A year after returning home to Chicago from Houston, Shakeeta Addae knew she wanted to start styling hair in Hyde Park.
"You know how every neighborhood has its own little thing about it?" she asked at her studio in the new Sola Salon, 1614 E. 53rd St., which opened on Jan. 15. "The thing about Hyde Park: it gives me 'American.' You get the epitome of America. You get all type of different races, all type of different people. It kind of gives you an Evanston feeling, but its own unique Chicago feeling."
"It's just the vibe itself," she concluded. All the better for a six-year stylist who specializes in all textures of women's hair, coloring, tape-in, sew-in and micro-link extensions. And a month after starting her practice at the latest Sola Salon complex in Chicago, which opened on Jan. 15, Addae is already turning a profit.
Most first-time clients quickly learn Sola is unlike other salons after arriving. Customers get a door access code when they book and enter to find two hallways with 30 individual studios. The set up is a little like a covered market's arcades and stalls. It can lead to a quick wait in the cold until the door unlocks, but owner JoAnn Falato says clients get the hang of it after their first appointments.
"I took a lease out on faith with this establishment," Addae said. She lives in Humboldt Park, far enough that she commutes early and works late to avoid the traffic. "Building a clientele is scary, but in Sola Salon, it's your salon. It's a smaller salon, but it's your salon, and it's your business."
Falato and husband David owned five Jet's Pizza locations in Chicago before reading about Sola in a franchisees' newsletter. She filled out an inquiry form at the Lakeview Sola Salon, 3355 N, Lincoln Ave., where her own hairstylist had moved, and got a call out to corporate headquarters in Denver the next day.
She will own four locations across the South Side once a Beverly location opens at 2320 W. 95th St. on Feb. 24.
"There's a North Side franchisee already, and nobody really wanted to take the South Side of Chicago," Falato said in an interview. But she said her experience in Hyde Park has been amazing and called the location — on the ground floor of the recently opened 5252 Cornell condominium tower developed by Mac Properties, 1364 E. 53rd St. — her flagship.
"The stylists that we have here are very high-end stylists," she said. "They're true professionals."
A month in, seven additional barbers and beauticians have rented studios from her, up from 15 on opening day. She's nearly at full occupancy at her locations in Bronzeville, 460 E. 35th St., and close to it at her first in South Loop, 558 Roosevelt Road, which opened in 2017.
Paula Radford, a 20-year hairstylist and recently licensed aesthetician, or skincare specialist, started at the South Loop Sola in late 2017 and now works out of the East Hyde Park location, praising its available parking.
"When you have clients transitioning (from) one particular area where there's a plethora of parking to an area like Hyde Park where it's limited, the parking lot is the number one thing for me and my clientele," she said.
All in, Falato has invested $5 million in her locations, including $1.2 million in Hyde Park. Leases vary by studio size but start at $375 a week with one- and two-year contracts; Falato estimated that she has to cut 10% of her renters loose within the first five or six months.
"It's not easy being a business-owner, for me or for them, and you just have to put your head down and muscle through the bad to have the good," she said. "It's not always all good, and that's why I coach some of these stylists, like 'The first six months are going to be the hardest.' It's when you are sinking in costs and inventory to get here and get new clients, and you really have to stick through the first six months or a year to determine if it's going to work for you or not."
"I wanted to empower women, and I wanted to empower people to start their own businesses like I had," continued Falato, who left the pharmaceutical industry after 20 years to get into salons. Stylists typically either pay a commission to a salon owner or rent an individual chair, she said. But at Sola, "They get a private, secure location to give their customer a one-on-one interactive experience."
To Radford, the opportunity to craft her own working environment, with a good sound system and the scent of lemongrass in the air, held significant appeal.
"I love having a space that is just catered to me and my clients. I can cultivate the culture in here the way I want it to be. I like to have a clean, beautiful environment. Clients in 2020, they aren't just coming for their hair. They're coming for the experience. The Sola concept allows me to have that," she said. "It was pretty much a matter of putting myself in this space, how I would want to feel when I would come to a salon.
Addae is available for bookings at 708-567-4560 and Radford at 773-208-2466.