Every person, no matter their profession, comes to a turning point in their career where a decision has to be made. They can either stay where they are, and enjoy the success they’ve uncovered at that level. Or they can jump – and hope that the inspired leap of faith pays off in their favor, though the way may not always be so clear. For Kim Bennett Horvath, the moment of that decision came the day she met the founders of Sola Salon Studios in 2004.
Kimi was enjoying her position as a Paul Mitchell educator, and a successful stylist in her own right. As the top retailer at her salon, she’d toyed with the idea of becoming a salon owner one day and knew she had the potential to make it work. But getting the investment funds for a retail space was a little more tricky, as many stylists can attest to. When Paul Mitchell rolled out the concept of their focus salons, it was important to Kimi that she become a part of the program, yet she wasn’t sure how to make it work under her current work structure where product exclusivity wasn’t an option.
That changed when Kimi’s boyfriend at the time (who would later become her husband) came home and told her about a conversation he’d had with Matt Briger and Stratton Smith, founders of Sola Salon Studios. Though they were still in the first stages of developing their brand, he encouraged her to meet with them to see if their concept would be a good fit for her. “I was definitely intrigued,” Kimi says.
The three met at a Starbucks across the street from the location where the first Sola location would open in Denver, Colorado, and they were instantly at ease with one another. The idea that Matt and Stratton presented wasn’t entirely foreign to Kimi – she’d heard of concepts in other states that sounded similar, and as a current booth-renter, she was familiar with that concept. But these two seemed to have a different approach, so Kimi hit them with an onslaught of very specific questions.
Do you control any retail upfront?
Do you make choices on products we can carry?
What education do you provide? And so forth.
No matter the question, the answer always circled back to the stylist. Whatever’s best for you. The choice is all yours. “They said they didn’t want to be a part of that side of business,” Horvath explains, “they just wanted to create an opportunity for stylists, and take away all of those operations of salon ownership that no one really wants to do so we can really focus on being the best versions of our artistic selves.”
“The goal is for every stylist to live their best life, and that’s something different for everybody,” Matt Briger explains. “At the end of the day, the stylists are the ones who win.”
It was as though a light bulb had just illuminated her world, and Kimi was sold on the idea. Having recognized a level of integrity she hadn’t seen from many others before, she instantly knew the concept would be a success. She signed up right there, before even seeing the building that was still in the renovation and build out phase. “I mean, they really didn’t even have a lease agreement yet, so it was kind of on a napkin at Starbucks really.” She laughs at the memory.
After the details of their new arrangement were agreed on, Matt and Stratton took Kimi to see the new space. “There was this disgusting carpet on the floor, and duct tape everywhere,” she remembers, “and they were on their hand and knees measuring square footage and explaining where doors would be…we were all standing in a dump, but it was awesome. I was just so excited!” That initial enthusiasm still resonates in her voice as she recalls the memory.
She may not have fully realized it then, but that moment changed the course of Kimi’s life forever. And may have impacted the course of the industry as well.
Though she was nervous to break the news to her current salon owners – who were also her very good friends – the transition was easier than she’d anticipated. The salon owners, understanding the broader vision of what Kimi wanted to accomplish with her career, sent her away with open arms. “We all still get along, and we all still support each other,” she explains. “It’s a beautiful thing.” And to her surprise, every single one of her clients followed her as well.
Her life has evolved considerably since that first day, and being part of the Sola community has given Kimi a foundation to build from. Having a new sense of freedom and independence allowed her the flexibility of living life to the fullest. After signing the lease, she developed her career with John Paul Mitchell Systems as an educator and focus salon, and expanded her clientele. After marrying, she took some time off in 2009 to enjoy motherhood, but kept her Sola studio, allowing a friend to build up her own styling business out of Kimi’s double studio space. “There are no limitations at Sola, because you can do whatever you want. Some Sola stylists are developing their own brands, some are doing philanthropic opportunities, others are catering to celebrities…the possibilities are really endless.”
When Kimi’s daughter was ready to enter school, Matt and Stratton approached her about representing Sola in a new capacity – as their Cultural Ambassador and Director of Industry Relations. “They wanted to better connect their community to the best in the industry.” Of course, she immediately said yes.
“It’s so neat to be their ambassador and hear all these stories of successful stylists. I could just cry every day.” She feels energized by the stylists who tell her they’ve watched her promotional videos on the website over and over, and who tell her she inspired them to make their own leap of faith and branch out as an independent stylist as well.
As for Kimi’s own path, when asked if she has any regrets about the choice she made 13 years ago, she replied with an enthusiastic, “No!”.
Today, Sola has grown to over 350 locations that host nearly 10,000 stylists across North America. The independent stylist trend has set the industry ablaze, and is offering new levels of creative freedom to those who are inspired to make the transition. With exclusive education opportunities, encouraged networking and a strong support system, Sola empowers has empowered hairdressers, estheticians, nail techs, massage therapists and other like-minded professionals to take full control of their lives and careers. And the momentum all started when Kim Bennett Horvath signed that first lease on a Starbucks napkin in 2004.
“I think I was probably brave when I made that choice,” she admits, “but I would just walk, and leap, and then an opportunity would appear. And then I’d walk, and leap again, and another opportunity would appear. So I was able to grow into the career I have now, and I wouldn’t have had that flexibility and freedom to do that had it not been for Sola. I look back now and realize that I’m kind of building my own legacy this way. And I think, Wow, maybe my daughter will be proud of me one day. It’s pretty cool.”
It certainly is.
Kimi’s 5 Tips to Become a Successful Independent Stylist
Give clients your all – every time they’re in your chair!
“In today’s world, consumers have more options than ever before! To keep clients coming back, it’s essential to give them a superior experience. The intimate setting of a salon studio provides you with the perfect environment to connect with your clients and give them the one-on-one attention that they deserve. Always treat the clients as if it’s their first time in chair. Never assume that you should do the same thing as last time. They will get bored, and there will be no room for upgrades.”
Remind clients to book their next appointment before they leave.
"Client retention is key to the success of your salon. Always ask your clients to pre-book, and communicate between appointments. At Sola, you manage your own schedule so you can work with your clients individually to set appointments and make sure they are taken care of. Your clients will love it when you become their personal receptionist, understanding their scheduling needs. Go the extra mile to ensure they are taken care of before a big event, vacation or just because."
Create your culture.
"At Sola, you have the opportunity to use and sell the tools and products that you love and believe in. Take the time to become an expert on the brand(s) you represent and share that knowledge with pride. If you believe you can’t live without a product or tool to achieve a look you just created, so will your guest. Teach them how to imitate your art, providing them with the products needed to look and feel their best. They’ll appreciate you taking the extra time to make sure they know how to care for the look you’ve provided."
Get comfortable with the business side.
"When you go out on your own, there are added responsibilities, from managing your appointment book to understanding your numbers. There are wonderful salon software resources available that can help you keep track of the details. Sola has even created a unique app for independents called SolaGenius. It’s important to track your ongoing income and expenses to understand when and where your business comes from. Assess your numbers, such as income per ticket and rental dollars, and set realistic goals for your business. You can also use salon software to input notes on each guest, which will help you to prepare for their next appointment."
Get creative – on business promotions!
“You can make up promotions, hold seasonal sales, set up loyalty programs for your clients and even hold philanthropic events in which a portion of the proceeds goes to your favorite charity. Take advantage of these promotions by ordering big and creating a fresh and eye-catching display!”
To learn more about how Sola Salon Studios can help you achieve career success, visit www.solasalonstudios.com
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