"We always keep two things in mind—the associate and the guest. When we work with their safety...

"We always keep two things in mind—the associate and the guest. When we work with their safety in mind at all times, our actions will follow."--Nick Stenson, Ulta Beauty

It’s one thing to reopen a single salon or suite during the COVID-19 crisis but try preparing to reopen hundreds, spread across the country. Nick Stenson, SVP, Services and Trend at Ulta Beauty, has been collaborating with the Ulta leadership team to establish guidelines, protocols and new ways of working that will make for a happy, healthy return to the salon for both beauty professionals and clients. Ulta Beauty has re-opened now more than 800 stores in some capacity, including curbside pickup, buy online pick up in store, and full retail. Just under 300 of those locations are offering hair services, and there will be more re-openings to come.


“Every state is unique, with their own set of recommendations, so we’re working with government guidelines, and putting in place our own protocols, to determine when and where to reopen safely,” Stenson says. “This is not a one size fits all situation; we’re being very deliberate with everything we do.”

Additionally, Ulta is preparing a plan for reopening in partnership with doctors who are leading the pandemic efforts for their medical group.

“The responsibility that I feel, and that all of our leaders feel, to proceed in the most thoughtful way is enormous,” Stenson says of this process. “What has given me great comfort is that we haven’t done this on our own. We’re not medical experts but we have brought in healthcare specialists who have walked us through every scenario. We’ve spent hours talking with them, they have been amazing to work with.

“When a government reopen order comes through, we put it through our own set of filters and measure it against our own standards,” he continues. “We also put that store on a heat map so that we can track the virus in that area. As an example, we were getting ready to open in Georgia (as the governor has issued the all-clear to open) but based on several factors, we will open with curbside, no-touch pick up of products. We’ve implemented curbside only in just shy of 800 stores. The whole purchase transaction is done in advance, online, and the only way to enter the store in Georgia is if you have a confirmed appointment with your hairdresser.”


To ensure their comfort and confidence prior to returning to work, Ulta Beauty has also developed a training plan for all associates to familiarize them with the new health and safety protocols and operational procedures prior to store reopening for curbside or retail and hair services.

“This includes the requirement of every associate to wear a face covering.  Gloves are required for service professionals and available for use for retail associates,” Stenson explains. “All associates are  instructed on proper sanitation procedures, social distancing guidelines, and how to manage the guest interaction in and out of the store. Also, as a part of this training plan, which takes place before the store opens, everyone will be able to ask their questions and have them addressed in real time. We have taken a very granular and thoughtful approach to ensuring their safety and the safety of their guest.”

When guests and associates walk back through the doors, there will be some obvious changes to the physical space, as well as changes in how work is done.

Stenson says these changes will include:

  • Associates and service professionals will be wearing face coverings.
  • If a guest is receiving a salon service, it’s mandatory that they also wear a face covering.
  • A concierge at the front of the store will be tallying how many people come in and capping it at a certain amount, based on square footage. 
  • Way finders (guides) on the floor to help people navigate through the store without too much overlap.
  •  All new signage, all over the store, talking about enhanced health and safety procedures, and the sanitation measures in place. Also, a vigilant team. “If while browsing, someone picks up a box, our teams are to come right behind and sanitize that station.”
  • The appointments are staggered to allow for sanitation before and after the guest.
  • There will be no water fountain use or coffee service.  No magazines. “We’re going as low-touch with everything, as possible.”
  • A thorough consultation, pre-appointment, to walk guests through all the enhanced health and safety protocol.
  • Beauty professionals will wear gloves while performing a service. “We realize that some techniques are difficult to perform with gloves so if they do remove them, they are to sanitize, do the technique, sanitize again and put a new pair of gloves on.” Only hair services are being performed at this time, Stenson notes. “Our brow, skin and color cosmetics services are very high-touch.”
  • The capes will be changed and laundered between every guest.
  • More space allowed for working in the salon. “We have, on average, 8 chairs in each salon so we turn four ‘off’ to allow for appropriate distance between the chairs.”
  • New protocols put in place for testers and play stations. “We’re guiding guests to the GLAMlab, our interactive virtual try-on experience in the Ulta Beauty app. We’ll help guests download the app to their phone or they are welcome to use our sanitized devices. It’s a convenient, safe alternative for shade matching and color swatching.”
  • Payment: Ulta Beauty is accepting cash but encouraging credit or debit payments.

While there has been so much time, energy and effort devoted to a safe reopening, Stenson says that the Ulta Beauty mandate has been clear from day one. “As we make decisions, we ask ourselves all day, every day, ‘Is this what is best for our associate and for our guest?'  The team is putting in countless hours to ensure we do it right.

"Fortunately," he concludes, "I have the best team in beauty. They have been so resilient and ready to roll up their sleeves to do what needs to be done. As we’re walking through all this craziness, I know I’m doing it with the best people possible.”

Learn more about how Ulta Beauty is welcoming guests and associates back to their stores. 

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