The Story of Elite Salon Studios
Tom Linder is standing in the doorway of one of his hair salon suites at Elite Salon Studios. His right hand is guiding my attention towards the 12 ft industrially designed ceiling as a conductor would direct a musician, explaining to me the intricacies of his custom lighting system and how it ensures that color can be measured accurately in the hair…”an absolute requirement for any hair colorist charging for premium services”.
But my tour of the ceiling does not end with his lighting system. No, he excitedly moves on to the fact that each of his salon suites has independent air conditioning units; two of them per salon, controlled by the stylist. One unit is for cooling and heating while the other unit maintains a flow of fresh air in each suite at all times. He looks into my eyes to see if I get it. Do I get how unique it is that each stylist has the ability to control the temperature of his/her salon? He waits to see that I actually do, in fact, get it.
Get Tom Linder talking about his salon studios and he’ll make sure that you understand that fact and many others. Linder has invested a lot of time, effort, collaboration and money into the creation of Elite Salon Studios and his passion for making Elite actually “elite” is evident in his enthusiasm for his creation.
It’s not that he spent a lot of money in just the ceiling area alone. It’s why he spent the money and that comes from a lesson that he learned when he was the executive vice president with International Cities Corporation, the company that built the Omni International Complex, now known as the CNN Center.
“If you are going to build something, you want to build the very best product you can build on the very best site that you can find because, if you don’t, you are going to be competing with the guy that did. So just make up your mind that if you can’ t be the best then just don’t do it. Wait until a project comes along where you can be the best because life is hard enough without being second class.”
Tom Linder wants to change the way Atlanta hair stylists look at the salon studio concept, and he is willing to spend the money to show them that there is a difference between his salon studios and his local competition.
So what is the “Salon Studio Concept”?
When we picture a hair salon, we envision a large, elegant room with styling chairs side by side in a row. Higher end salons are glamorous, but there are drawbacks for some clients, notably the noise, lack of privacy while in conversation, etc.. What many clients don’t know is that, at some salons, the salon owners actually rent out these chairs to hair stylists. Those stylists that rent chairs are running their own, separate business inside that salon. This is called booth rental, and the debate about whether booth rental is good for the stylists or the salon owners has been raging for years. Enter the salon studio concept.
The salon studio concept took booth rental a step further. The idea was to build small, individual hair salon suites (starting around 80 square feet) that effectively transformed renting booths into renting small rooms with a washbowl and styling chair. Each hair stylist would now have their own hair salon and would be able to decorate it to their personality. Just like that, a stylist could easily start a hair salon for themselves, most of the time alone but often with a partner. The hair stylists loved their new environment of having their own salon yet still being in the company of other hair stylists. The reaction from clients (who now enjoyed a private, more personalized experience) was overwhelmingly positive.
Is this a Salon Studio, or a rectangle with a sink in the corner?
With the advent of the salon studio concept, so came the real estate developers. The ability to put a sink in a room and call it a salon studio was just too easy for developers and at the same time, this held value because hair stylists loved the idea of having their own hair salon and this was the standard that was accepted when Tom Linder first heard of the salon studio concept.
Linder had just built Dunwoody Self Storage on the corner of Mount Vernon Highway and Peachtree-Dunwoody Rd in the heart of the Dunwoody and Sandy Springs business districts.
“We wanted a beautiful building. This is Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, right along the line. Dunwoody has a particular look. Architecturally, you find the same theme over and over in North Atlanta, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. It’s a Georgian Colonial mix of architecture which is beautiful, stately, and distinguished.”
The 1105 building that is home to both Dunwoody Self Storage and Elite Salon Studios sits high above the Home Depot and Costo. It is famously known as the building in which you really have to look at to realize it is home to a self storage facility as well as a string of luxury, boutique hair salons. It simply doesn’t look like a storage facility, and that was by design. It does, however, look very much the part for luxury hair salons.
When Linder first completed the 1105 building in 2007, he viewed his facility and his storage units as an extension of people’s homes and as additional offices for local businesses, so he made sure that his facility was impeccably beautiful, clean and secure. It would not look like a self storage facility.
“Women store clothes here when their closets get too full. I see them bring them in and take them out.” Linder smiles. “We have companies that trust us with important business documents. You have to live up to that trust to support both your personal and business clients if you want to stand out and appeal to a clientele that demands more.”
Concerning the 1105 development, Linder designed it for multi-use, so he made sure that the building was an architectural achievement, hiring an award winning architect that had designed Ritz Carltons across the country, including the salons that were in those Ritz Carltons. When he first heard about the salon studio concept, Linder realized that he already had the layout for salon studios in his 1105 building as his self storage units could easily be converted. The first thing he envisioned was that his salon studios would be the same size of his existing storage units and they would range between 150 to 200 square feet, much larger than the average size of a salon studio in the Atlanta area. This would allow for the amenities package that Elite would ultimately offer, including all customized cabinetry as well as a European wash bowl and massage chair.
Tom Linder was about to transform the first floor of the 1105 building into Elite Salon Studios and also begin to set new standards for what a salon studio would look like in the future.
The team that built Elite
Despite his enthusiasm for his new project, Linder knew nothing about building hair salons. In fact, in his excitement, he drew up many ideas concerning salon design. Next he hired a Buckhead salon manager who promptly threw those ideas out, stating that those ideas were fine, just not for the luxury hair salons that he envisioned. It was time to build the team.
“We needed advice. We hired a top manager at a Buckhead salon to come and consult with us. And then Belvedere, which is a leader in the manufacture of beauty salon furniture and salon equipment had a professional interior decorator that we used. So now we had a top Buckhead salon manager, an interior designer from one of the top companies in the salon equipment business and our architect who had designed our building and also designed the Ritz Carlton and had put salons in Ritz Carltons all over the country. And me. It was the four of us.
We decided to start with a clean sheet of paper, from scratch and said, let’s have the stylists design this thing – the top stylists that know the styling business. Let’s have the industry in Atlanta design the top salon studios in the their area. And that is exactly what we did. And once we got an initial design, then we decided to invite other top stylists in North Atlanta in and ask them, “How would you change this? What can we do to make this better?” So stylists would come and we’d set up a stage in our lobby and have a hair show and they would have a four hour program and teach about styling hair and while they were here we would take further suggestions from the stylists about our salon suites.
Through that process we built our first four salons. Today we have twenty-five, which we intended. We opened the first four and got stylists in them and we began to get experience, asking those needed questions. Do the customers like it? Is it convenient? Is it appealing? Do they think it’s beautiful? Is there something they don’t like about it? So we began learning from the customers of our stylists and letting them get in on the designing of the salons. We were trying to please the people that were going to be spending their money here. Some of these customers came up with the idea for the tile wall we have and the tile floor. All of the stylists said that you have to have specialized lighting because ordinary office lighting doesn’t work. So we did that.”
Linder and his team did that…and much more. Running through a list of Elite Salon Studio amenities with Tom Linder is like listening to a kid describe his birthday wish list…if that wish list involved a salon studio, of course. Linder’s excitement as he takes you through his story and brags like a proud parent about his salons is infectious. He is proud about what he offers and knows that no one else is doing it…yet. While listening to him talk about Elite, you realize that he has, indeed, built his wish list with the help of a few very experienced friends. And he wants everyone to know about it.