BACK TO BUSINESS: Piercings by Haylee J pins its success on community support during pandemic

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October 13, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst in a type of rebirth for Piercings by Haylee J.

Just days before the first confirmed case of the virus was announced in the NWT, the owner voluntarily closed her old piercing shop in the CloudWorks building on 52 Street.

“A lot of what I do involves getting right up close and personal with people, and we weren’t really all too sure about (the virus) transmission rates,” said Haylee Tury, who goes by the name Haylee J.

Demand from clients has been high and heartfelt since Haylee J reopened her piercing shop in a new location in June, she says.
Blair McBride/NNSL photo

“I was just erring on the side of precaution. I would be devastated to hear that I made a whole bunch of people sick by coming in contact with noses, mouth and lips when I’m doing my piercing. I figured it would just be better to be safe than sorry.”

As with almost all shuttered Yellowknife businesses during the difficult spring months of the lockdown, Haylee’s revenues plunged. She estimates they were down by 80 to 90 per cent.

She managed to keep busy by doing curbside jewelry drop offs to clients.

“If someone had a lip piercing and they lost the ball attachment off of the end and they were really worried that they’re going to lose their post and have their piercing close up, I would drop off a little care kit to them with their jewelry and some alcohol wipes to clean their jewelry off,” she explained.

“They get a little packet to help them slide in their jewelry. And depending on the piercing or the situation, if someone had jewelry that was extra stuck, I dropped off a pair of gloves for them to help them get their jewelry open.”

Her wait list of clients with postponed appointments grew. She also communicated with her clients over FaceTime to help them with maintaining their piercings.

“I’m really, really big on making sure that people have happy, healthy piercings. I want people to be able to get their piercings, have their piercings and not struggle with them,” she said. “A lot of people would go down south to get their piercings done and then they come up and they would have issues with their jewelry. Maybe they need some troubleshooting done because their piercing wasn’t healing the way that they expected it to.”

But Haylee said the earnings from that outreach were “peanuts” compared to the piercing side of her business.

“I would take half an hour out of my day to correspond with someone to go and drop it off in a location where their little jewelry baggie wasn’t going to blow away as soon as I left it on their doorstep. And I would make $20 for an hour’s worth of work, whereas normally I’m used to doing two $80 to $100 piercings in an hour’s time.”

The slow struggle came to an end when she decided to reopen her shop in a more central location on 49 Street in mid-June. She received a boost from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) fund for small northern businesses, which helped her keep the doors open in the early weeks of the summer.

But initially there was no guarantee that she would be able to continue the business the way she had been used to and to its fullest extent.

“A big part of whether or not I was going to be able to reopen and stay sustainable was whether or not I was going to be doing oral and nasal piercings. A lot of the piercings I do are nose piercings. I do a lot of kids’ ear lobes. I do a lot of belly buttons. I do a lot of nipples and stuff like that too. But noses, lips and tongues are essentially my bread and butter.”

Authorization from the chief public health officer came through, and since then Haylee said business has been “booming,” with six to 10 clients per day coming by her one-room shop to get their piercings done.

By the nature of her job, Haylee was already following strict sanitation measures even before the arrival of Covid.

What has changed is how she monitors her cleaning tasks. Each time she mops the floor or wipes down surfaces she makes notes so that if a case of Covid is linked to her business it can be traced back to the individual and time of appointment.

“I understand why it needs to be done, especially in a situation where clients are putting themselves at risk of exposure,” she explained. “Now that I’ve started doing it, it’s probably something I will incorporate into my regular work practices. It does seem like it kind of keeps me on the ball. Sometimes you think ‘Oh, wait, did I end up doing that?’ There’s no second guessing whether it’s been done or not, because I have it written on a sheet of paper and initialled what time I did it at.”

Even though she’s been very busy, pandemic-related disruptions have affected her. Stock from one of her jewelry suppliers in Washington state are so delayed due to widespread higher demand that an order she placed in June only arrived this week.

“Delays have been a real kick in the teeth,” she said. “In the high quality body jewelry world, jewelry does take a little bit of time for production. So you kind of have to pay attention to your sales at different times of the year to order what you need a month in advance.”

While that jewelry backlog has forced her to postpone about 20 piercing appointments, Haylee said it’s not hurting her bottom line yet. Other jewelry suppliers, like in British Columbia, are moving slower than usual but she is still able to receive orders from them in decent time.

On top of the flurry of piercing appointments, Haylee said the response from clients has been more positive than it was in her previous location.

“I am blown away by the amount of reviews that I’m getting on Facebook by people being floored with the service that they’re receiving,” she said. “People who come in absolutely terrified, shaking, unsure if they’re going to be able to get this piercing done, and leave with smiles on their faces, who are looking forward to referring their friends to come see me. I thought a couple times of trying to sit down and do a little Facebook video thanking my clients, and I end up getting emotional.”