Transforming Beauty in the Strip

    Sola Salon Studios opened its doors this winter at 2343 Smallman Street, and it seems like an ideal location for this cutting-edge business concept to thrive. In the beautifully remodeled modern space, there are state-of-the-art two- and three-chair studio spaces lining the bright, open halls. Aside from suddenly realizing I desperately needed a haircut, during my visit I found myself wandering the salon and catching glimpses of stylists chatting with their clients in their own personalized spaces, each with its own unique ambience; but I recognized that there is much more than meets the eye here. Though there is no receptionist, there is a welcoming aura. A directory at the entrance gives customers the lay of the land.

    Steve Breuner, co-owner of the Strip location and owner/developer of Sola Salon Studios across the nation, passionately explains that Sola is a “revolution for the beauty profession, much like how Uber revolutionized the taxi business. While there is nothing really wrong with the conventional salon business model, there is a way to do it differently. Sola is stylist-centric; it’s not about the salon owner.” With three decades of salon experience, Steve tells me that there is “no limit to the demand for a place where beauty professionals can ply their trade; a place where they call the shots. Here, the stylists are given freedom. They set the mood and it becomes all about the customer. It’s about creating an amazing bond with their clients in a private, smaller setting. Sola is the business support.”

    sola-chair

    How does this work? Cassie Farkas, the seasoned manager of Sola’s six locations in Pittsburgh, specifies that Sola is “for salon stylists who are established and ready to take the next step and open their own studio.” Sola bears the startup expenses, provides a move-in ready studio, support, and all the tools needed to launch. “Be in business for yourself but not by yourself,” is their aptly written tagline. “The stylists at Sola, called Solapreneurs, are small business owners—they are their own bosses, setting their own hours, prices, inventory, and decorating the way they want. Stylists have 24-7 access,” says Cassie. Through the Sola website (solasalonstudios.com/locations/strip-district), each stylist has his or her own individual site where customers can book directly and see the stylist’s work. Steve, Cassie, and the rest of the Sola team are there to support each stylist’s journey, and it’s evident that they are a tight-knit group.

    As of now, the space is comprised primarily of hairstylists, but there are also microblading, lashes, skin care, tooth alignment, and an aesthetician.

    Dan Pfeifer’s studio, in Salon 1, is located in the front of the space. Having been in the industry for 22 years, he wanted his own business but also loved the security of where he worked for many years. When a fellow stylist with a studio in the Wexford location told him about Sola, Dan didn’t know what to expect but ultimately decided to take a leap of faith in the up-and-coming Strip District location because he loved Sola’s concept. “Sola took away a lot of the fear of opening my own studio. I felt there was less risk, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I have more time to spend with my clients and to focus on what I love to do,” he says. “There is a great sense of community, educational opportunities, and even holiday parties. Yet ultimately, you can be by yourself when you want to, or choose to open the door.”

    Owner and hairstylist Chaz Young and his business partner, Miranda Ganoe-Stull, were previously at the Baum Boulevard Sola, but moved to the Strip District location where they occupy Salon 2. Business is booming with Lot 24, The Cork Factory, and so many other residential buildings in the Strip. They love the neighborhood and all that it brings. With windows aplenty, the studio has great light and is in a prime spot. Chaz notes that “all of the stylists here have their own clientele. We help each other out, bounce ideas off each other, and discuss new trends.” Before branching out on his own, Chaz worked for someone else for 13 years and the thought of being a business owner was nerve-wracking. But, when he saw the Sola space and learned more, much like Dan Pfeifer, he couldn’t resist. “In order to evolve you have to take that step. Sola helps you out a lot. They promote you and give you some assets to help you create your own space. At the same time, you have 100 percent freedom. Career-wise and personally, it’s the best thing I ever did.” One of Chaz’s clients, Maureen Oehrle, gave me her impression, saying, “One of the things I love is that the overall energy in the space feels more personal because of the way it’s set up. From the time you walk in the door to the time you leave, you are interacting with the same person, which makes the whole experience feel smooth and easy.”

    Sola Salon Studios is clearly a game changer in the beauty business, and now the Strip has one of its very own.

    Visit the Sola website (see above) to view all of the stylists’ work and specialties, make appointments, or stop by in person. The Strip location is right across from Kelly O’s Diner at 2343 Smallman Street.

    Katie Salvi is a freelance writer, artist, and proud mom to her 11-year-old son. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and a native New Yorker, she now resides in Pittsburgh with her husband and son.
    Photography by Greger Erickson