Leave it to Cathy Lewis Long, formerly of The Sprout Fund, and Anne Sekula, formerly of the Remake Learning Network, to join forces to create a venture with a concept that is unique to the region — The Salon. NEXTpittsburgh caught up with them on the day of their announcement — International Women’s Day — to find out more.
What is The Salon?
CL: The Salon is a reimagination of the women’s club. Women need a space to build more authentic connections. We see The Salon as that kind of third space, where women can find conversation, social connections and exposure to new experiences. Members also have unlimited access to our regular and daily programs. Or, they can pop in anytime to linger over a coffee.
AS: The physical space is a 500-square-foot studio that has its own unique aesthetic (designed by Colleen Simonds) and nests into a corner of the Beauty Shoppe’s new co-working space, Arsenal Motors, in lower Lawrenceville.
Why did you start it?
CL: As I began to think about life after The Sprout Fund, I knew I wanted to do something that continued to bring people together to build community. I knew I wanted to work with and support the amazing leaders, innovators and educators that drive so much in this city.
AS: I knew I wanted to continue my network-based work after I stepped away from leading the Remake Learning Network and was very interested in focusing these efforts in ways that support women. Cathy and I had early conversations about this while walking our kids’ to the bus stop. And, our chats led to many conversations with other women. We were trying to understand what’s next in our careers, by first asking what was missing in our lives.
CL: We knew we craved a community and that we felt more inspired when surrounded by inspiring women. And so, we put all the pieces together, studied the market and set out to develop the concept.
Is this a trend in other cities?
CL: We’ve spent much of the past year researching and coming to understand the landscape and growing market for women-focused clubs and programs. Female community-focused business models are popping up all around the country in various forms from all-female co-working spaces like The Wing, or career coaching networks like The Chief, or networks like Girlboss.
AS: We’ve adjusted the model for the Pittsburgh regional context. We think a space-focused model will address professional female burnout, toxic and inflexible workplace cultures and isolation of female-run businesses. In addition to providing professional resources and development, these spaces provide community, collaborators and collective impact.
What’s your goal in terms of membership and events?
AS: Not knowing how the community will respond to this new concept, we’re approaching The Salon much like a startup — small and lean. We hope to have a few hundred members in our first year that represent a diverse cross-section of women in Pittsburgh. As we grow, so will our weekly calendars offered at different times to accommodate women’s work and family schedules.
CL: Our goal is to create a space where women of many ages, backgrounds and cultures come together around shared interests and topics. We’ll have daily activities as well as weekly and monthly programs.
What kind of events would you like to have?
AS: We see The Salon serving as a bridge between great minds, services, organizations, ideas and our active and engaged membership. We’ll have an array of clubs for informal dialogue and connection. We’ll also program talks and panels with leading women in their field of interest. We’ll create space for member-led discussion and affinity groups. And, host workshops and series for women who want to take a deeper dive in a subject matter. As we grow, The Salon will curate retreats, excursions and community partnerships all focused on enriching women’s lives. We’ll make the space accessible to members so members can further develop their own ideas and new ventures and get early market feedback.
CL: Work/life balance, self-care, career development, empowerment, relationships and community are the themes we heard over and over as being important to women.
In a city not known for diversity, how will you achieve it?
CL: Frankly, as two white women, we know there are a ton of ways to get this wrong. But we won’t avoid this challenge. For The Salon to be successful, we need a broad array of perspectives, representation and conversations. From our programming approach to our membership model, we’ve baked into the design of The Salon ways we hope encourage women of all backgrounds, races, ages, cultures and lifestyles to be involved. We know that if the Salon looks like a lot of people just like me or just like Anne, it will not be successful or relevant to our times.
AS: Our aspiration is to create a supportive and inspiring community for all women to grow personally, professionally and socially. We have a number of practices we’ll include from the beginning and grow from there based on feedback. One offering a tailored membership cost structure indexed to what’s comfortable and affordable for each individual member. We want to exist to be a place where women can find ways to come together to build shared understanding, new perspectives and celebrate our differences.
What are the benefits to women?
AS: We know women do better together within a supportive community. Networking models are outdated and often male-centric. We found that many women want a place grounded in community. A place to make meaningful connections. A safe place to step out of their comfort zone and meet women with different backgrounds, career paths and life stories. A place to expand their network just by showing up. A place to check out and learn new things they might not even know they wanted to try.
CL: The benefit is community. And building more communities of women supporting women. Whether you are a young woman growing your professional network or new to Pittsburgh looking to build your social network or an established professional wanting to be surrounded by women from different backgrounds, The Salon creates a regular go-to spot to make more friendships and connections.
How many square feet of space are you taking at the Beauty Shoppe and how does it break down: event space, communal room, etc.
CL: The Salon Studio space is small (let’s say, intimate) more like a living room for small events or workshops. Through our partnership with the Beauty Shoppe we’ll have use of the larger flex areas and meeting rooms at Arsenal Motors for larger events and programs.
AS: We can accommodate 20 or so people in the studio space for drop-in or events, but can spill over into the larger events spaces, conference rooms and rooftop deck in Arsenal Motors. Our members can also rent these spaces at a preferred rate for their own events, which is an added bonus to membership. And for members who are also looking for a workspace or would like regular access to the 2,000-square-foot flex lounge and conference rooms in Arsenal Motors, we have structured a partnership for co-working with the Beauty Shoppe that gives them all of those benefits and amenities.
Co-working is another element that’s also available. Are men welcome in this space?
CL: Arsenal Motors is open to all, but we hope more women-led or businesses with lots of female employees will be attracted to the building because of The Salon. And, yes, men are welcome in The Salon! We’re open to anyone and everyone who believes in building stronger communities of women.
AS: It’s interesting, many men we’ve talked want to be “allies” of The Salon. They’ve expressed an interest in learning from smart, diverse and engaged women more about the issues and topics important to them.
How often do you two plan on being there?
CL: A lot! Part of The Salon’s credo is to find a better work/life balance, but I imagine we’ll spend a lot of time in The Salon as we are building this concept from the ground up.
AS: Other female entrepreneurs have shared that we need to be super present for at least the first six months. As we grow, we’ll hire programming and community managers who bring additional skills, energy and perspectives to The Salon. We also plan on spending a lot of time out in the community, meeting with partners and sponsors to introduce and develop new networks of Salon supporters.
What will success look like?
CL: I imagine a vibrant space with all kinds of women — age, professional status, race, culture, lifestyle — coming to The Salon to learn new things and build meaningful connections with people they may not otherwise know or have an opportunity to interact with.
AS: Success also will be measured by the activation of the space through consistent programs and activities that draw members to The Salon on a regular basis. Our goal is for the model to be sustainable in the first two years. We want to use this time to deeply understand the programming model and market interest before expanding into content and other spaces. We think expansion of The Salon programming will be best developed as a lightweight infrastructure that can be plugged into co-working, business or pop-up spaces within and beyond Pittsburgh.
What’s the target date for opening?
CL: Our fingers are crossed for early May!
AS: The space will open in the spring, but we’ll be launching an I Fund Women-Crowdraising Campaign in April where members can pre-purchase membership for early member discounts. Our Facebook page includes dates in March and April for our Open Houses to preview the space.