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North Hills Monthly

Co-working Spaces Offer Independence, Camaraderie

Apr 30, 2019 10:12AM ● By April Johnston

Photo courtesy of Mirra Salon Suites

At Sola Salon Studios, they have a saying: Be in business for yourself, not by yourself.

The words not only serve as Sola’s mantra, but they describe the growing co-working trend upon which the company is built. Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular across the region because they offer trendy, well-appointed space at an affordable price point for entrepreneurs, freelancers and start-up businesses across multiple industries.

Arrangements range from flex office seating to dedicated desks to full suites, and offer perks like shared reception areas and free coffee. Prices start at $50 and can jump upwards of $800, depending on the membership level and, of course, the location.

The Pittsburgh region is home to more than a dozen co-working spaces, including Beauty Shoppe, which transforms historic city buildings into shared working space; Alloy 26, which has 50,000 sq. ft. of open-plan, co-working space on the North Side; and Paramount Co-Op in Ambridge, which offers both office space and mentorship to budding entrepreneurs.

In the North Hills, the most popular type of co-working space seems to be those dedicated to beauty professionals. Sola Salon Studios, with locations in Wexford, Ross Township, Bridgeville, Mt. Lebanon, Monroeville, the Strip District and downtown, is a national chain of move-in ready studios for those looking to build their own beauty-based businesses.

Likewise, Mirra Salon Suites in Hampton Township offers stylists, estheticians and nail artists fully equipped suites in a prime location on Route 8.

Gary Treser and his brother, Robert, found themselves with 4,000 sq. ft. of unused space in Hampton Commons, a sprawling structure that once housed a hotel. Recognizing the burgeoning co-working trend and the continued growth of the beauty industry, they decided to capitalize on it.

“We thought we could rent this out as a plain, vanilla box, or we could add value to the community,’” Treser said.

They opened Mirra less than a year ago and have already filled four of the 14 available suites. Though the brothers spent their careers in construction and real estate and have little connection to the beauty industry, what they do have is experience and a large network that could benefit any beginning entrepreneur. They believe that kind of mentorship is one of the perks of working at Mirra.

The other perk is cost structure. Building out and opening a free-standing salon is expensive, and working for an existing salon often requires beauty professionals to operate in a commission-based system that gives 40 to 60 percent of their sales to the salon owner. Mirra professionals pay only a weekly license fee, which covers their space and accommodations, including cabinetry, sinks, chairs, washers and dryers and Wi-Fi. All profits from services and products are their own.

“We try to make it easy,” Treser said. “We want it to be seamless, so they can get into their own business rather inexpensively.”

Sola operates similarly. Beauty professionals pay a weekly fee for the move-in ready space and access to Sola’s tools and continuing education. Pittsburgh area manager Cassie Farkas says that most professionals can pay the fee with just the income from one or two clients.

One of the tools offered is a free app called Sola Pro, which offers the ‘Solapreneurs,’ as they call themselves, advice on running a small business, including marketing and social media tips. Another app, called Sola Genius, allows professionals to book clients, track services and pay sales tax for a small monthly fee. 

Solapreneurs also have access to no-charge continuing education sessions on the latest beauty trends, such as updos and balayage (a highlighting technique). 

And, as the Sola mantra promises, the professionals are never on their own. Though the studios are separate, Farkas said it’s not unusual for each location to form a community, with stylists visiting each other’s spaces, borrowing supplies and organizing happy hour outings.

Both Treser and Farkas say the biggest advantage to co-working for beauty professionals is the freedom and flexibility it provides. They decorate their own spaces and set their own hours. Working nights and weekends—a must at many salons—is not required.

“It’s a more flexible schedule,” Farkas said. “We definitely have a lot of moms at Sola because it works for them.”

Of course, co-working isn’t for everyone. Farkas always recommends that beauty professionals who want to make the switch from a traditional salon to Sola have an existing clientele. It makes paying the weekly fee and marketing to new clients much easier. 

In fact, about 40 percent of Solapreneurs across the country are salon owners looking to downsize. At the Wexford location, for example, one of the spaces is occupied by a former salon owner and several of his stylists.

And, for many, the switch is an economic boon. Farkas said beauty professionals at Sola typically increase their income 20 to 30 percent. At Mirra, one stylist tripled her income.

“Some people’s lives completely change,” Farkas said.