How Beauty and Wellness Chains Are Coping With COVID-19

Beauty and fitness companies this week are feeling the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, as U.S. consumers hunker down at home and avoid visits to brick-and-more retail and studios.
Just a few days ago, some of the biggest chains in the U.S., including Equinox and Ulta Beauty, were nearly fully operational, save for some extra sanitary precautions. Soul Cycle was booking at 50 percent capacity to allow for riders to stagger between bikes, Physique 57 discontinued the use of communal equipment like exercise bands, and Ulta placed more hand sanitizers around its stores.
But by Monday, it was no longer business as usual.
While many exercise studios, including Tracy Anderson, 305 Fitness and SLT, had already voluntarily shut down over the weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that all gyms in New York were to close by 8 p.m. that night. The news caused a flurry of e-mails to customers declaring immediate closures. The move followed similar closures in cities worldwide, including Milan, Paris and Los Angeles.
For some in the fitness industry, the move to close brick-and-mortar gyms and fitness studios means a pivot toward pushing streaming platforms.
Celebrity trainer Anderson's streaming business has seen a "strong uptick in a TA Online Studio subscribers in the past few weeks," according to a spokesman, who called the boost "substantial."
Exhale, DanceBody, Barre3, Skyting Yoga, Megan Roup's The Sculpt Society, Pvolve, Physique57, Corepower Yoga and Body By Simone have all issued codes for discounts or free trials on their streaming platforms.
MWH Method, a low-impact pilates style workout founded by Melissa Wood Tepperberg that solely operates through an app, has seen a near 10 percent increase in subscriptions in March, which is typically a slow month after the New Year's drop-off, according to a spokesperson.
Streaming platform Obé, which launched two years ago and offers live workouts with popular trainers, is experiencing a "tremendous uptick in sign-ups, on a daily, even hourly basis," said cofounder Mark Mullett. Before the weekend, Obé worked quickly to partner with KidzBop to license music for new kids workouts. "When everything was unraveling last week, the first thing I thought of was 'What am I going to do with my kids ?'" said cofounder Ashley Mills. "Our kids programming is going to become the new P.E."
Then there's Peloton, the indoor cycling company that built its business on streaming. The brand has closed all its studios and is now streaming only from a closed set. And its business model, which had ignited some skepticism about its long-term potential, might actually be built for these times: Even as the stock market reeled on Monday, Peloton's shares closed up 12.8 percent to $22.25.
But for fitness studios without significant streaming businesses, the brick-and-mortar closures forced by coronavirus pose significant challenges.
"We're definitely seeing a financial impact," said Sadie Kurzban, founder of 305 Fitness. "Closing our studios is 99 percent of our revenue source."
Spas and salons are also closing up shop. Ulta Beauty has suspended all services, including skin, lash, brow and hair. Bumble and bumble's two New York hair salons are closed through the month, as is Aire Ancient Baths.
For salons and service providers that remain open, owners are noticing slowdowns in traffic.
“We saw a 50 percent drop in our bookings,” said Chillhouse founder Cindy Ramirez-Fulton, who said the decline began midway through last week. Chillhouse closed its stores Monday for two weeks. “We’re thinking about how we can do some more online content…IGTV, tutorials related to our services, and things of that nature. How can our customers recreate the spa experience at home?”
Facial chain Heyday has shut its doors, as has Glowbar, a fast facial spot in New York.
Rescue Spa, which sells hard-to-find Biologique Recherche products, has seen a decline in spa treatments but a boom in web site and in-store sales, said founder Danuta Mieloch.
Blushington, a chain of makeup bars that operates in New York, California and Texas, has closed its brick-and-mortar locations until further notice. The plan was to offer its makeup services for in-home appointments, but as the news of the pandemic continues to unfold, that's changed, said chief executive officer Natasha Cornstein. "We quickly realized we had to do our part to keep our customers and teams safe and we suspended in-store and at-home services until we reopen," she noted. "Whether in-store or at home, there is risk and we were not willing to take that."
As of Friday, Glamsquad had not suspended its in-home hair and makeup appointments. It sent an e-mail to customers Friday detailing sanitary precautions the company is taking.
Ulta said Sunday it would be reducing its store hours in locations across the country, cutting hours of operation during the week from 10 a.m to 6 p.m and 11 a.m to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Sephora did not respond to request for comment by press time. A statement from Americas ceo Jean-André Rougeot, posted on the retailer's app, reads: "Due to COVID-19, some of our store hours are impacted and some local stores are now closed. Please reach out to your local store directly for the most up-to-date info."
The French beauty retailer had been getting heat on Instagram, with comments from users urging it to close its doors in the U.S. market.
For Kurzban, closing her studios before the government forced her to not only felt like the right thing to do, but she felt it would be best for her business in the long term. For now, she is posting free workouts on YouTube — filmed from her childhood home, with cameos from her parents and husband. 
"We may not have our short-term strategy to monetize figured out, but if we can weather the storm, most people are going to respect a brand like 305 and will continue to want and need an outlet for mental health, joy and connections," she said.
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