January 15th, 2020

Stratton Smith, the Founder of Sola Salons, Shares 8 Lessons He Learned From His Business Mentors

Franchise Ramp founder Brian Holmes and Erik Van Horn of ilovefranchising.com talk with Stratton Smith, the founder of Sola Salons, in The Franchise Story Podcast #5.

In 2004, Sola Salon Studios co-founders Stratton Smith and Matt Briger wanted to do more than design beautiful, move-in-ready salon studios. They set out to build a thriving community.

In 2005, the first franchised Sola location was opened, paving the way for their best-in-class franchisees and onsite operators. And in the blink of an eye, 10 years later, Sola celebrated 5,000 independent beauty professionals across the country.

Currently, Sola Salon Studios is a thriving, diverse and welcoming community of more than 10,000 independent salon professionals across 400+ locations in the United States and Canada.

In this exclusive interview, Stratton talks with Brian and Erik about his humble beginnings and the top lessons from his mentors that launched him into success.

Lesson 1: Finding an honest business partner 

The first lesson Stratton learned from his business mentor turned out to be one of the most important. Stratton reminisces, “when I was younger, I was in the same tennis group as [my mentor’s] daughter… I was always bending his ear. I remember sitting down, and he said: “What’s the most important thing to a business startup?” I go, “location.” He said, “no, it’s an honest business partner.”

However, choosing the person who will help you start and run a business isn’t as simple as selecting a friend you get along with, or someone who thinks your business idea is a good one. Some of the best business partnerships—think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak from Apple, or Evan Williams and Biz Stone from Twitter—were noteworthy not only for their success, but also for the way they combined unexpected, complementary skill sets to create unstoppable duos.

Lesson 2: If your business partner is just like you, who needs a partner? 

Statton has only great things to say about his current business partner, Matt Briger.

“Matt and I, we have a lot of respect for each other. But our strengths and weaknesses don’t overlap, and that’s been a great relationship.”

Finding an honest partner is one thing, finding a partner to take make your business a success often requires a combination of complementary skills.

Lesson 3: Operations are never going to be perfect!

One of the most common questions you’ll hear from business owners is how to balance the need to hand off decision-making responsibility to your team as you grow, with the reality that many times they will make poorer choices and obvious mistakes that you wouldn’t have made if you’d just kept control of the decision in the first place.

Stratton’s first mentor said something that stuck in his mind: “I know everyone is stealing from me, I just want to put enough controls in place that they aren’t taking more of their fair share.” 

It’s true, especially since Stratton’s first mentor owned 150 Pizza Huts. 

 David Finkel, author of ‘The Freedom Formula: How to Succeed in Business Without Sacrificing Your Family, Health, or Life” says, “The more you build your business for control, the more you are trapped inside your business.” Setting the RIGHT controls, along with solid systems, is crucial in order to continue working on the business, not in the business.

Lesson 4: Business ain’t linear. 

Stratton says, “You have to be prepared. Be ready to figure out the ups and downs, because that’s going to happen.”

After receiving some advice from his brother-in-law, Scott Jackson, Stratton recognized a hard truth: most growth doesn’t happen in a straight line.

Mentorship has provided Stratton with a fast track to success. Even with the ups and downs, Stratton mentions, “It’s not like you gather all the information and go do it. You take 10% and then you get in the game, and then the remaining 90% comes out during the ride.” 

Lesson 5: You’re only as good as your initial franchisee group 

This is the very sound advice Stratton received from Dan Carney, the founder of Pizza Hut. 

Stratton remarks, “They can either sink you, your core group, your first 20, or they can take you to the moon.”

Lesson 6: You have front enders and back enders 

With most entrepreneurial companies, you’ll find the founders hanging onto the reins too long. Straton says, “Hand it over to people who want the company to grow.”

Maybe you’ll remember in December of 2019, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page stepped aside from day-to-day management of its parent company, Alphabet.

“If the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost,” Brin and Page wrote. “While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents — offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!”

Lesson 7: Finding Your BIG Why 

Stratton wants to be the person to put the most woman in business.

“It’s all about the intangibles. Anyone can knock off a Sola, but they  can’t do al that other stuff. If you cut through all of that, it’s really just a lot of marketing.”

 Stratton continues, “this isn’t about advertising, this is about packaging together with all the intangibles that we offer.” 

For Stratton, the purpose of the marketing department is a culture connect- keeping locations full, and keeping stylists happy. In your FDD it’s called a marketing fee. Stratton laughed, “We should change the name and call it stylist education.”

Lesson 8: Being a franchisor means a completely different business 

 What most young entrepreneurs don’t realise is, a franchisee has a lot more freedom than a franchisor. 

When you become a franchisor, you aren’t managing employees, you’re managing a family. 

Is your end goal to become a franchisor? Stratton has some advice for you. “There’s going to be heartache, it’s tough. People that have a franchisor goal, you have to be prepared to be that. If you’re the renegade franchisee [in a concept] that wants to do your thing, you should not be the franchisor, every.