You’d think by now that everyone knows salon suites are the way of the future. Not so. In the Northeast, the concept is still fairly new to salon professionals. That’s why Lauren Vermette decided that when a proven model works, three locations are better than one, as long as you understand the opportunities and the challenges.
Says Vermette, whose brother is a silent partner in her Boston-area Salons by JC franchises, “I went to graduate school for entrepreneurship and realized the Salons by JC concept makes women’s entrepreneurship a reality in an industry where it wouldn’t otherwise be attainable. We’re really selling a lifestyle that empowers others.”
To realize her dream of helping women become entrepreneurs, Vermette says she chose Salons by JC because the franchise was accessible and reasonable. “When I saw how the model really worked, I thought why stop at one location when I can have three—especially since there’s a reduced fee for three and I’d get to pioneer a market,” she says.
According to franchise consulting firm FRANdata, Vermette isn’t alone in her thinking: Multi-unit ownership is becoming the norm in the franchise world, with multi-unit franchisees owning 53% of the 450,000-plus franchise units nationwide. Advantages include getting the best locations in a larger protected territory, enjoying reduced opening fees and being able to leverage experience and economies of scale. Challenges in the salon-suite franchise world, says Vermette, are creating awareness of a newer concept (which means planning on it taking longer to break even) and simultaneously juggling multiple openings.
Vermette had planned her openings about one year apart but one landlord moved up the build-out date and another rolled it back. As a result, she ended up opening two of her three locations within about two months of one another. One was in Stoneham, MA, and the other in Burlington/Lexington, MA, which made getting different permits and mastering details a challenge.
“I paid a construction management company because they know all the details about differing local permits and do the contractor bidding with you,” she says. “Lexington is very conservative, and it took longer to get signage up there because the municipality needed to know every detail about the color and size of our signage, and they dragged their feet on issuing the permit. I ended up opening without an external sign, which I needed to create awareness and tenants needed for clients to find them easily.”
In addition to advising you get all permits as early as possible, Vermette suggests that multi-unit pioneers like herself avoid super-close dual-openings if possible. Then, she says, you’ll be able to apply what you learned from the first opening to the second one. Also consider adding a few extra larger suites to “hot” locations. “There are always two or three tenants who want to go in together because they’re used to a salon atmosphere and want to split costs,” says Vermette. “If I shared just one piece of advice, it would be to know your area and differences within it!” (A few of her tenants actually location-swapped once they knew there was a second option.) Creating awareness in a new market may be the biggest challenge, she says, and to do that she joined the local Board of Education for trade schools, became a member of three different Chambers of Commerce, began speaking to women’s groups (whose members could all tell their hairstylists) and increased her social media presence.
“When a concept is new, you have to help potential tenants overcome fear, “ notes Vermette. “The more you can support them, the better.”
Kate Indigaro, a esthetician and make-up artist whose Glametics studio is in Vermette’s Stoneham location, was one of the pros who was happy for that hand holding. She says that suite rental was unheard of in the state and she couldn’t even picture it.
“The minute I walked into the building I had butterflies,” she recalls. “I talked with both Lauren and (concierge) Alisha, and they made me feel very comfortable. Going out on your own is definitely a risk. They gave me many options for leasing that helped make my decision easier.”
Whether the concept is new to the area or not, salon pros generally have the same questions like, “Do I need a business license?” and “How do I take credit cards?” Provide them with a list of everything they need to know, as well as a packet on business-building tactics, advises Vermette. Help them do a “Build Your Business Plan” in which their rent gradually increases as they grow. And show them that if they charge, for instance, $180 for a cut and color and get tips, just two clients in one day will cover their weekly rent.
Such personalized support makes a huge difference, notes Ariel Kotzias of Salon Ariel in Vermette’s Burlington/Lexington location.
“I loved that Lauren took the time to chat and get to know me,” she says. “At each step, I always felt like I was dealing with people, not a business entity. I love having my own space and that I could change everything in it, including the sink and the colors, to make it more appealing for doing hair color. This is where the industry is going in the future.”