it collected by truck.”

But Flint and Massachusetts are just two incidences among many facing the industry. Over the past year, Paul Tate from Ecoheads has been talking to salons owners across the 50 states, gathering together their stories of water woes. He has uncovered a catalogue of challenges, creating huge discrepancies in what salons pay or the services they receive.

“I assumed low pressure would be the biggest problem facing the beauty industry, something that Ecoheads showerheads have been designed to increase dramatically, but as I talked to more and more salons I found a huge variety of challenges,” says Tate. “Salons depend on a good water supply, but for many, guaranteeing that supply simply isn’t possible.”

When the crisis hit in Flint, access to water was restricted, and in certain areas only bottle water was available. In June this year charges were launched against state officials for involuntary manslaughter in connection with a Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 people during the crisis.

“It was a terrible time for those salons,” says Randy Withey, owner of Pure Bliss Salon and Spa. For months, his team, which is based in Munday Township right next to Flint and on a different water system, volunteered their Sundays to apply treatments to Flint residents to remove the lead build up on the hair.

Zona in Massachusetts is still battling away locally and on Capitol Hill, furious with not just with the clean water regulations but with the way they were introduced.

“We were given no opportunity to bring in the manufacturers or to open a dialogue about how products could be altered to meet standards. Suddenly, thousands of salons in Massachusetts were facing a significant new regulation that has not only driven up costs, but also made salons a less attractive tenant group,” says Zona. “It has created an uneven playing field within the state and within the industry. Not all salons are affected.”
Zona’s only solution has been to cut back on water use by installing Ecoheads showerheads that can cut water usage by 65 percent while increasing pressure.

Salon Del Mar in New Mexico, where water is scarce and hugely expensive, has also benefited from cutting its water usage. After installing its new showerheads, water consumption dropped from 1,200 gallons per stylist per month to 855 gallons.

Water in the area is also heavy with sediment, which makes it harder to rinse shampoo and color out of the hair. But owners Angela Del Mar and Kevin Wilson are not alone in facing that particular challenge. Hard water is a problem besetting nearly 85 per cent of the salons in the country.

B-Hive in Hillsdale, New Jersey, has water so high in mineral deposits that it plays havoc with the salon’s systems and equipment, as well as clients’ hair. Even with a digital whole-salon water treatment system installed, the hardness of the water can still have an adverse effect on the hair, causing a build-up on the scalp, which can make it dry and itchy, while hair can become unruly.

Owners James and Angela Alba, past winners of the International Eco Salon of the Year Award, were also concerned about the amount of water needed to rinse hair thoroughly. “You don’t have to just accept the way things are,” says James Alba. “When our furniture supplier couldn’t find environmentally friendly raw materials, we sourced them ourselves. We did the same with the water, sourcing Ecoheads to improve the quality of water delivered at the basins.”

Low pressure also drives up costs. Muse Salon and Spa in Johns Creek, Georgia, relocated two miles up the road from their first salon without realizing it meant connecting to a completely different water supply. The water dribbled out of the faucet.

“It took seven to 10 minutes to rinse out color. The majority of our clients have color. So much time was being wasted at the backwash. Neither the team nor the clients were happy,” says co-owner Jody Mason-Jones, who three years ago was introduced to Tate through Robert Reed, owner of styling tools manufacturer Ergo.

“Following installation of Ecoheads showerheads each stylist is now saving as much as 30 minutes a day, maybe more. Across the team that adds up to more than 10 hours a day, time that is now being used to provide an even better experience for clients.”

But it’s not always the water supply from the utility that’s the problem. For Allyson and Shannon King, owners of Hair & Co BKLYN in New York, using less water became their number one concern, when they discovered their hot water was running cool by 3pm. “After all our meticulous planning before opening, we found the one flaw, our expensive electric water heater – the only option open to us in our building – was unable to keep up with demand on the busiest days,” says Allyson.

For some salons, it’s the client experience that has driven owners to act over inadequate water, especially those with multiple locations. Salon groups with locations spread across the country and therefore facing variations in mineral levels, water pressure and waste in each salon, struggle with consistency of service when it comes to water. 18|8 needed to ensure consistent water pressure at each outlet for its True Solution treatment for hair loss and the only way it could do this was to fit Ecoheads at every one of its 90-plus sites.

Chains also can also see the variations in costs that salons face. V’s Barbershop witnessed how some salons faced higher costs than those in other regions. It was this that prompted V’s operations director, Emily Brown, to add Ecoheads to V’s fit-out list for all new stores.

“Most clients aren’t bothered about the shampoo experience, but for those who are we needed to make sure it was the same whether it was happening in Texas, Colorado or Arizona, and that costs were similar,” says Brown.

With 85 percent facing hard water, it is a shared problem for the industry but there is little salons can do to change their water supply. Frank Zona is a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill to lobby for the industry, and the authorities are building a strong case in Flint to right the shocking wrongs that were allowed to happen there. But for most, it would appear whole-salon water treatment systems and innovations like Ecoheads that purifies and saves water are the best solutions towards creating a safe, clear, high-pressure water supply at salon wash stations.

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