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“It’s brutal, but support from customers is overwhelming” - how one UAE business is coping with corona

Words by Rob Chilton

Chaps & Co barbershops boss Jordan Davis wants government help and more understanding from landlords in this difficult time.

Like many small businesses in the UAE right now, Chaps & Co, the hipster men’s barbershop, is hurting. Managing partner Jordan Davies tells EDGAR recent weeks under the corona lockdown have been “brutal” for his co-partner Chris Browne and their 65 staff but believes there is light at the end of the tunnel and has been touched by messages of support from customers.

Davies and Browne speak to their staff – none of whom have fallen ill to corona – via an internal online noticeboard most days. At first, the messages were informative and related to government instructions regarding corona safety, but lately, as the lockdown tightens its grip on the country, they’ve tried to offer emotional help.

“The language has become more motivational,” explains Davies. “We’re trying to keep everyone upbeat and engaged so we talk about being a strong team, which I think is helping with camaraderie.”

After hearing from concerned staff, Davies and Browne decided to close their six shops – Marina, D3, JLT, The Lakes, Abu Dhabi and Caesars Resort – on March 23, two days before the official government shutdown. “Our team were telling us they didn’t feel safe and that’s when we said enough is enough, our staff are more important than money.” Staff are currently on paid holiday, but when that runs out, Davies and Browne will be forced to put their team on unpaid leave.

Staff motivation is key

Informing staff of the situation was dreadful, admits Davies. “It’s the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he says. “You’re taking people’s livelihoods away from them and there’s nothing you can do. It’s unbelievable pressure and anxiety.” The reaction, generally speaking, was positive. “There was no anger at all, I think they knew it was coming.”

During that difficult time, Davies believes more communication from the authorities would have been beneficial. “We called the municipality and economic department and were told to continue business as normal but that we should ban waiting areas and serve drinks in plastic cups,” he says. “April 5 was the date we were told to reopen, but I think that was optimistic. There should have been clearer instructions, it was extremely vague.”

Asked if he sees a turning point on the horizon, Davies cautiously suggests there could be a phased opening in early May. “We have the tenacity to get back on our feet but if the situation with new corona cases in Dubai continues like it did last week, then who knows? The longer this goes on, the more small businesses will struggle.”

Chaps is struggling during lockdown

Government help, he adds, would be welcome. “We’re not expecting the government to dish out pay cheques, we just want a bit of assistance with cash flow that will enable our business to survive. We have empty barbershops right now so if this continues for three to six months… it’s impossible.”

He’d also like some government help regarding landlords. From conversations with other small business owners, Davies says there is a common frustration with “insensitive” demands. “Landlords are sending notices saying rent is due on May 1 with no break. I understand landlords need to earn money but there needs to be agreements between tenants and landlords – you can’t take what is not there.”

Keeping Davies and his team in good spirits have been countless messages of support from customers. “The solidarity we’ve seen has been unbelievable,” he says. “Guys are saying things like ‘we miss you’ and they tell us how much our brand and our barbers mean to them. We’re passing those messages onto our staff and it’s been great for them to hear that – it’s been quite overwhelming.”

This week Chaps & Co launched an online store where people can buy credit to use on barbering services once their shops reopen. “A lot of men, me included, are going to look like overgrown sheepdogs pretty soon,” laughs Davies. “So when we reopen we should see a surge of business. It’ll be great to have everyone coming back for a haircut.”

Chaps & Co credit can be purchased here https://www.fresha.com/chaps-co-ne25u5yq

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