Lobbyists target new cut-rate hair-cutter

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Lobbying forces led by Norway’s national employers’ organization NHO are promoting new regulations that could snarl the business plan of the cut-rate hair-cutting chain called Cutters. NHO usually supports innovative business ventures like Cutters, but the popular and fast-growing chain poses new competition for the full-service and much more expensive hair salon branch that NHO represents.

PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The hair salons’ trade association NFVB (Norges frisør- og velværebedrifter) has been complaining about Cutters’ operations for months. Cutters, which opened its first outlet in Bergen in 2015, offers strictly haircuts without any of the hair washing, colouring, styling or other services offered by many salons. Customers who only need a haircut can be in and out of a Cutters’ chair in 15 minutes, for a flat fee of NOK 299, less the half the price of most salons in Norway.

That upsets the salons who claim Cutters should be forced to also offer hair-washing like they do. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that NFVB has now enlisted NHO’s professional lobbying assistance and taken their complaints to the state Ministry of Health and directly to politicians in Parliament. They want either health authorities, politicians or both to demand that all businesses offering hair-cutting must also offer hair-washing, with all the extra plumbing and wash basins that entails.

Such a demand would likely force expensive remodeling and raise costs at Cutters’ outlets, which have challenged traditional salons with the rapid growth of their cuts-only concept. DN reported that Cutters is now cutting around 1,500 heads of hair a day, creating around 180 jobs in less than two years.

Cutters co-founder Andreas Kamøy, age 29, disagrees that Norway’s existing hygiene regulations for hair salons demand that they offer hair-washing services. Nor does a professor specializing in hygiene and infection control at Ullevål University Hospital, Bjørg Marit Andersen, believe that hair-washing is necessary to limit any spread of infection.

Salons want to sharpen the rules
NHO’s Service and Trade division, on behalf of the hair salons it represents, thus wants current regulations to be changed and sharpened so that all salons, including Cutters’ outlets, must specifically offer hair-washing. NHO wouldn’t comment, but DN reported that NHO made the request for mandatory hair-washing, plus increased regulation to enforce the stricter rules, in a letter to the health ministry. DN, which obtained a copy of the letter, reported that Cutters’ growth since 2015 was referred to in the letter as part of the background for the request.

The ministry has now called both sides in for a meeting to discuss the issue. “This is a lobbying battle between NFVB and NHO on the one side, and us,” Kamøy of Cutters told DN. NHO, which usually objects to increased regulation of business in Norway, referred questions to NFVB. Its director Anne Mari Halsan, who earlier has compared Cutters to a fast-food chain and accused Cutters of threatening to destroy the hair care profession, claims her group is only trying to “preserve a high level of job- and professional standards.” She maintains that even if current regulations are unclear, there’s long been a “precedent” among hair salons that “hair-washing is a natural and expected part of salon treatment.”

She flatly denies her members are simply trying to create problems and force additional costs upon their new competitor: “That’s nonsense,” claimed the leader of a branch that earlier succeeded in cracking down on and eliminating many of the small immigrant-owned hair salons in Oslo that also have offered hair cuts at much lower prices than those in NFVB. “We believe it’s in everyone’s best interests that the standard is kept high,” she said.

Kåmøy of Cutters sees no need to offer hair washing to customers who simply want a cut. “We see no reason for making hair-washing mandatory in all Norwegian hair salons,” he told DN. “If that happens, it certainly wouldn’t be out of consideration for the customers.”

‘Pure madness’
Since NHO and the hair salon lobby are seeking a regulatory change and not a change in the law, they don’t need any formal action in Parliament, at least not yet. They’re covering their bases, however, with DN reporting that they’ve also approached Members of Parliament for both Labour and the Conservatives who sit on the Parliament’s health and welfare committee. Labour has asked Health Minister Bent Høie how the current regulations should be interpreted, but hasn’t yet taken a position itself. Nor have the Conservatives but DN reported that its youth organization, Unge Høyre, objects both to NHO’s involvement in the issue and to the Conservatives’ lack of a position.

“It shouldn’t be difficult for the Conservatives to choose sides in this,” their youth organization’s deputy leader Sandra Bruflot told DN. “We expect that the Conservatives won’t block new, creative business concepts like Cutters. It’s also strange that NHO, which otherwise promotes competition among businesses, is pushing for that.”

The conservative Progress Party, meanwhile, is crystal clear in what it thinks about NHO’s and the traditional hair salons’ attempt to propose new regulations that hinder competition. “It’s pure madness, the customer must be allowed to decide,” claimed Jan Steinar Engeli Johansen, an MP for Progress who sits on the Parliament’s health committee. He likened the entire conflict to a case of “something new” in the market “and competitors who don’t manage to adapt. No one can force auto repair shops to also offer paint jobs or polishing.” He said Progress Party members have no intention of supporting a demand for mandatory hair washing.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund