How Sola Salon Studios Leader is Navigating COVID-19

Christina Russell sola salon studios

Sola Salon Studios, like so many other franchise brands, is navigating uncharted waters right now. From when we began feeling the initial impact of this pandemic only a month ago to now, things have shifted drastically and they continue to evolve on a daily basis.

Given the nature of services stylists provide at our locations, our business has been affected tremendously, and, to date, we’ve closed 99% of our 500+ locations. While these closures have impacted many, they were not only necessary by mandate, but for us to do our part in flattening the curve and ensure the safety of our entire community, which is our top priority.

This period has undoubtedly been challenging, but we remain unequivocally optimistic and forward-thinking, with the hope that the steps we’ve taken throughout the course of this pandemic will allow us to come out on the other side of this more grounded and stronger than ever.

Keeping Stylists Inspired and Engaged

When mandated closures began rolling out across the country, our franchisees put their mission first and stopped collecting rent from their stylists. Our beauty professional community is a collective of 15,000 small business owners, predominantly women, many of which are the primary providers for their families. As independents, they’re not well-supported by the CARES Act and are relying primarily on unemployment, which is too slow. In some states, those who file wait several weeks or months before ever getting a check, so we are lobbying for independent beauty professionals so they get their unemployment money faster.

Internally, our marketing team has done a fantastic job of keeping our stylist community engaged and inspired. We launched a COVID-19 Resource Center, which has blogs, business/marketing tips, virtual education, downloadable social media content and more, as well as a podcast called “Sola Stories” as a way to share stories of inspiration. Additionally, because of the strong relationships Sola has forged with the greater beauty industry, we’ve seen an outpouring of support come from professionals outside of our organization, who have hosted seminars and “lives” on our social media channels to share their stories and ways our stylists can stay connected with their clients during this time of separation.

Fighting for Our Franchisees

Because our franchisees halted rent collections, they have no revenue coming in. This has presented a host of challenges – not just for our franchisees – but for our entire sector in the industry. Sola and others are currently excluded from PPP by the SBA despite clear intent of the CARES Act. This is due to an arcane technicality around 7(a) lending. As a whole, this impacts around 1,000 franchise locations, over 300 employees and nearly 30,000 independent beauty professionals in our sector. Sola represents half of that, so we feel a tremendous responsibility and are fighting hard to get this issue resolved.

In that same vein, we’re fighting to have technical corrections made to PPP that expand the amount and permitted usage of funds, to be used on expenses other than payroll like rent. Commercial landlords are deferring rent, but not waiving it, which means most small business owners will be saddled with significant debt at the backend of this crisis. There are a lot of businesses at risk of survival if this isn’t addressed in the next round of legislation.

At the state-level, we’re pushing for commercial lease forbearance, requesting/requiring landlords to give forbearance to commercial tenants, and requiring banks to give forbearance to these landlords on their commercial loans. While it doesn’t solve the greater rent debt issue, it helps calm nerves about evictions or late fees.

As a franchisor, Sola has deferred 50% of royalties in March, along with all ad fees, and from April until our salons re-open, we’re deferring 100% of both. While we continue to be actively involved with broader lobbying efforts with the IFA in terms of rent support, we’re providing our franchisees with guidance, letter templates and other resources as they work with their landlords, who for the most part, have been understanding.

Looking Ahead

We have been and remain very optimistic that we’ll find ourselves on steady ground again sooner rather than later. While we continue to fight for our franchisees and their businesses, as well as work to keep the stylist community engaged, inspired and connected, we can’t help but feel fortunate to be in the business we’re in. We have such a high-touch concept where stylists have truly formed long-lasting relationships with their clients, so we know that on the other side of this, people will be eager to get back into the salon, especially in the one-on-one private environment Sola offers.

Christina Russell is the CEO of Sola Salon Studios. For more information on Sola Salon Studios, click here.