"Walk-ins welcome" sign A Sailor's Grave

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A Sailor’s Grave

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A Sailor’s Grave welcomed walk-in customers before the pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic hit NI six months ago, many businesses were forced to close their doors.

Others had to adapt to a new way of working, sticking to social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

While many are now back up and running, what challenges are facing businesses as we ease out of lockdown and gradually get used to the ‘new normal’?

BBC News NI has spoken to three bosses in very different industries to see how they are dealing with the changes.

Lorn Large is studio manager of a popular tattoo parlour in Belfast.

While it has been busy, walk-in appointments have been scrapped since the studio reopened and staff operate on staggered start times to accommodate social distancing.

Her staff are all self-employed so, for a large part of lockdown, were living off significantly reduced incomes. This means cancellations matter now more than ever.

“We have had some cancellations – mostly we are finding a lot of people cancelling due to illness or they have been in contact with people who were sick,” Ms Large told BBC News NI.

“These are cancellations that we don’t mind as we understand that people are taking serious action to prevent spreading any sickness.”

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A Sailor’s Grave

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A Sailor’s Grave was closed for almost four months

At A Sailor’s Grave, deposits have always been taken to secure tattoo bookings, to reduce the chance of cancellations.

Previously, there was a 48-hour cancellation window before an appointment too but this has been reduced to account for people who may develop coronavirus symptoms.

“Unfortunately we have had a few people who have lost their jobs during this and can no longer afford to go ahead with their appointments,” said Ms Large.

“We have also had one or two ‘no shows’ too, just after the pubs reopened.

“Luckily enough we have made a cancellation list of clients who can take appointments at short notice, this allows us to try and fill the slots.

“When someone doesn’t show up to their appointment, the artist does not make any money for that time, even though they have probably spent money on supplies and spent their time working on a design, so they are losing out.”

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Kim Alexandra Hair

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Hairdresser Kim Gardner is now taking deposits

Kim Gardner, a self-employed hairdresser in Bangor, County Down, ended up on Universal Credit (UC) over lockdown.

She was forced to stop work completely in response to coronavirus.

Since reopening, she is now taking a 50% booking fee for all new clients to prevent ‘no shows’.

“All my own clients have been great at turning up,” Ms Gardner told BBC News NI.

But at the salon where she rents a chair, there have been a few last-minute cancellations.

“When people don’t show up for an appointment especially after lockdown, it means people are earning less, less money to pay bills, less money to feed our children,” she said.

“I was left on UC over lockdown, with barely enough money to feed my children.”

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Victoria Dental Care

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Staff at Victoria Dental Care now wear enhanced PPE during dental appointments and procedures

At a dental practice in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, staff are “non-stop busy” since they reopened.

But with extra safety measures in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, it has been challenging, said Dr Stephen Hendry.

“Capacity is down so turnover is down,” Victoria Dental Care’s principal dentist told BBC News NI.

“Costs for things like standard and then enhanced PPE (personal protective equipment) are up, bills are up and profit is taking a hit.”

‘Some good’

While much has been mentioned about the cost of PPE, Dr Hendry said it was the fallow time required between patients that is “going to kill practices”.

It means fewer patients can be seen so patient flow, and subsequently cash flow, is limited.

“We’re a young practice, we borrowed to purchase it, we repay those loans after tax so it’s not cheap [to run the surgery],” said Dr Hendry.

“We borrowed again to refurbish and modernise and invest.

“If there’s no profit, well that’s livelihoods for dentists, dental nurses and receptionists that come under threat.

“Covid has definitely brought all these kind of issues into sharp focus but hopefully some good can also come of it.”

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