May 20, 2018

A cut above the competition

Sola Salons offers 18 haircutting businesses under one roof

Oct. 20, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Clockwise (from top left): C.J. Hale, owner of CJ’s Barber Shop, is the only barber among the 18 haircutters in the Sola Salons complex; Kristi Blacklock, owner of Shear Bliss, joined Sola Salons in November 2009 after a 16-year career at Reflections Salon & Spa in Shelburne; LaLaneya O’Farrell, owner of Hair by LaLaneya, is one of the newest additions at Sola Salons in Williston, which is part of a national franchise headquartered in Colorado. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

If variety is the spice of life, then Sola Salons is the cayenne pepper of the hair salon industry.

With 18 distinct haircutting businesses in a 3,300-square-foot building, Sola Salons offers no shortage of options for a trim, or cut and color.

“This is not a traditional salon,” said Phil Tonks, owner of the Williston Sola Salons building, located on Vermont 2A near Taft Corners. “Each one of the stylists that’s in the facility owns and operates their own business. They keep all the revenue both from doing hair and selling products and they get to pick and sell whatever products they want.”

Founded in Colorado in 2003, Sola Salon Studios is a national chain that allows hairstylists to be their own bosses without the overhead of owning a building or the hassle of managing employees. Each of the stylists in the Williston location pays a flat rental fee, which includes heat, hot water and a personal workspace with its own locking gate.

“An awful lot of the industry has to pay a percentage of what their take is, and in some cases it’s pretty high,” said Tonks, who also owns and operates Grand View Winery in East Calais. “(Here) the stylists have complete independence. They can focus all of their attention on the client.”

LaLaneya O’Farrell, a graduate of the Vermont College of Cosmetology, spent eight years at Orbit Hair Design in South Burlington before a postcard from Tonks convinced her to branch out on her own.

“I just love this whole concept,” O’Farrell said. “I’m my own boss and it’s really all I need. I’m not looking to have employees. I just want a place for my current clients, and I still have room to grow, so it’s perfect.”

There are 16 rooms in Tonks’ building. Four of the workspaces are occupied by two stylists, meaning there are currently two open spaces for interested coiffeurs.

Kristi Blacklock, who joined Sola a month after it opened in October 2009, said the privacy her current set-up affords was the primary reason she started her business.

“Where I was before there were 19 of us altogether and there was no privacy,” Blacklock said. “Here clients love the one-on-one. Some of my clientele are in their 50s and 60s. They don’t have to worry about men walking in when their hair is in foils or when it’s wet.”

Blacklock added that the chance to work in Williston was another key consideration in her move.

“Being right off the Interstate is awesome,” she said. “People are in Williston for so many other things, so they can add on a haircut to all their other errands.”

Perhaps the most unique among the 18 proprietors in the Sola facility is C.J. Hale. Not only is he the only barber in the complex; he’s the only barber in Williston. A self-professed “jack of all trades and master of none,” Hale is a throwback to the days when a shave and a haircut actually cost two bits. After several stints in the military and a series of outdoor labor jobs, he settled on barbering in 1994.

“I grew up on a dairy farm and we used to cut the cow’s hair,” Hale said. “(Barbering) is the same thing — just a different sized head.”

Although the other stylists don’t offer any competition to Hale, who specializes in “military haircuts” and “businessmen’s short haircuts,” he isn’t averse to making an occasional referral.

“I’ve had some guys (come to me) who like to wear the long hair,” Hale said. “I just say, ‘I’m sorry, if you still want to keep it long, I suggest you go to a salon.’”

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