Avoiding Tangles

Sola Salon Studios business model puts stylists in control

It used to be that if you were a hairstylist who wanted to own a shop, you found a storefront, sunk a lot of money into overhead and took a chance.

But now there’s a different way for stylists to hang out their shingle: Sola Salon Studios, a company that rents stylists a spot to do business.

Sola rents individual salons for $1,080 to $2,400 per month for a 100- to 200-square-foot suite, which two stylists can share. Russell Nordstrom and his two partners, founders of the four Sola locations in the Valley, are set to open another Sola location in July near Ann Road and U.S. Highway 95. His two stores in Henderson have waiting lists of stylists who want in.

The ideal Sola candidate is typically a seasoned stylist who aspires to be a salon owner—and has a thick black book of clients. Stylists at Sola set their own hours and prices, and determine the markup of the product line they to sell. They’re also offered full benefits.

This model means stylists, barbers, massage technicians and manicurists don’t pay for overhead costs. That’s appealing because as people have cut back on beauty treatments during the recession, stylists have felt the pinch.

“We’ve had seven employees go through personal bankruptcies,” Nordstrom says, adding that stylists have the choice to work extra days if they want to.

Sola was founded by owner Stratton Smith in 2003, and the first location was opened in Highlands Ranch, Colo., in July 2004. The first salon in the Valley opened at St. Rose Parkway and Eastern Avenue in November 2008.

Sola stylists in the District at Green Valley Ranch cite their fact that they can be their own boss as a reason for leaving their old salons. “This is a fabulous place to work,” stylist Roxanna Ayakawa says. “Management is there for you, but they leave you alone. [Hairstylists] are independent thinkers.”

Ayakawa worked at a salon where at least four of her co-workers left to set up their own shops at Sola. That salon has since closed.

But the Sola way isn’t necessarily the ideal way for all stylists to conduct business.

Donna Catalfamo, owner of seven successful Euphoria Salon locations across the Valley, says she knows of only three people who have left Euphoria for Sola. She says for most stylists, the legwork of marketing and tracking revenue can be a turnoff. “They’re talented people and are much more creative than wanting to dealing with business aspect,” she says.

At a typical commission-based salon, employees earn up to 50 percent of the money they bring in, but they don’t pay rent. About 25 percent of Euphoria employees work on commission, says Catalfamo, and the rest rent a chair. Her employees work under the Euphoria rules and aren’t able to choose the products they sell. On the other hand, Euphoria’s monthly rent of $800 to $1,000 is controlled. At Sola, rent fluctuates based on utilities and taxes.

Ayakawa says she makes about the same amount of money at Sola that she did at salon where she rented a chair, but now earns more from the products she sells. Traditional salons typically provide stylists with 10 to 20 percent commission on products sold.

Jeana Walton, director of the Las Vegas branch of the Marinello School of Beauty, thinks Sola Salons are a good idea, but adds that stylists must be established to make the concept work. “If you don’t have a big list of clients, the likelihood of affording it is not too grand,” she says. “Especially in Vegas, where there are so many salons and so many different options. If you’re going to stick out, you’d better make sure your environment fits your needs.”

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