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DeBolt patriarch realizes every dad’s dream at Sola


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Jim, Don and Jeff DeBolt, l to r, are opening Sola Salon Studios in and around Washington, D.C.

If timing is everything, being on the inside track can’t hurt, either. For the DeBolts, a family steeped in the franchise world, hearing of a business opportunity through the grapevine has morphed into a promising endeavor for a father to work with his two sons.

Patriarch, Don DeBolt, was president and CEO of the International Franchise Association until retiring in 2005. He’s the current COO at American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association. Eldest son, Jim, is an independent consultant with FranChoice, while the youngest, Jeff, is a former franchisee of accounting outfit Fiducial.

While they still all have their day jobs, the DeBolt trio also is diving head-first into their latest venture as franchisees of Sola Salon Studios, a 210-unit franchise started in 2004 that offers salon professionals the benefits of salon ownership without the capital required to start their own businesses.

“It’s a dream of every father to have a family business involving two of their favorite people,” DeBolt said. “This just kind of happened naturally. We saw something and all liked this. The next thing you know, we signed a franchise agreement, signed a lease and now have a location open.”

Copying all emails

Sola Salon Studios is built around the concept there are ambitious (or disgruntled) stylists all across the country with a strong desire to be their own bosses, but lacking the capital to start their own business.

Sola provides stylists with“everything they need to be in business for themselves, and they really don’t have the headaches that go with it—they basically walk in the door with their tools and they’re in business,” DeBolt said. “It’s a wonderful business from our standpoint, too—there’s no inventory, no receivables and we don’t have any employees.”

Sola franchisees provide stylists with small, medium or large studio spaces they rent. The package includes a stylist’s chair, shampoo bowl, two oversized mirrors, a cabinet for hair dryers and curling irons, a retail shelf, additional storage space and a large sink, called a color bar. There’s even free Wi-Fi included.

Studio spaces range from 100 square feet, for a single stylist, up to 200 square feet for two people to work out of.

To keep everyone on the same page, with DeBolt and Jeff living in northern Virginia and Jim in Denver, they have adopted a policy where each of the three partners is copied on nearly every single email message, including contractors and any other third-party people.

“Whether it’s a lease negotiation, construction issue or a financing issue, everybody’s on the email,” DeBolt said. “Yeah, we get a lot of emails, but by gosh, it really pays off, because everybody is up to speed.”

DeBolt handles financing; Jeff manages marketing and accounting; and Jim interfaces with construction people, scouts new locations and finalizes leases—the trickiest part of the equation as they prepare to open their second Sola location this month.

Harold Rauner, regional president of Cardinal Bank in Vienna, Virginia—who met the DeBolts through a friend at FRANdata, said one of their key moves has been taking advantage of the overbuilding of space throughout the capital city.

“Landlords are looking for new and creative users for their space, and are willing to make concessions” that lend themselves to the Sola concept, he said.

Given the fluidity of the real estate market, he recommends the family move quickly to capture the market, before other competitors replicate their business model, “which will create the need for capital to fund the growth.”

Owner times 10

While there was some trepidation about going into business with his brother and father, Jeff said it has worked out well thus far, with everyone bringing different skills to the table.

“We learn from each other, and I think we challenge each other to do the best that we can to make it the best family business that we can,” he said. “Looking ahead, I think we’re all very optimistic about the potential and how it could possibly turn out.”

The DeBolts have signed on to open 12 locations in the D.C. area as part of their franchise agreement with Sola. They hope to open their third location before the end of 2015.

“As we expand geographically, there’s going to be a logistical challenge of making sure every store we opened is properly opened and managed from a leasing standpoint, maintenance standpoint and everything,” Jeff said.

Jim added “there does come a point when you look at the number of stores” and acknowledge that one or two of them will need to leave their current positions to support their Sola locations full time.

“I don’t know if that’s six locations, eight locations or 10 locations,” he said. “A lot of it is going to be dependent on the geography of those locations, because we do have a big area to develop.”

As patriarch, DeBolt believes his future role is “seeing our stylists and blowing kisses,” and added that their goal is to build something that will be an asset for the next generation of DeBolts, should they choose it.

 

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