Trent Breland of Salt Hair Lounge


Wednesday June 01, 2022

An unconventional warrior’s unconventional business path

Just how universally flexible and adaptable is the Green Beret skillset? Plenty, if you ask Trent Breland—a transitioning First Group Green Beret and owner of Salt Hair Lounge in Olympia, Washington, which he and his cosmetologist wife Katie acquired in 2021. Salon ownership is certainly not one of the most commonly pursued career paths for Green Berets post-military, but as Trent’s experience demonstrates, with a little bit of creativity and open-mindedness, all of the skills which serve a Green Beret in Special Operations can be adapted to the civilian world and applied in order to succeed with any business model.

Juggling business ownership and active duty service, with a planned transition date of spring 2024, Trent has gained insight into how to channel the skills that make a successful Green Beret into traits of a successful civilian entrepreneur and business owner—landing on some key lessons learned and best practices along the way.

  • Seize the moment. A Green Beret knows that timing is everything, and many opportunities to take action don’t come around twice. This is why Trent didn’t balk at the idea of becoming a salon owner when Katie brought it up. “One of my biggest fears is missing out on an opportunity that could be life-changing. I’m a forward-thinker, so I immediately saw the possibilities for where we could take it,” says Trent.
  • Identify your assets—including your spouse. When a team of Green Berets tackles a challenge, each team member’s individual strengths are recognized and leveraged. “For me,” says Trent, “it’s strategic level thinking. My strength is in immediately identifying problems while quickly assessing available resources, and determining whether it is collaboration or connection that is going to solve the problem.” Going into business with his spouse of 15 years was a natural fit, says Trent, because spouses know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and can work together in a mutually complimentary and supportive fashion to reach their goals. “Where I am visionary, Katie is practical,” says Trent, “and we make a strong team when she’s running day-to-day operations at the salon while I’m focusing bigger picture.”
  • Leverage your military skillset in the civilian world. Don’t fall into the mistaken belief that there’s no place for your military skillset in civilian life, or that you’re going to have to completely reinvent yourself in order to succeed post-transition. “We tend to shy away from our military background and jargon when we move forward as civilians,” says Trent, “but there’s so much experience we have that others are looking for. Strategic level planning, acquiring funding, thinking through contingencies…we already know how to do these things as Green Berets; we just have to figure out a way to package these skills on the civilian side so they are digestible for everybody.”
  • Don’t lose your focus on the fundamentals. What is a Green Beret, if not first a soldier with exceptionally trained and well-honed skills of the profession? In Trent’s experience running Salt Hair Lounge, a focus on entrepreneurial fundamentals is no less of a gamechanger in the workforce than mastery of tactical fundamentals is on the battlefield. “We’ve chosen the verbiage ‘beauty in the basics’ to describe our approach to this,” says Trent, “and it echoes the Special Operations belief in ‘brilliance in the basics.’ There’s no denying that social media is an important pillar of what any business needs to be doing in this day and age, but not at the expense of the basics. There is still no replacement for the marketing opportunities that are right in front of us, but which we tend to overlook: particularly when it comes to going to the ground with business cards, networking with other local businesses, setting up local events, and identifying opportunities for collaboration and cross-promotion.”
  • Build bridges with the local community. Along those same lines: while your days may be numbered of actual community bridge-building as part of your Green Beret mission set, there are great benefits to metaphorically applying the concept of ‘bridge building’ to your civilian business pursuits. Says Trent: “The community aspect of the salon is something we emphasize, as well as networking with other communities nearby, working with other businesses, choosing a hand-picked local lender to finance the business, and focusing locally on growing our client base. Key to our core values at Salt Hair Lounge is the idea that we are not just doing hair; we are making our community beautiful, and being value-added members of what we have here in Olympia. I don’t want to be the type of business that just cranks out clients with a production-line mentality; we strive to build a team at Salt that emphasizes building personal connection with clients, giving them the individualized care that they missed out on during the pandemic, and providing them with an environment where they can leave everything else behind and experience a true sense of escape.”
  • Show up for your people. Just as you and your ODA took care of each other throughout your military careers, the same leadership characteristics which earn trust on a team of Green Berets work just as well in the civilian workplace—even when you’re a male Special Forces soldier who owns a salon entirely staffed by females under the age of 25. Even though he is still active duty, Trent makes a point of showing up at the salon every morning on his way to work, and returns in the evenings or even at lunchtime if needed. Additionally, he welcomes the challenge of leading this team of young female stylists, bringing a dash of Green Beret-style personal development coaching into the mix: “I think that my purpose is to lead and mentor on various scales,” he says, “so being able to connect with our staff, connecting with them on a human level, trying to understand what they have going on in life, and recognizing the challenges that they are going through, is something that I see as a critically important aspect of salon ownership.” The salt investment in their team of stylists is evident even from looking over their website, where ample space is afforded to each stylist with a professional portrait and detailed bio—small details which go a long way towards helping team members feel valued.
  • Understand the values of the community you serve. Just as cultural understanding and fluency is a cornerstone of the Green Beret’s approach to unconventional warfare, so cultural understanding is critical to business success in the civilian world—especially where meeting the needs of clientele is concerned. For example, Trent says, “Here in the Pacific Northwest, sustainability is a closely held value of the client base we serve. To this end, we have adopted a focus on ‘sustainabeauty,’ or sustainability in the beauty products offered in our salon. Understanding not just our customers, but our staff’s values, as well, went into the math on that.”
  • Apply that cultural understanding to recognizing the aspects of civilian culture that do not coincide with your past experience as a Green Beret—and adjust accordingly. Cultural understanding can be utilized to identify synergies, but it can just as easily be flipped to identify opportunities for adaptation. “It’s something I’ve identified working with other businesses, that some things which seem pretty basic to me as a Green Beret, others in the civilian world may find challenging,” says Trent. “For example, Green Berets are very goal oriented, have a good vision of strategic plans at multiple levels, instinctively identify and work through contingencies, and are skilled at making sense of competing priorities. The acquisition of our business took longer than I thought it should have, primarily because of some of these factors—which are second nature to me as a Green Beret of 15 years, but which aren’t as easily recognized by others.” It was actually Trent’s wife, Katie, who talked him down from this: “She said, ‘Trent, calm down. Not everybody thinks like you do, or sees life as a military operation.’”
  • Communicate with your command. While Trent and Katie acquired Salt Hair Lounge in 2021, Trent undertook his first entrepreneurial venture in 2018 with the founding of Pacific Northwest Athletics, LLC (an athletics coaching and consulting company which had to be put on hold due to COVID, and will be relaunched as Slate Operations, LLC in Summer, 2022). Over the past 4 years of this pre-transition process—with 2 more years left to go—he has kept in close contact with his command at First Special Forces Group, who have been extremely supportive of his plans. “Let your command know step by step what your goals are, with detailed plans and milestones,” Trent advises. “They can help you leverage available resources and take advantage of programs such as those offered by the Green Beret Foundation, which exist to support your transition process.”

In short, says Trent, “Don’t be afraid to bring to bear the Green Beret in yourself in whatever field. After a couple of decades in Special forces, trust me; you can do it. Don’t shy away from your biggest strengths. If we believe in what we can achieve, being the expert problem solvers that we are, there isn’t a field out there that we can’t succeed in.”

Eager to connect with other Green Beret entrepreneurs, in hopes of forging mutually-supportive bonds in the business world, Trent urges others to connect with him on Linkedin or Instagram (@theoperational).

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