Couple brings emerging business model to Blair Park
By Jason Starr
It took true confidence in their business model and an opportunity to move into a unique space for Iri Sunj and Ines Ogorinac to proceed with plans to open a hair salon amid the restrictions and challenges of a pandemic.
Salon Vermont opened in late September at 34 Blair Park Rd. in Williston. The spot shares a building with the Williston Post Office, Boho Baby, a UPS store and Ski The East, and is currently most recognizable from Route 2 by the four-story hotel that is under construction. Blair Park is a second location for Salon Vermont, which has 10 stylists operating in a Dorsett Street location in South Burlington that opened in early 2019.
Sunj and Ogorinac met and married in Vermont after separately fleeing war in Bosnia with their families as children. Ogorinac is one of the stylists working at the Dorset Street location; Sunj is an intensive care nurse at UVM Medical Center who recently transitioned to the infusions department for a mellower schedule that will allow him to devote more time to the expanding business.
For clients, Salon Vermont appears to operate as a single entity. In reality, it is the workplace of several independent stylists. The business rents chairs to stylists who operate as contractors, setting their own schedules and processing their own payments. Massage and aesthetician services will also be offered. Sunj describes it as a mutually beneficial business model that is on the rise in the hair styling industry.
“We can consult with each other and we’ll gladly help them, but ultimately it’s their business,” Sunj said. “We want them to succeed … It works in our favor because people stay, there’s no turnover. Clients love the atmosphere because everyone is so positive and supportive. So it creates this little ecosystem.”
Sunj and Ogorinac are choosy about which stylists they take on as renters. They opened the Williston location in part to satisfy demand from stylists.
“We try to really be genuine and supportive of their successes and be mindful who we let rent,” Sunj said. “We base a lot of things on the honor system, almost like the good old days when a hand shake was enough … We don’t have any drama, which is crazy for a salon. People just enjoy coming to work and getting stuff done.”
The Sola Salon nearby on Route 2A operates on a similar model with a group of independent entrepreneurs inside a larger building. The difference is that Salon Vermont appears to clients to be one cohesive business. At Sola Salon, each practitioner has their own separated work space.
“In our experience, people don’t really want to go to a cubicle and be one-on-one with the stylist. They still enjoy the feeling of a salon — the people watching, overhearing conversations —almost like the movie ‘Barber Shop.’ And that is our little niche in the market,” said Sunj.
Salon Vermont occupies 3,500 square feet with room to expand. The interior benefitted from millions of dollars of investment in 2017, when Canadian author and conservative talk show host Mark Steyn — who has filled-in on multiple occasions as a guest host for Rush Limbaugh — quietly began creating a state-of-the-art video studio. The studio had tinted windows and no signage. Inside, Steyn began filming segments for what was to be “The Mark Steyn Show.”
According to a report in The Daily Beast, the show was cancelled by its producer, CRTV, after only a handful of episodes, and Steyn abruptly vacated the space. A legal dispute followed in U.S. District Court in Burlington. According to Sunj, Steyn left behind “a space that is just unbelievable.”
It was described in The Daily Beast as on par with the set of “The Tonight Show.”
“I don’t know who he is or what he does, but lucky us that he left because the space is quite incredible,” Sunj said. “The duct work and the electrical work is just state of the art, and it’s beautiful. I don’t think there is anything like it in the area.
“The millions of dollars they invested into the building really tipped the scale for us to think we should go and take the risk, so we have more spaces available for all the requests we keep getting to rent.”
Salon Vermont’s Williston location opened with four hair stylists and one massage therapist. There is room for eight hair stylists and a space for aesthetician services.