In June 2019, Christina Russell joined the Sola Salon Studios leadership team as their new CEO, coming to them with an extensive background in franchising. Russell has held key positions with companies such as Curves, Camp Bow Wow and Pure Barre, where she was recently CEO.
When she was 29, Russell owned and operated four Curves locations. She would eventually go on to lead operations across the company, in the US and Canada. “I went through a process of learning what it means to sell from the heart,” Russell says of those years. “It was a woman-based model centered on franchising and focused on helping them be successful. Franchising is built to help people get into business, creating pathways for them to thrive.”
In her role as CEO, Russell will be overseeing leadership, strategy, and execution for all growth initiatives, both domestically and internationally, including operational management of all company-owned and operated Sola locations. MODERN spoke with Russell about how her experience and skills will help propel Sola to the next level.
MODERN SALON: What have you learned in your first few months with Sola?
CHRISTINA RUSSELL: As an outsider coming into this industry, you learn a lot, even through the hiring process, as you vet the brand and they vet you. There is a misperception that Sola is a real estate brand but had that been the case it would not have appealed to me. This brand is, at its core, a brand about service. We help to empower the women and men who make the decision to come and join us.
During these early days with Sola, I spent time getting out to the stylists to hear things from their perspective. I visited 11 different markets and was able to visit so many locations—between five and ten in each location. It was very rewarding to speak with these stylists, to see how hungry they are to call their own shots, to build their books and to evolve their art in their own way. The franchisees take a great deal of pride in helping them take that step when it’s right for them and it’s great to see that synergy.
MS: Where areas of growth have you identified for Sola?
CR: What’s interesting in this space is that it continues to grow, and you see so much moving in the professional beauty industry towards independents. The industry is so deep and so rich; new stylists are coming out of school and looking for where to go. I believe there is still a great deal of white space out there and that everyone recognizes where that is trending—and it’s in our direction.
We just opened our 469th location so we will be at 500 by early next year. We really do see that nationwide there is still plenty of room for growth, but we are mindful of finding the right locations for expansion; we want to set the franchisees up for success.
Internationally, we have our first toe in the water in Canada with three locations in Toronto and Canada will continue to be a focus for us. We have one location in Brazil and we have some lines in the water for additional international markets.
MS: What impresses you about the Sola Community?
CR: Having gone into several different category-leading brands that have reached a state of maturity, what has most impressed me is the incredible cultural alignment at Sola—from the stylists to the franchisees to the corporate team, even to the board. I’ve asked, what do you want me to hold sacred, and again and again I heard, protect the culture… which is stylists first. They want the beauty professional to be front and center, always. And their commitment was so genuine and real. Franchisees would show me texts they had saved from stylists who were just so grateful and happy, and these texts remind them about what they do every day and why. It’s incredibly rewarding for them to have the financial benefit but also to be able to help the stylist realize their dreams.
MS: Final words?
CR: If there is anything I can say about the brand, it is that there is a genuine desire to share the love. Seeing the stylists at the Sola Sessions in Nashville, they were hungry for the interaction with each other, for the education and what they would hear from the speakers. You could see these beauty pros leaning in and hanging on every word. We’re so happy that we can leverage our scale and offer this education in all our markets. We believe education is about sharing the love and I am proud to be a part of it.
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