As the title of this article shows, I’m trying to inject a little humor into the situation, but we in the hair replacement industry (and our faithful clients) are facing a serious challenge. As we are all aware, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted literally every living person. Manufacturing and commerce across the world has suffered in one way or another and the pandemic continues to ravage businesses with uncertainty as a second wave arises.
I’d like to share how Covid-19 has impacted the hair replacement industry by drawing an analogy with an experience we can all appreciate.
Imagine going to the store to buy your usual dozen regular eggs. When you get to the dairy section, all of the regular eggs are gone. The first time this happens, you decide to buy free-range organic eggs. The following week, you return to the store and find they are out of regular eggs and free-range organic eggs. You must now purchase an egg substitute product. The egg replacement is not what you originally wanted, doesn’t taste the same, and ends up costing more than what you usually pay. Finally, you return to the store again only to find that they are out of everything egg-related. You are unable to purchase any form of eggs and have to stop eating eggs. You ask the store to order more eggs, and they tell you everything is on back order—the chickens are unable to produce the same number of eggs that they previously produced. So, no one knows when the orders will arrive and which kind of egg products will end up coming.
This hypothetical egg situation is very similar to what is happening in the human hair systems (cranial prosthetics) industry. To help you better understand the chain of effects, I’d like to explain in detail, starting with the people who provide the human hair to the manufacturers.
As you may or may not know, the majority of human hair comes out of China and Indonesia. Due to strict Covid-19 lockdown rules, fewer people can provide hair to the manufacturers. As a result, manufacturers are turning to other options, sourcing human hair from other countries such as North and South Korea, for example. And that’s just the beginning. Then you have the problem of manufacturing the hair systems.
Manufacturers running cranial prosthetic facilities are facing many obstacles. Not only are they dealing with the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, most only have about a third of their labor base (and with the second spike of Covid-19 in these countries, the workforce has been further depleted). Because of this, the manufacturers must hire new ventilators (those who manually apply hair to the cranial prosthetic bases). Ventilators have a very specialized skill, and proficiency takes time and practice. While new ventilators are being trained, the result is slower production and more need for quality control.
So, not only is it harder to obtain human hair, but the production in the facilities has decreased significantly. Manufacturers are scrambling to make cranial prosthetics. They simply are not able to keep up with the demand under current conditions.
What does that mean for vendors and consumers—hair replacement businesses and their clients? Before Covid-19, standard stock orders with a minimum of 25 or more cranial prosthetics could be filled by vendors in approximately three months. Custom orders generally took eight to ten weeks to be delivered.
As of January 2020, the majority of vendors had sufficient inventory based on the typical volume of orders received by the hair restoration clinics and salons. As February 2020 began, product from the manufacturers stopped arriving, and the vendors’ inventory became limited, and in some cases, depleted. Vendors had to offer substitute products to the clinics. Unfortunately, many of these substitutions are not the same as the desired and intended products. As a result, vendors are running out of the substitute products as well. The vendors are having to place back-orders to refill stock, which is creating a problem for supply and demand. Consequently, orders are taking much longer to deliver and the cost of products has increased.
Those of us who have hair replacement businesses typically maintain a month or two of inventory and re-order monthly. So clinics and salons are facing many of the same issues that the vendors are dealing with: great demand and smaller supply.
How is this affecting Advanced Hair Solutions and its clients?
Fortunately, we recognized a potential disruption in the supply chain of our products and increased our stock inventory early on, so we have been able to serve our clients better than many salons and clinics. We also have relationships with hair manufacturers in Europe. Although Advanced Hair Solutions has always made every effort to control the cost of servicing our clients, we are unable to change the fact that European hair has always been more costly to obtain. However, we wanted to have that option available for our clients who choose to accept the added cost. Despite our efforts, however, we know that our clients have sometimes had to wait longer than usual, pay more than usual, and/or accept products from different manufacturers than before. We can’t tell you how much we have appreciated your understanding and tolerance of the situation.
So, what happens now? Well, like so many aspects of this pandemic, it will require extra patience and flexibility on the part of us all. Please be assured that we at Advanced Hair Solutions are constantly in contact with vendors and manufacturers to assess the current situation. We are encouraged by the fact that both are working hard to get the supply chain back to the quality and quantity of the pre-pandemic days. As of today, manufacturers, vendors, and clinics have implemented the required safety precautions and are operating safely. Many have gone above and beyond to keep our industry going while protecting employees and clients. On the manufacturing end, the hope is a safer workplace will help factories return to a more productive and cost-efficient way of doing business.
We all know that things are precarious and can change at any time. But we remain optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—especially with the encouraging news of safe and effective vaccines. I hope this explanation has helped you understand that things are difficult now, but by all indications, the hair replacement industry will rebound and come back even stronger! We are looking forward to better days ahead, serving our clients, whose needs are always foremost in our minds.
Renata Marie Vestevich