“My style is glamour and grit,” says Frankie Sanderson, hairstylist and owner of TheStudeo, a recently opened salon in Dupont. That taste is echoed in his shop. The walls are a serene ice blue. Sleek white chairs face outsized mirrors with elaborate white frames. But the concrete floors are covered in graffiti, and the waiting area’s long, narrow window seat is strewn with funky, multihued pillows. It’s an inviting atmosphere, both calming and fun.
Sanderson who studied design before getting into hair enjoyed creating the salon’s look, and says he didn’t mind helping with the renovations throughout the months leading to the TheStudeo’s opening in late January. What he wasn’t prepared for was the all the red tape involved in starting a business. By far, the most frustrating part of the process, he says, was dealing with the D.C. Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs: “Each visit to their offices was like going fishing. You never knew what you might get.”
Over the last dozen years, Sanderson was employed by top salons around town and later became his own boss working at home and more recently renting a booth in another salon, but TheStudeo (1742 Connecticut Ave., N.W., thestudeo.com) is Sanderson’s first brick-and-mortar business. And as any new business owner will attest, the first months are particularly stressful. Sanderson’s experience has been no exception. “When you’re working for yourself, in the end it’s you who are responsible. It’s you who has to make sure the bills are paid. But despite the responsibilities, the satisfaction involved is amazing.”
Located on a busy block of Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle (just next door to the popular Bistro du Coin), TheStudeo holds an enviable position. Of course that kind of location doesn’t come cheap, but according to Sanderson it’s already paying off.
“We’ve got foot traffic passing by from early in the morning to sometimes night. We get lots of walk-ins. When I work late people will pop in and ask what’s happening here. I’ll give them a card and they often come back.”
In Washington, the salon competition is fierce: “D.C. is definitely a tough market. To remain competitive it’s important for stylists to keep current,” says Sanderson who frequently travels to New York City to update his skills. “What sets TheStudeo apart from other salons is our staff [seven hairdressers including him and a nail person who also does full body waxing] of talented, educated stylists. We regularly take classes to seek new trends and relearn basics. And we’re a very friendly, very open, full-service salon.”
TheStudeo’s clients range from conservative to edgy, says Sanderson. He credits his long roster of beautifully coiffed, seemingly natural blonde clients to a recipe of bleach, sweat, and know-how. “It’s important to listen to your clients, but a stylist must be intuitive at the same time.”
Sanderson was born in Washington and raised in West Virginia around Charles Town and Shepherdstown. “Growing up I went through New Wave and goth phases, so there was lots of big hair. I got a lot of stares.” He studied design at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond before apprenticing at a salon in Richmond and taking classes at TIGI in New York.
Sanderson lives with his partner of six years in Logan. “He’s in finance so he understands long hours,” he says. “We appreciate each other’s professions and work ethics. I’d like us to spend more time together than we’re able to now, but the time we do spend together is that much more valuable.”
A new business owner must make concessions. Sanderson has had to cut back on travel and his passion for shopping, but not entirely. “After all, a salon owner needs to look good,” he says grinning devilishly.
For now, Sanderson says the focus is on getting through the first year. “I want TheStudeo to be the kind of professional, creative, friendly salon that I’ve dreamed of owning. I’ll think about opening a second shop later.”