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Massage Today
May, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 05

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry.

The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

You're doing it! I always thought the day would come when you'd decide to venture out and open a spa of your own, but I didn't think it would come this soon. The timing must be right. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that the job at the medical spa fell through - after all, you didn't really enjoy working for the people there, and they certainly didn't support you when you were faced with a career-ending lawsuit. So, it may be for the best that you're now a free agent.

Of course, you probably feel bad about losing those stock options the medical spa offered you, but you've got to remember that options are exactly that: options. They only have paper value until they can be exercised, and if your mishaps with management are at all indicative of the spa's future prospects, I would venture a guess that those options are not going to be worth much in the future. What you're probably throwing away is a bunch of paper dreams. It's better to be rid of them, move on unencumbered, and anchor yourself firmly in the reality of starting up a new spa venture.

I'm sure it isn't easy contemplating a new start in a strange city. It's intimidating, to say the least, but you've got one important thing on your side: a partner on whom you can trust and rely. Barbara has proven herself in your time of need, sticking by your side and believing in you when you were sued for incompetence. Now, she needs your help in creating the spa of her dreams.

More Than Just Another Business

This new facility will be something simple and not uncommon: a day spa. By some estimates, there are over 10,000 day spas in the U.S. alone. Another one opens every day of the week. No big deal, right? Then, why are you so excited? Why are you and Barbara almost delirious at the thought of developing your new business? Why does it all seem so totally unique, so avant-garde, so special? I've seen the same thing many times - in every spa workshop I teach and everywhere I go, from the beaches of South Florida to the woods of northern Canada. When people create their own spa, it almost always becomes a labor of love, dedication, creativity and great hope. You and Barbara now hope to share something of yourselves with many new people, and you want everything to be perfect.

A spa is a special place - definitely more than just another business. It combines the nourishing qualities of a restaurant with the healing properties of a clinic, then adds the social buzz of a great salon and the health focus of a gym. A spa is a place that nurtures, treats and loves people, all in an atmosphere created completely by you.

Of course, to create this fabulous dream, you need to focus on some concrete, un-dreamlike realities. If you don't focus on these realities right now, the entire dream will collapse before it has a chance to take shape. The three things I think most important at this preliminary stage (things you absolutely must take care of first) are concept, financing and location.

What a Great Concept!

First comes the dream. If everyone had to stop and think of all the problems and pitfalls of new ventures before they even dreamed them up, nothing would ever get built. Go ahead and dream. Fantasize. What would your perfect spa look like? What treatments do you want on the menu? Where will it be located? Who are your clientele? Will you have an extensive retail section? Will food or drinks be available? What would you name the spa?

In my spa startup workshops, I share a "Far Side" cartoon with students. In the cartoon, two super-excited dogs sit ogling their owner as she spoons out the same slop they receive every day of the week. The caption reads, "Oh boy... it's dog food again!" The point I'm trying to get across is that spa-goers are not canines. With so many choices available in the marketplace today, you need to spend some time honing and refining your concept until it becomes something a little bit different than everyone else's.

I look forward to hearing about your developing concept over the coming weeks. It sounds like you and Barbara already have some interesting ideas.

You've Got Backing

The primary cause for spa startup failure is undercapitalization, which is a fancy word for being broke. You've got to have some money (six months of operating expenses is the typical suggestion) to get started. In your case, Barbara's parents are going to fund the project with $100,000 of their own capital, and Barbara's going to take a loan out for another $100,000, using her house as collateral. They're definitely taking some major risks here, putting everything on the line to make this new business work. So, what can you offer? You can offer $10,000, that's what. Yes, you heard me right - your entire life savings that you've had socked away in a CD for eight years. I know that's a scary prospect, but if you don't "pony up" a comparable investment, how can your new partners trust your level of commitment? Barbara's family has considerably more money than you do, but you have the ability to show the same level of commitment. You're risking all the money you have in the world, which, relatively speaking, is more than they're willing to risk.

You're young, so you can afford to fail. In fact, failure now might serve as a valuable lesson; not giving it your all would be the mistake. So, in addition to the long hours and hard work you need to devote to your new project, the dollar investment is crucial.

Find the Perfect Space

Even though you're still in the preliminary stages, it's never too early to start looking for the perfect space for your new spa. In fact, when you find the right space, it may inspire you to flesh out parts of your spa dream that weren't quite solid. You and Barbara should both be cruising around, looking for the right place: the place you can fall in love with; the place that will house your dream. Try to let something sneak up and surprise you. Look into properties that seem completely off the wall; walk into them, and see if something gels. You are now officially on the hunt for your future. It is hidden in a building or a storefront, somewhere "out there." It is being subsidized by a bank and your new partner's good faith. It is in the hearts of the hundreds of people you will, with any luck, touch in the near future - your customers-to-be.

Keep dreaming!

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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