“Hey, I need to get a facial done. But you know what it is like, so I’ll pay you later. Is that fine?”
Beautician Vaishali Patil was not surprised when a patron made this request over a phone call. By the third week of November, 2016, this was a common refrain among several of her regular customers. And she rarely refused. So, she called this customer over to her salon, the Lavanya Beauty Parlour in Dombivli, a suburb around 50 kilometres northeast of Mumbai, India’s financial capital.
After the Rs1,500 facial, the client thanked Vaishali and was just leaving when she turned around with another strange request. “You must be getting many customers, isn’t it? You must have a lot of loose change. Can you lend me Rs300? I’m so broke because of this demonetisation.”
The amused beautician obliged. “She is well off and usually splurges nearly Rs2,000 every month in my parlour. This currency thing had reduced her to this level,” Vaishali said.
It turns out that the demonetisation measure in India isn’t pretty.
When prime minister Narendra Modi banned the country’s most popular currency notes on Nov. 08, Indians panicked. The sudden cash crunch demanded frugal handling of whatever little was left overnight. Basic needs were the priority, not discretionary spending, and least of all indulging one’s vanity.
So, beauty parlours and salons across the country have been mostly deserted ever since. Some parlours, like Vaishali’s Lavanya, survived on credit; some turned to e-wallets. Others had to turn away even those customers who carried cash, often the new Rs2,000 notes, because they did not have enough change to return.
Estimated to reach a size of Rs26,494 crore (pdf) in 2017, the industry has been growing at over 18% since 2012. But the beauty parlours that have mushroomed across India in the past few years, especially in the metros, mostly rely only on cash.
Typically serving women alone, standalone parlours cater to their immediate neighbourhoods. And unlike the larger chains, they rely on their regular stream of customers. Services such as eyebrow threading, waxing, and facials are their bread and butter.
At Jyotsna’s Beauty Hut, tucked away in the basement of a three-storied house in South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, footfalls have dropped by a massive 80%. “We were shocked initially and then left bored for days, not having witnessed such an empty parlour ever before,” said Jyotsna Bera, who’s been running the place for 15 years now.
The industry also bore the brunt of demonetisation’s impact on other related sectors.
Consider, for instance, India’s huge wedding industry. With the currency ban knocking the daylights out of the great Indian wedding season, complementary sectors like beauty and grooming were hit, too, according to Ankur Bisen, senior vice-president of retail and consumer products at Technopak, a New Delhi-based consultancy.
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