For Matt Maroone and his partner Cindy Kim, it’s not when they will be able to re-open their three facial bar stores during the coronavirus crisis, but how.
Maroone has been running Silver Mirror Facial Bar for four years at two locations in Manhattan, one on the Upper East Side, another in Flatiron. They also have a third location in Washington D.C. Combined, the three businesses employ 48 people.
Maroone and Kim went to Wharton Business School together and have figured ways to keep the business running while closed, doing virtual facial advising, instruction, and selling facial products to their loyal customers.
But a facial requires a masked, gloved esthetician to be fairly close to the customer to apply the proper treatments to a face with “no mask.” How do you do a facial on a customer with a mask on?
Maroone knows full well the problems the pandemic has posed to his staff, and to himself, as he says he’s more sensitive to illness.
Maroone lives with his wife Christina and their five-month-old daughter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a hot-bed of coronavirus. His wife was sick last week and he felt under the weather and worried for his child too. She tested negative, much to their relief – so they shelter in place and hope for the best.
“I think we need to figure how this will work, how the staff feels, customers feel, and hopefully the CDC will give proper guidelines on how we will eventually reopen,” Maroone said. “We are watching the Georgia experiment of course and our type of business opening there. While our staff and customers are healthy we already had high health standards, but we don’t want to be an infection center – getting people sick. We are a one-on-one business and we have always worn masks. But how do you protect esthetician from our guests?”
The Georgia “experiment” to which Maroone referred is the Peach State’s easing of business restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. He doubts it’ll be effective, but admits, “I never wanted to be more wrong in my life.”
In the meantime, Maroone and Kim are trying different ways to stay in the business and maintain loyal clients.
They’ve created virtual consultations, with the goals of maintaining members with their auto-pay system – a system they stopped when they could no longer stay open. They’re also offering discount facial to long time customers when they are back and as many incentives to come back when the crisis is over.
In addition, they are offering discounts on e-commerce products, “making no money at all to keep customers for long term – we are just treading water.”
“We are looking at what can we do to bring customers back; virtual consultations, virtual booking system and we are building out a new version,” said Maroone adding that they are not just waiting around and doing nothing.
In addition, they are working closely with landlords, most very cooperative, others taking a harder line, but “we are working with them and our books are open so they know we are not holding back.” His landlord in Washington has also been very understanding.
Lenders also have been understanding and have pushed back their loans by a quarter. “They have bee willing to work with us beyond this,” said Maroone adding that they have declined to take more loans “that we will only have to re-pay.”
“They understand that we need to get back in business to pay them back,” said Maroone adding that he wonders if he takes more debt, “how do I make a return to just live – as it is, my partner and I don’t take salary.”
He and his partner are very business savvy so they understand the SBA and PPP loans, but he said those with less business training will have a much higher hurdle.
“I’m scared for other businesses and have storefronts empty,” Maroone said. “At first the city was officering 0% loans, they started taking applications and then ran out of money – it was a huge promise to help small business and then they didn’t have a way to fund it. Sen. Mitch McConnell is also trying to shut down additional funds to states, and they should know the city can’t raise money like the federal government.”
Maroone condemned insurance companies for failing on promises.
“Insurance companies refuse to pay, and there are good legal arguments here, but you can spend years arguing – how they need to pay us on our insurance, but they are withholding payments and have rejected outright – why are we paying insurance, tens of thousands paying, but if they don’t pay when you need them – an exception for every little thing, then what good is it.”