Stylist Spotlight

Moving from a Salon Chair to a Suite

Lauren Salapatek | July 3, 2015 | 8:33 AM
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Holly Santelli says follow-up is key to client retention.
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Serendipity Beauty Parlor at Sola Suites in Park Ridge, Illinois
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For a relaxing feel, Serendipity features a soft, hearts-of-palm green color scheme with beige and white accents.
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A suite with windows or a door at street-level is a big plus.
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Color themes are an important part of branding.
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Sola Salon Studio owner Holly Santelli may have named her Park Ridge, Illinois, suite “Serendipity Beauty Parlour,” but finding her best solo-artist life didn’t happen by chance. After a hiatus to have children, the 24-year industry veteran got back in the professional swing at an employee salon, then moved to a business that let her build on commission before eventually renting a chair.

Five years later, with a client base of nearly 400, she saw separate suites being built close to her home and signed on before they even opened. This gave her time to alert most of her clients, plan a design theme and save money for extra furnishings, like waiting-area chairs and the mirror of her dreams. Today, she says, she’s been at Sola for a year, and seeing just five cut-and-color clients a week more than covers her $420/week rent.

“To succeed when changing your rental situation, plan, research and have the clientele to back you up,” advises Santelli. “For instance, I knew that in my area, clients won’t travel more than 20 minutes to a salon.”

Know Your Clients, Know Yourself

Santelli also knew that a calm, cozy, peaceful atmosphere suited her personality best, and that her clients were looking for an oasis, too. “Sometimes, we couldn’t hear each other in the noisy salon,” she says. “Plus, I had many male clients, so I didn’t want something ‘too girly.’ Calm and neutral also suited them.”

Taking an “eco salon” stance, she focused on high-quality, healthy-for-hair salon products: the more organic or vegan the better. She also maintains “pricing in the middle” for her area ($95 for a cut and color that always includes styling), and does not “nickel and dime” clients. She shows she cares with added value, she says—an aromatherapy scalp massage here, a special conditioning treatment there. She even taught a harried client how to meditate while her color was processing.

“I know my clients and share their values, but my business blossomed when I changed how I looked at things, and turned ‘anxiety-think’ into self-belief and goal-setting to fill scheduling gaps,” she stresses.

Help from Her Friends

All but two of Santelli’s clients followed her to the suite and quickly began recommending her. For 50 weeks of the first 52, she got 2-3 new referrals a week, which she attributes to like-mindedness and “true client-care.”

“To fill daytime bookings, which will be slower than evenings, be involved in your community and find partners,” stresses Santelli. For instance, she traded services with a Boot Camp fitness instructor—now they recommend one another to their clients. Within her suite, she discovered a makeup artist a few doors down and they teamed up to do weddings. Now, they have several on the books. To give back, she retails locally produced artesian soaps; the company sends a bar to Kenya for each one sold by the salon. And once a month, she gives free haircuts at Avenues to Independence, local group-housing for those with special needs.

Her charitable activities give her much to share, but clients most enjoy hearing about the classes she takes.” The best advice I ever got is to never stop learning, and my clients love knowing they see a stylist who cares and gets top-notch education,” says Santelli. “Last month I took four free classes right at Sola Salon Suites—every top educator wants to give a class here.”



Holly Santelli

Serendipity Beauty Parlor at Sola Suites

Park Ridge, Illinois

Best Client Retention Tip: Care, connect, be real and follow-up. I always text clients to be sure they loved their new cut or color. If you have downtime, clean the salon, dust your shelves and fix your retail displays. Clients appreciate it.

Referral Booster: When I get them, I send a thank you text message to clients immediately, and give them something special, like a product or $10 off a service.

Best Use of Social Media: I posted prom hairstyle photos on my Facebook page and got 17 prom-goers this year.

Biggest Challenges: Saying no. You can’t be in the salon at 11 p.m. Also, finding the time to enter all your clients in an online booking system. My husband is helping me choose one now. I still use texting and a paper system!

When Choosing a Suite: Think location. If you can, get a suite near the doors or a window. I get walk-ins because I’m in a window—it’s worth the extra cost. Also, be sure utilities and WiFi are included in the rent.

Favorite Hair Show: Local distributors’ shows.

Best Online Inspiration:!

Never Ignore: Self care. You have to eat lunch, take breaks and plan for vacations.


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