‘We can’t see an end in sight’

Naomi Challenger has worked for six years to build up her business but now she is worried it won't survive. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS. 247158_11

By Mikayla van Loon

For people like Naomi Challenger and Tam Brisbane, seeing their businesses, which they have worked so hard to build, struggle through lockdown after lockdown is starting to take its toll.

As owners of businesses in the beauty and gym industry, Ms Challenger and Ms Brisbane’s businesses are often the first to close and the last to open.

With no end in sight for when things will get back to normal, both Ms Challenger and Ms Brisbane are finding it hard to stay positive.

“Going into the lockdowns I’ve tried to stay positive, but I think it’s just like this is number six and it gets to a point where, how can you stay positive and it has come as a shock,” Ms Challenger said.

“I just get extremely anxious with the lockdowns and just not knowing what my business is going to be like when I return and am I going to have a business to return to.”

Ms Challenger opened her lash business, Blusha Beauty, six years ago and has sacrificed a lot to get it to where it is today, from long days to working weekends.

Although she has a loyal client base, Ms Challenger knows that beauty services can be a luxury for some people and she has already started losing some clients.

“With the lockdowns, when we come back there’s a crazy influx initially, but unfortunately we’ve suffered in these lockdowns as well as everyone else and beauty is a bit of a luxury item,” she said.

“I find that with every lockdown we have to rebuild and I have lost clients because unfortunately it’s something that people cut out when they can’t afford it.”

Ms Brisbane is on the other end of the scale and only opened Beyond the Workout Functional Fitness a few months before Covid-19 hit Australia.

“This is our passion, we’ve put our hearts and our souls into this. It’s been a dream of mine for years and to finally get this dream, and then go through 18 months of Covid and lockdowns, it is mentally really tough and draining,” she said.

“It’s a struggle but luckily we’ve got an awesome community within our gym. We really have faith and trust in our members to stick by us and keep coming back in and hopefully coming out of lockdown we can get a few new members to just help us pick up again.”

With neither business receiving much financial support from the government, Ms Brisbane said the financial stress is mentally hard to deal with.

“It’s definitely a financial loss every single time, and it does get hard. We just keep going, we just keep trying. It’s touch and go, but I’ve got to stay positive.”

Because of the lack of financial stability, Ms Challenger has had to let her staff member go, who had been filling in for her while she was on maternity leave.

“I’m feeling pretty numb about it. I’ve just returned to work, doing a couple of days a week and unfortunately I have had to let my staff member go.

“I wanted to build her up and have her onboard with me, but with all the uncertainty with Covid it’s just too difficult.”

As a new mum, Ms Challenger said it would have been hard enough owning a business and becoming a mum without the added stress of Covid-19.

“Having a baby during the lockdowns and restrictions of Covid has already been hard enough,” she said.

“I feel like I was stripped from the excitement of my pregnancy, birth and spending time with family, essentially my support network. I then look at my business, and that’s been stripped too.”

“I’ve worked hard to build a business where I could comfortably step away to have a family but I feel I haven’t been able to enjoy my maternity leave and time with my baby because I’ve been constantly stressed about potentially not having a thriving business to come back to, as it once was.”

Staying positive has become harder, particularly for the exercise industry where it is their job to keep people motivated and active.

“We try to run things every lockdown to keep members engaged but it’s a struggle, people are finding it harder and harder every single lockdown,” Ms Brisbane said.

“It’s tough to re-engage members every time we reopen because we’ve got to bring them back and reset the routine again.”

“If you stay positive, and we keep doing these things, we keep reaching out to the community and helping other people in the community where we can, hopefully we get people coming to our gym when we reopen.”

Unable to see a clear path out of these lockdowns, both Ms Challenger and Ms Brisbane are not sure how much more people can take.

“Unfortunately I just think these lockdowns are just going to keep continuing. I’m not sure how much longer a lot of people in the beauty and hair industry can tolerate with these lockdowns,” Ms Challenger said.

“It really depends on how many more lockdowns there are and there will come a point where you go ‘can we keep reopening?’,” Ms Brisbane said.