The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sujan Lal Manandhar and Sriyansh Hetamsaria
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Itchya Karki, the Managing Director of The Beauty Bar. It is a unisex spa and salon located in Kathmandu. Itchya shared her story about how The Beauty Bar was impacted by the pandemic. She was worried if she would have to close down the business itself due to lack of proper government policies. The Beauty Bar did not have a financial backup for the lockdown. They were fully closed for about 4 months. Their business was not allowed to open even after the lockdown was lifted because there is a lot of physical contact in a beauty salon. They stayed in touch with their clients by writing beauty blogs, articles and quizzes. Itchya realized a lot of people had lost their jobs and many did not have meals on their table during the lockdown. Beauty bar hosted an online seven-day class on beauty sessions through IGTV. They collected about $1300 through which they were able to help a hundred families. Currently, the revenue is picking up and they have come up with discount offers as well. In the near future, Itchya hopes their organization can be in a state where it was before the lockdown and everyone in the country can get vaccinated.
Could you introduce us to The Beauty Bar?
Itchya: We are a unisex spa and salon located in Kathmandu (which is the capital city of Nepal). We are present at Naxal which is at the heart of Kathmandu city. It is a women-led organization founded by my business partner, Anu Joshi Shrestha, and I. I took beautician courses in Canada. When I moved back to Nepal, I decided to open the salon. The whole idea behind it is to provide quality services at an affordable price for everyone in Nepal. We opened our second branch last year and we also have a makeup store. The major customer group would be women but I wanted to target both men and women because when we started this salon there were not a lot of men who went to salons. They thought it was only for women. Taking care of your skin, hands or feet is not about sex but it is about taking care of yourself. Hence I would say everyone falls in our target customer segment.
What kind of problems did you face during the lockdown?
Itchya: I get stressed when I think about the lockdown because it was a very hard time for me and my company. I was thinking if I would have to close the company that I worked so hard for because there were no clear governmental policies. I do not think there is a set of rules and regulations for the beauty industry. It was very difficult when the lockdown happened. Firstly, we did not have any savings fund because we did not think we would face such a situation. Secondly, we did not have any knowledge. We are a small country and we were following what the other bigger economies were doing. From an operation standpoint, we were fully closed for about four months. Our line of business was not allowed to operate even after the lockdown was eased because there is a lot of physical contact in this industry. In the context of Nepal, the people who work in my company are not highly educated professionals. They are women who are working to create a livelihood for their families or young girls who are interested in makeup. As an entrepreneur, it was difficult for me as I was not able to provide to my employees.
What strategies did you adopt to solve the issues you faced and stimulate your business?
Itchya: When I first heard about COVID, it felt like a zombie apocalypse movie. But it was actually happening, and it was in Nepal. When the first lockdown was announced, we had to abide by the laws and shut down. Even though we could not have physical contact with our clients, I decided we could stay in touch with them by writing beauty blogs, articles or sending out weekly quizzes so that the clients remembered us. It was fun as well. Lockdown was a stressful time where a lot of people lost their jobs. Hence we wanted to put out positive content related to beauty. There was no revenue from this but we did it so that people could try some beauty treatments at home.
How did you interact with your clients during the lockdown?
Itchya: Our regular clients would ask if they could come to my home or I could visit them and get the treatment done. But there were a lot of travel restrictions during the lockdown. I was lucky enough to have a roof over my head, have the support of a loving family and have hot food on my table three times a day. But there were people who lost their jobs and their livelihood. Therefore, besides the content we were posting on our social media, I decided to host a seven day class on beauty treatments on Instagram Live and share the knowledge that I have. I was surprised by the reaction we received. People from Switzerland, Netherlands, Dubai and different other parts of the world joined the session. We raised $1300 which is a lot when you convert it to Nepali Rupees. We used the money to provide for about a hundred families. I was able to receive the love and support of a lot of people and it was an amazing way to stay in touch with everybody and share what I know.
How did your competitors approach the lockdown and how were your strategies different from them?
Itchya: Honestly, I never analyzed what my competitors were doing even when we were operating normally before the lockdown. That has never been my strategy. My view is that if I provide quality services, people will prefer coming to me. The only difference I noticed was that my competitors did not post beauty blogs or quizzes on their social pages. The Beauty Bar is very active on Instagram and Facebook (even during the lockdown).
Now that the lockdown has been eased, how is your organization performing?
Itchya: It has been very slow and I also understand why. A lot of people are still scared to come to a salon or a spa. Health comes before anything. It is gradually picking up now. I have come up with discount offers to sustain my business and also provide to my employees. It is still a very difficult time for our type of business.
What is the outlook for your organization in the coming three months?
Itchya: I hope to be in a situation where we can operate normally. It can only happen if the situation is better in Nepal. I do hope to see the sales get back to what it was before. But I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. It is very scary because we are hearing news about a new strain of the virus. I cannot even tell you what will happen in the next few weeks, let alone months. It is a confusing time as an entrepreneur. I hope we get to where we were before the lockdown and everybody gets vaccinated in the country.
What are the three things in your business that you need help with?
Itchya: Firstly, I think finance is a very big part of my business. We are a small business. I hope we have banking policies where we can get loans with minimum interest rates. Secondly, we need the education to handle our finances and accounting because not every business person has a degree in business. A lot of people may not even know simple terminologies of accounting. We could get courses on simple accounting like clearing taxes. Finally, we need the government to support such businesses as in other countries.
About the guest
Itchya Karki is the Managing Director of The Beauty Bar. They provide world-class salon and spa services in Kathmandu with the help of professionals in the country.