Anyone desperate enough to take matters (and scissors) into their own hands while under quarantine now knows just how vital barbers and hairdressers truly are. In states that have begun allowing in-person businesses to reopen, barbers have struggled to figure out how to safely cut hair.
Enter Squire, a New York City-based company that makes software designed to help independent barbershops. Co-founders Songe LaRon and Dave Salvant have been developing Squire since 2015--they even took over a barbershop for a year to make their product more useful for barbers: "We were literally doing everything but cutting," LaRon says.
That research came in handy when the pandemic shut barbershops down indefinitely, because LaRon and Salvant knew just what was needed to get barbers safely back in business.
Cut Hair, Not Profits
To make money, barbers need to complete as many cuts as possible in a day, but the extra Covid-19 sanitation protocols necessary to keep the shop clean and virus-free can be a time suck. Squire makes it a little easier to get back some of that lost time.
The app, which was first developed to help customers book appointments, has evolved since it was billed as an "Uber for Haircuts" in 2015. After a stint in 2016 at a Y Combinator in Silicon Valley, the co-founders decided to make Squire more useful for barbershops by helping them streamline their businesses. They added features like payroll management, inventory tracking, and automatic rent collection (from barbers leasing chairs). They incorporated ways to sync website bookings with app bookings.
But even an efficient barbershop can't make money when customers are trapped at home. That's why the co-founders decided to waive subscription fees for shops that sign on with the service--which average $150 a month--for six months. "We didn't want to be an additional burden on small businesses while revenue was going to zero," Salvant says. Squire has been able to afford that move because of the recent $34 million investment that closed its Series B funding round (led by tech investors CRV) in early March. The co-founders hope that after six months, when revenue is flowing more normally to barbers, Squire will also see some revenue--between March and May, the app saw a 166 percent uptick in shops signing up.
Reimagine the Waiting Room
Person-to-person contact is the primary spreader of Covid-19, according to the CDC. Many states, like New York, for example, have published guidelines for salons and barbershops to reopen safely, which include measures like avoiding waiting rooms and recommending appointment-only policies.
Squire helps barbershops accommodate both of these limitations by allowing patrons to book appointments via its mobile app and by creating a virtual waiting room, which lets patrons wait outside or in their cars and enter only when their barber is ready for them. All payments can be handled via the app, meaning customers don't need to linger in the store, nor do they need to exchange (famously dirty) currency or credit cards.
Clean It Up
Two-thirds (67 percent) of small businesses with 20 to 500 employees are concerned about the possibility of lawsuits related to the coronavirus, according to data released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in June.
Georgia's salon guidelines also recommend salons ask consumers to report if they've had coughs, fevers, or close contact with people who have been sick. To help barbers comply, Squire created a waiver that they can have customers sign during the booking process certifying that they haven't had any symptoms. While legal liability over the coronavirus is an evolving issue, LaRon says the waiver could help barbershop owners if legal issues do arise.
Though they feel Squire is well positioned to help barbers survive and reopen safely when state guidelines allow, they aren't taking the threat of coronavirus lightly: "I do worry about it," Savant says. But both founders feel that licensed barbers--who are required to take courses in sanitation and disinfection--will be able to keep up with new safety precautions.
Get in Line
Squire has some pretty serious reach: More than 2,000 barbershops are using Squire in the U.S. and the U.K., according to the company. And that might just be the beginning--the co-founders say that the pandemic has only increased the appeal of the product, and that there is a "pent up demand" for barbershops: "Once these shops are opening, they're being booked out immediately," says LaRon.