Patrick Elgin Of Sola Salons: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Start at the bottom. With that first location, learn every single job. I’ve done everything from cleaning the toilets to negotiating multi-million dollar leases. Having a deep knowledge of every aspect of your business will serve you tremendously as you grow.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Elgin.

Mr. Elgin is the owner/operator of 14 Sola Salon locations in the Twin Cities. Patrick currently chairs Sola’s Franchisee Advisory Board with a prime role in defining the national brand and strategy. He also received the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) ‘Franchisee of the Year’ award for 2023. Mr. Elgin formerly served as a Captain in the Minnesota National Guard. His last assignment was as the commander of the 200 Soldiers of the 34th Military Police Company based in Stillwater, Minnesota. Mr. Elgin holds a bachelor’s and a master’s Degree from the University of Richmond, Virginia, and a law degree from the University of Minnesota.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I went to the University of Minnesota Law School and practiced law before pursuing a career in franchising. I’m also a U.S. Army veteran and actually signed up to open my first Sola Salons location while I was still deployed. I opened my first location in 2013 and now have 14 open locations in the Twin Cities. We also recently celebrated the opening of Sola’s 700th location in Coon Rapids, MN, marking a historic milestone in the company’s journey.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In 2020, we had the opportunity to expand one of our salons to make it the biggest Sola Salons location in the nation. We had quite a bit of fear of undertaking a major expansion in the midst of the issues facing the country at that time, but we pushed ahead. Today, that location is one of the best in our portfolio.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I believe Mark Twain said, “You’re never wrong to do the right thing.” I use this in my business every day in how I treat our beauty professionals and understand that every person’s situation is unique and worthy of my specialized attention.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Sola Salons is the largest studio suites concept for independent beauty professionals, with over 710 locations across the U.S. and Canada. The brand’s mission is to help inspire and empower beauty professionals to live their dreams, one of the reasons why I was initially attracted to the brand. We want everyone to experience the freedom to live the life they love through entrepreneurship and independence. I firmly believe that is why Sola now hosts 20,000+ beauty professionals in our salons. All that said, Sola isn’t the best salon suite franchise because we’re the biggest: we’re the biggest because we’re the best.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

My family has a background in the beauty industry specifically and franchising generally. What attracted me to the brand was how the founders understood the need for beauty professionals to go independent. Further, hair care is generally recognized as recession-resilient, and our model requires minimal staff. The expansion of the salon suite industry since I joined Sola is evidence of the model’s attractiveness to current and potential franchisees.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

When I joined Sola, Sola’s reputation in the Twin Cities was limited and the only salons were owned by an absentee out-of-market franchisee. My wife and I had to build Sola’s reputation as a blue-chip brand one relationship at a time with our first hair stylists. We invested countless hours in these relationships and built a local reputation that would permeate the market. Since then, we’ve consolidated all the salons in the market under our common ownership, and Sola’s brand awareness in the Twin Cities beauty industry is now extremely strong.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

This is a hands-on business. In the early days and even now, some salon suite brands have been advertised as absentee. I quickly discovered that this is a full-time job if you want your franchise to be successful. Sometimes my beauty professionals continue to work a 2nd job while also having a studio at Sola. Typically, my advice to them is to focus on their studio full-time as quickly as possible if they want their business to be successful. My advice to potential franchisees would be the same, especially given the competitive environment of salon suites.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

Don’t focus on the widget. Some people choose a food franchise because they used to work in a restaurant or a gym franchise because they like to work out. That is a mistake. Write down your goals and what you want to get out of owning a business. These could be everything from income level down to something silly like being able to sleep in. Then pick a franchise based on what is going to help you accomplish your goals. Delve into the details of the franchise you are considering to validate how confident you are that they will be able to help you accomplish your goals.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Successful franchise operators are often going to have more technical expertise than their franchisor after several years of experience. You’re in it and living it so you’re going to get that experience. Pay close attention to your fellow franchisees and how they’re innovating. They’ll give you your best ideas. As the chair of Sola’s advisory board, one important function I serve is to make sure strong local innovations percolate up to the national training and strategy. One simple example of innovation is that salon suites never used to have an upcharge for a studio with a window. Now, due to local innovation, almost every salon suite charges more for a studio with a window.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

  • Work with a consultant. Franchise consultants are a free service to you paid for by participating franchisors. FranChoice ( is the industry leader and has amazing consultants with vast franchise experience. Link up with one and lean on their expertise. They can provide valuable insights.
  • Do your research. Read the FDD. Speak to as many of the corporate staff on discovery day and ask yourself if you would work well with them and speak to as many franchisees as possible. My wife Erin and I are actively involved in coaching new Sola franchisees on topics such as site selection, salon layout/design, and operating best practices for those who reach out to us.
  • Think about training. The initial corporate training is the beginning, not the end of your training. You only get one shot at opening that first location successfully. Set yourself up right by getting every advantage you can. For example, if I was opening a Sola for the first time, I’d figure out the top two or three people in the system who are most successful at selling studios and go watch them give tours and ask them as many questions as possible.
  • This is your business. The buck stops with you. The franchisor will be there with a proven system and offer advice, but they’re not going to do the work for you. You have to be confident and own your success. Don’t be passive and always take the initiative to go out there and get it done.
  • Start at the bottom. With that first location, learn every single job. I’ve done everything from cleaning the toilets to negotiating multi-million dollar leases. Having a deep knowledge of every aspect of your business will serve you tremendously as you grow.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

We provide amazing value, prices, facilities, and support to our beauty professionals. This creates an amazing flywheel that powers our growth through our positive reputation. So long as we continue to put our customers first, we will have a path to continued growth.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

In business, there are things you can control and things you cannot. The things you cannot control are obviously more worrisome. The national economy, technology innovation/disruption, and industry-wide trends all top the list. These, along with the things I can control significantly influence decision-making in the form of risk mitigation. And by that, I don’t mean taking zero risks. In fact, taking no risks is incredibly dangerous for a business owner. I mean it more in terms of evaluating risk/reward, and in avoiding putting all your eggs in one basket.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

It’s corny and sounds self-serving, but I honestly believe I’m already investing in a movement through the salon suite industry. I take great pride in providing the best value, prices, and service to the beauty community as they transition to business ownership. The vast majority of our professionals are women and/or minorities going into business ownership for the first time and we’re helping them succeed at it. Further, many of them are more than doubling their take-home income when they come to Sola. I had one beauty pro tell me that she was able to take her child to Walt Disney World® Resort for the first time because of the change to her finances after coming to Sola — a memory that a child will have forever. We’re helping to build the middle and upper-middle class of this country and that is something I’m super excited about.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Readers can follow on LinkedIn via this link:

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.