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Sola Salon (US) to Target International Markets

24 Sep 2018 - It’s common knowledge that real estate can make or break any franchise. As more landlords begin to view Sola Salon Studios as a significant foot traffic generator, the shared salon suite brand is looking to add 150 additional corporate stores in the U.S., while also pulling the trigger on its first international locations.

Sola franchisee and also the company’s VP of franchise development, Jim DeBolt said being viewed as a “mini anchor” tenant by landlords has helped open the floodgates as the company aims to add 55 to 60 stores every year in the coming years.

Citing its super-low overhead and attractive customer demographics, DeBolt said the brand’s unit-level economics and increasingly valuable image among landlords are combining to fuel its next wave of growth. He added that Boston, California’s Bay Area, Southern Florida, Memphis, Tennessee, and the Florida Panhandle are locations that are high on his personal to-do list for the company.

Sola CEO Randall Clark said DeBolt isn’t alone working both sides of the fence—three of his four top management team members are also franchisees. That dual-window view, he said, helps the franchisor get boots on the ground to provide “real live feedback” for how issues or changes will impact its wider network of 152 franchisees.

For its international pivot, Sola hired what it called a leading professional consultant in international franchising to outline which countries are its best opportunities. Having heard my fair share of international missteps, face-plants and retrenchments, hearing that outside expertise is on the case is welcome news for a brand that has opened its first Canadian locations (in Toronto) and signed a master developer agreement for Brazil. Further down the line, the company is eyeing Australia, the UK and Spain as its next overseas destinations.

Getting into the real estate side of the business, Clark and DeBolt noted a significant shift for the brand as landlords view Sola’s business model as especially attractive, given the demographics and number of customers a fully leased out location provides to a shopping center. Given the competitive environment in most attractive commercial districts—especially high-traffic strip centers—that favorable opinion opens doors with Sola and its franchisees able to tout attractive traffic and demographic numbers.

“We had inquiries just this week from landlords who have other salon studio concepts in their location that have now defaulted on their lease,” Clark added, noting that he didn’t want to disparage any competitors. “We’re viewed as a very stable tenant. If you get a Sola in your location, you’re getting a tenant for the next 20 years.”

Similar factors are at play with the brand’s newest franchisees. Sola has recently attracted several franchisees who have extensive fast-food and fast-casual restaurant backgrounds, which the company said provides confidence as it seeks to bring in new franchisees from other franchised categories.

“We get to serve and really foster and create an environment where somebody can be independent, and that part is not so much stealing market share, it’s the reality of our culture today,” Clark said. “This is not going back—the cat’s out of the bag and this business model is here to stay.”


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