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Massage Today
June, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 06

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,

So, you're on the hunt for your new spa location, and you're trying to come up with a name that will catch the public's interest and broadcast your spa's true mission at the same time. It's a time of excitement and pandemonium! You haven't been this excited about creating something since your 6th-grade science project.

The more focused and forward-thinking you are at this early stage, the better the finished product will turn out. It's extremely important to take your time, step back, take stock of the overall situation, and formulate your plan of attack.

In the case of a new spa, the plan of attack is also called the "business plan." If you don't have one, you're sunk before your ship of dreams even drifts away from the dock. So, let's begin by talking about that plan of yours.

Care and Feeding for Your Business Plan

In your case, it's true that your partner Barbara has more (much more) capital to invest in your spa project than you do, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't become intimately familiar with every aspect of the business plan, including the financial health of the fledgling enterprise. The $10,000 you've pitched in is no meager sum, especially since it represents over 90 percent of your life savings.

Barbara was fortunate enough to have a corporate lawyer in the family, who drew up a business plan with your help. If you didn't have this family connection to fall back on, it might have been tempting to forego the business-plan idea altogether. I mean, why bother with all that paperwork? You don't need to attract outside investors at this point. You're thinking that what really counts is the logo; color scheme; name; location; and stuff like that. Right, Lou?

There are several good reasons to have a business plan before you take another step toward creating your spa. The plan will solidify what exactly you're attempting to create. Refining the details of capital investment; management structure; client demographics; marketing plans; and expense budgets will allow you to see your business existing in the "real world."

Do yourself a favor: Spend some time getting to know each and every detail of that plan the lawyer created. Although you're a "right-brained" therapist with little interest in such matters, you need to know and care about what it says for the spa to be a success right from the start.

It might be a good idea to get to know the general structure of business plans more intimately; this will help familiarize you with what business is all about - a must for nonbusiness types such as yourself. Go to, or any other book-related Web site, and type in "business plans"; you'll find a load of books on the subject. Have you thought about taking a class at the local community college on business management? You are, after all, going into business. I've seen too many spa owners disregard this obvious fact since opening a spa seems more like a healing vision than a nuts-and-bolts reality. Do yourself a favor: Get real and study up.


As you're boning up on business practices, you also are out scouting your spa's perfect location. It's fun and spiritual putting the soul of your idea into the body of a building and giving birth to a being, not just a business.

You've told me about three possibilities that have intrigued you and Barbara so far: an old house downtown; a storefront in a busy mall; and half a floor in a medical office building. As is often the case, there are pros and cons to each option:

  • The house downtown would offer the most pedestrian traffic and "personality" to your new venture, but there would be considerable fixing up to do, and this potentially "funky" atmosphere could turn off some prospective clients.
  • The storefront would be harder to personalize with your own special touch, but think of the parking! Shoppers are there looking for ways to spend their money - you'd be in just the right place for them to get to know you.
  • The medical office building might be the best place if you and Barbara are thinking about opening a medical day spa, one of the most swiftly growing subcategories in the spa field. A word of caution: Many spa developers - even doctors opening medically oriented spas - shy away from office buildings because they're trying to create a relaxing, nonclinical environment.

You're probably familiar with the saying that the three most important things in business are location, location, location. That's partially true, but what that axiom fails to emphasize is there's more involved than the GPS coordinates of the building you're considering. There's something else going on, too; it's called "energy."

Location Energy

I know it's weird, and some massage therapists are already marginalized for couching things in "new-agey" terms, but I truly believe that below the surface, energy levels are a factor to business locations.

Some locations can't generate successful business, no matter who or what goes in there. Even the best businesses can't succeed in a "jinxed" location. Potential customers just seem to pass it by, as if there were an invisible gate blocking the entrance. You know the spots - those spaces where one business after another has come and gone over and over again. Of course, you're not a native of your new city, and so you don't know about the history of each site; but Barbara does. You can also ask local residents or look up county business records.

In addition to practical considerations such as lease terms, the amount of rent you'll be paying, zoning rules, etc., it would be wise to look into the background "energy" of the structure. Who has been in there? Why did they leave? What is the gestalt of this old home you're considering? What types of clientele frequent the mall in which the storefront is located?

I have a friend and former student who settled on an old home, similar to the one you're considering. It's on the main street in the busy tourist town of Provincetown, Cape Cod. She faced a lot of challenges restoring a 150-year-old building, but she made the right choice. The building had never been used for a business, so she created her own energy there, and it worked. She's now opening a second location.

You can tell I'm leaning toward the old house downtown, can't you? Don't let that influence you too much. You and Barbara need to figure things out gradually, in your own time. The next time I have the chance to write, I'll give you some ideas regarding two other hot topics that are surely burning in your brain about now: your new spa's name and its mission.

Until then, take care.

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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