Independent Hair Stylist Insights from Sola Salons

We caught up with Christina Russell, CEO of Radiance Holdings, a global company that owns the Sola Salons studios franchise brand to hear about the trends she is seeing salon space. Sola Salons has signed 72 franchise agreements nationwide this year and will end the year with 655 to 660 Sola Salons. Radiance Holdings also owns the Woodhouse Spas, a day spa brand with over 76 locations in the U.S. Our interview was timely, as Russell  has just been appointed to the International Franchise Associations Board of Directors. She will assume her position in February 2023 and will serve an initial term of three years. 

What trends are you seeing in Sola Salons as it expands?  
We’re continuing to see record-high occupancy – the independence trend is strong, and we don’t see that slowing down. More non-hair professionals are coming into Sola. We created an ecosystem of support for stylists seeking independence, and we’ve been cultivating that for nearly 18 years. It’s always been about supporting the professionals and we continue to invest and innovate. They are coming in better educated about the pathway to independence, and they are masters of social media and promotion of their artistry. They are demanding more from their studio providers, and it’s our honor to deliver on their behalf. 

Ultimately, it’s about their success and we take that very seriously, not just in how we design our locations, but in the technologies, education, and industry relationships that we continue to invest in. 

Are there regional differences you can cite?  
People are craving experiential investment in themselves, and beauty is a great place to be regardless of market – there is no shortage of demand for hair services as well as every other kind of personal care service. 
That’s where we see the biggest regional differences – we’re still 85% hair at most of our locations, but some markets are moving closer to 50% hair, and 50% other beauty and personal care. The biggest surge in NON-hair services on the coasts – California, Seattle, Phoenix, and some of the areas in the northeast. We see everything from aesthetics, brows, lashes, waxing, spray tan, medical aesthetics, and even services like teeth whitening. It’s exciting to think about the career path we’re creating for beauty professionals – we take a lot of pride in that. 

How do you see the salon business as we move into 2023?  

We see the ecosystem continuing to evolve, and we believe independence will always have an important place. Many stylists aspire to work at the more premier salons. Others will aspire to independence. And many aspire to careers beyond the chair – education, launching their own brands, becoming industry influencers. We create pathways to that through our Faces of Sola program, and our annual Sessions events. We even take great pride in it when a stylist leaves Sola to start her own salon, and that does happen. It’s super exciting to think that we’re a stepping stone for these amazing artists to live the life of their dreams. It’s inspiring to hear their stories. 

Are there any changes that were brought about by the pandemic that will remain in our future? 
It reinforces the power of the studio model. The power is in the balance of freedom and community. Stylists could control their environments and decide their own comfort level, while also benefiting from guidance and support from our national team, as well as the thousands of other stylists sharing their experiences and ideas on social media. We had a strong community coming in, but it brought us even closer together. We opened some of our educational and support resources to the larger community of independents, and that turned out to be a great way to support then entire sector when so many of our smaller competitors didn’t have the resources. It was the right thing to do – sharing our cleaning standards, advice on re-opening, and applying for PPP – every stylist needed that help. It was the right thing to do. 

How can franchise owners build their businesses during an economic downturn?  

We just wrapped our annual Sola Summit the last week of October, and our franchisees reported that they are not deterred by the coming downturn. Despite the gloom and doom in the media, most economists are projecting a relatively short and shallow recession, and consumers are going into it with a lot more savings than they had at the start of the last recession, and with higher incomes than ever. Our franchisees are a sophisticated bunch, and they see this as an opportunity. There will, no doubt, be some challenges, but for the most part, our franchisees see the next couple of years to push forward where others may slow down. We’re still projecting 60 to 70 units next year, and many of our locations will invest in refresh next year, which is exciting. 

What can they do to attract the customer who is affected by inflation and other financial woes? 
We don’t anticipate a major downturn, but we know some of our stylists will feel this more than others, depending on their clientele. More economically sensitive clients may go longer between appointments, or they may turn to DIY color for in-between root touch-ups – that’s what we saw in the last recession. It will take a little courage for stylists who are used to having full books to get back out there and build new clients into their mix, but our stylists are a tenacious group of entrepreneurs – and we are here to help. We’re already tee-ing up educational resources so they can prepare for this. And we have a huge community that we can galvanize to better understand and respond to the trends. Again, that’s the power of the studios model – that entrepreneurial drive plus the power of community. That’s the great thing about going in strong – you come out of these challenges even stronger.