An Interview with the Faye Smith Agency: A Preview of the Upcoming Pandemic Story Project:

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The times we find ourselves in are historic. We live with a pandemic that has altered in some way or another, every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Some of us work from home now, others have a hold put on their lives due to the restrictions a pandemic brings. We spend most of our days at home, whether it’s with family or alone. Here at Esprichoo, we wanted to capture these historic times by interviewing local Vancouver businesses for an upcoming project of ours that entails the lives of these companies through the pandemic. One of our first interviews will be shared here as a preview.

We were fortunate enough to get in contact with the esteemed Faye Smith Agency, who also run the Primp and Proper Beauty Salon in Gastown on Cordova Street. Established in 2007, they provide outstanding beauty services and education. You can learn more about them or make an appointment yourself at fayesmith.ca and primpnproper.com. We interviewed Faye Smith about her company’s journey through these trying time and the transcript is below.

“Evolve with the times and you will always remain on top.”

1 – For the uninformed could you detail your line of work?
I own a beauty salon in Vancouver, BC Canada called, Primp & Proper where we offer a range of beauty services and products. I also run a Vancouver based hair and makeup artist agency called Faye Smith Agency. We offer mobile makeup and hair artistry services for all occasions. We specialize in weddings and have teams located across Canada.  
2 – In what ways has the pandemic affected your day-to-day business life?
This time last year we would be fully booked, doing an average of 14 weddings per week. Now, we have one small elopement per week if we are lucky and very few beauty services are taking place in our salon. 90% of my business was weddings and events which have now been cancelled or postponed. While we are trying to use this time wisely to start new projects, think of ways we can conduct business online and look to the hopefully busy future, our business may be changed forever. 
3 – How many people are under your employ? How has the Covid-19 outbreak affected that number?
I have 3 employees and over 80 contractors. And myself, of course. I chose to keep all of my employees employed as I really like them. It is hard to find good employees and I did not want to lose them. Even with all of the government funding that eventually came through and especially CEWS, my business is at a loss of at least $2000 per month and that is without paying myself a cent. I am able to provide a very small amount of work for our contractors at this time. 
4 – In what ways, if any, have you tried to have the company to keep having an income in these trying times?
When personal services were ordered to close, we turned to driving sales to our online shop, as well as marketing online makeup and hair lessons for both personal and professional purposes. Now that our salon is open again, we have not had time to focus on those things though I am starting to think we should. Especially since a second wave is predicted. Moving forward, I will be focusing on creating online bridal hair and makeup courses. 
5 – Do you have any employees working from home? Have you considered allowing them to continue to do so once the pandemic is over?
I had all three of my employees working from home for two months. When our salon opened, I allowed them to remain working from home while we navigated the new norm. Since I do provide the majority of the beauty services in the salon, having my employees work from home meant I was overloaded trying to run the salon by myself. It just didn’t work. Should our salon be ordered to close again I would have us work from home again though we are very limited with the income we can generate with this business model. 
6 – Was your business shut down when Covid originally hit Vancouver? How were those days like?
Yes it was. I worked harder than ever. I have spent the past twelve years hustling to build my business. I was not ready to give up. My three employees and myself would have regular web meetings to discuss issues and set new goals. I created a daily task sheet which took up a lot of my time. The task sheet listed exactly what each employee needed to get done on each day. I was literally having to try and invent tasks in order to justify keeping them employed. It was tough! On top of that I was the one teaching all of the online lessons.  
7 – Has the local, provincial, or central government been of any aid to your business?
Absolutely. CERB and CEWS have been what has kept my business alive. When that runs out, I do not know what will happen. I may have to let employees go which I do not want to do. We now run at 10-20% of the business we usually have and unfortunately the high overhead that my business generates made sense for my original business but not the current one. Unfortunately, I was unable to get CEBA as I used a personal bank account for business and not a business account. This is the only part of CEBA that makes me ineligible which is really disappointing.  
8 – Given the current estimates, how much longer do you think your business can survive under the current conditions?
As of now, with government funding, with me working full-time and without paying myself anything, I am losing an average of $2000 per month. Of course I have my personal life expenses that continue as well. I have done my best to lower expenses but essentially I am using my life savings to keep going and that will run out by the end of the year. I will have to make some tough decisions come September 2020.  
9 – How is employee morale doing during these times?
We are doing our best to stay positive. We are a small business so myself and my employees are pretty close. We support one another and of course, as the business owner, I am doing my best to support my employees and be flexible for them during this tough time. We have no HR department so I am essentially doing that job too. One of my employees is struggling with her mental health and needs support. Generally, we are happy to be back in the salon. The energy in our salon is beautiful. However, this really is a tough time and is taking its toll on every person differently. 
10 – Are you a believer in social safety-nets for businesses and think they would be helpful during such a period? If not, why so?
I think social safety-nets for businesses is a wonderful idea at this time since we are dealing with a global catastrophe. Businesses of all sizes are struggling to stay alive because their overhead remains while their income has been taken away from them for an unknown amount of time. However, I believe that social-safety nets for businesses outside of a pandemic may not be necessary if it is to reward under performers.  
11 – Would you like to make a statement for the future generations that encapsulate this year and the effects it has had on you, your family, your industry, and so on?
You never know what life will throw at you and how out of your control it may be. I never imagined that a pandemic would change my life, my business and the world as a whole. Oddly enough, for me, I see the good in all of this. I have been complaining about a lack of work life balance in my life for a very long time. I have been forced to slow down and reevaluate things. I know I need to pivot right now and I do enjoy that task in a weird way. Evolve with the times and you will always remain on top. 
12 – You run the Primp and Proper Beauty Salon, which is how I found out about your company. Have there been any parts of the beauty experience (for example, hair drying) that you might have had to cut due to the current Covid situation?
We have followed government guidelines very strictly. Naturally, working in the beauty industry, sanitization has always been something we are highly educated in and practice daily. In beauty school, the first thing you learn is how to properly sanitize your tools, equipment, work space, hands and products. The main change for us has been wearing masks as that was optional before. Now, it is mandatory for all employees and contractors to wear a face mask while they are in our salon or working with a customer of ours on location. On most occasions, the customer must wear a mask as well. There are a few beauty services where a customer cannot wear a mask. We have hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting supplies all over our salon. We have very clear signage and have even put a fun twist on our signage so it doesn’t seem so stiff. We had plexiglass welded to our rolling carts so we can move them around between stations as needed. We have a limited capacity in our salon and our waiting area is now outside. Customers must call ahead of time before coming to buy products. We have had to make a lot of changes but we are getting used to it! 
We’d like to thank Faye again for doing this interview with us. We are going to continue interviewing businesses for the upcoming projects and will post previews every now and then. In the meanwhile, even if you are not planning to go in for an appointment given the circumstances, you can still support this wonderful business by purchasing a gift card for services and use it after the pandemic. If you are quarantining inside like me we all need a trip to the salon once this is all done with!
Faye Smith Agency on Social Media:
Primp and Proper on Social Media:

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