Shot at cocktails leads to salon growth

By Penelope Green
Glass half full: "I did it because I wanted people to be treated. We are in a pandemic," says hair and beauty salon owner Karla Riordan with a home-made cocktail in hand. Picture: Simon McCarthy

KARLA Riordan never thought she'd be selling cocktail mixers to help pay the rent on her hair and beauty salon, but like every business trying to stay afloat in a pandemic she's had to shake things up.

When the lockdown came into force with barely two hours' notice on August 5, she packed up her Warners Bay salon, Safari Hair Skin Body, and returned home.

She then tried to think outside the square of how to value-add to her business.

"I was just sitting around and I saw people selling grazing platters and I thought, 'What's something I can do?' I've never sat at home and done nothing," she says.

I was just sitting around and I saw people selling grazing platters and I thought, 'What's something I can do?' I've never sat at home and done nothing.

Karla Riordan

Just before the lockdown, she had made herself and a friend a cocktail at her Newcastle home using the liquid cocktail mix Mr Consistent.

"I still had the Mr Consistent bottle and I thought that's so easy for someone to do themselves, making a cocktail is a bit of this and that. You just need the mixer and your alcohol. Everyone is doing Zoom parties with friends," she recalls.

She called the company, based on the Gold Coast, and they were supportive of her retailing the product in her store.

Within days she began contactless delivery for her clients, or arranging pickups at her Warners Bay salon.

"It's not alcoholic, it's a cocktail mixer. I don't have a liquor licence, so I could do it," she says.

Ms Riordan said sales of the cocktail mixers for drinks including espresso martini, amaretto sour and cosmopolitan have been so popular she intends to keep the product in-store when lockdown ends.

"It's paying for my rent of the shop which is probably the biggest overhead I have got, my electricity and power are minimal because the shop is shut," she says.

Ms Riordan said she believed the cocktail mix was an affordable option when considering a bottle costs $35 and served up to 10 drinks.

"You think of what you pay for a cocktail when you go out, it's $15 to 20, and I honestly believe they taste the same," she said.

"For me the amaretto sour is the same as it would be in a bar. I've tried to make it myself with all the mixtures and can never get it right."

Ms Riordan opened her business five years ago and when the first lockdown happened in March 2020, she was able to keep trading, although her beautician employee Lisa Wamsley could not and had to rely on JobKeeper.

"Luckily as a small business I could do it, I did one client at a time," she says. "It didn't affect me in the way a business with 16 staff was affected."

A hairdresser in the Hunter for close to 20 years, she said the second lockdown had been far more sudden and a "shock".

"It came in at 5pm on a Thursday and that is our late night working, everyone started to call trying to get in but we couldn't help," she said.

"Last lockdown was from midnight, they gave you more time to prepare."

With her takings down at least 80 per cent, Ms Riordan has applied to the NSW government for a disaster support payment but is still waiting to hear whether she will be assisted.

Ms Riordan has mixed feelings about Thursday's announcement of the Hunter lockdown being extended.

"I'm excited to have a firm date to open and reconnect with my clients but nervous about the impact of the double vaccination rule, how it will work, will I lose clients and therefore a further downturn in my income," she says.

"But being positive is how we get through this testing time."

Another ray of sunshine has been the recent arrival of Gigi, her American staffy puppy.

"She's been sending me insane," she says with a laugh, "but she's been a big support. If I didn't have have Gigi I think I'd go insane talking to myself."

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