Panelists weigh in on the issues impacting the efforts of spas in their pursuit of top talent and the things they can do to retain their expertise
Starting a new spa business isn’t easy. But then again, expanding it to a successful franchise takes it to a whole new challenging level that demands an abundance of commitment and passion.
It’s the kind of vigour Alethea Austin and her husband brought to the table in 2014 when they opened their Achieve Wellness Spa franchise, one of only a handful of spa franchises in Canada.
For entrepreneurs, joining a franchise allows them to run their own businesses with the help and support of larger companies. It’s ideal if they can find an operation like Achieve Wellness Spa, where mutual success is central to the business relationship.
When Austin and her husband began their business journey, they wanted a life where they could work together while helping others “in a rewarding way.” They looked into becoming franchisees, but nothing fit their vision. The options available had mixed reviews and appeared to have limited support and poor business models. So, they decided to create their own franchise.
They incorporated Achieve Wellness Spa in 2009 and spent years planning, researching, and developing it, until opening five years later.
But just before construction began on their first location in Fort McMurray, Alta., an unimaginable tragedy struck the young family with the accidental death of their three-year-old son, James. “The tragedy could have defeated us, but instead we used it to fuel our passion to complete the project and to continue to grow the business in his legacy,” says Austin.
While most wellness businesses focus on one niche or service such as aesthetics, medical aesthetics, or physical therapy, Austin says her organization looks at wellness more holistically, at the dimensions of body, mind, and spirit. “We’re the only company that offers multiple revenue streams with over 60% of our services directly billed to insurance providers at no cost to our guests.”
The aim is to help guests achieve better health and improved quality of life through an exceptional experience in affordable luxury. The business offers full spa and wellness services and lux amenities like robes and slippers, showers, baths, hot tubs, and steam rooms, as well as a licensed alcoholic beverage service.
“Self-care is a booming multibillion-dollar industry,” explains Austin. “More and more people are understanding the benefits of self-care, and health insurers offer direct billing for many of the services we provide.” Sixty percent of the spa franchise’s current consumers are women ages 25 to 45, with the next largest cohort consisting of men ages 25 to 45. “However, there’s a growing trend with baby boomers and the aging population to becoming more health conscious and seeking out our services,” adds Austin.
This has never been truer than during the global pandemic, which has pushed up consumer demand for wellness and work-life balance. “Spending so much time these past two years working from home has made people more aware of the importance of family and wanting to continue to have a career and a business that allows them the flexibility that comes from owning their own business while helping others in their communities to achieve a healthier lifestyle,” explains Austin.
It’s partly the reason they were able to add two new spas as the COVID-19 pandemic raged last year. Two new franchises were scheduled for construction early in 2020, but the projects had to be halted. “We moved forward once it was safe to do so and signed a deal in December 2020.”
One project opened last June in Calgary and a second franchise followed in November, located in Lloydminster, Alta.
“We’re still new to this, but we’re working hard to find the right people who match our brand core values. We have a third [franchise] location being constructed for this spring, opening in St. Albert, [Alta.], and we’re in end-stage discussions with a franchisee in the Oshawa, Ont., area.”
As Achieve Wellness Spa branches out and grows, it’s opening doors for smaller businesses to prosper with less risk — and greater support.