“I looked around and couldn’t see anything I wanted for myself,” explains Randi Ragan. That was the catalyst that prompted her to create GreenBliss EcoSpa, a mobile spa based out of Los Angeles that “incorporates organic, 100% pure and natural, locally made, handcrafted, fair trade, recycled/repurposed and giving-back-to-the-community principles within the fabric of everything [they] do.” Ragan says before she began GreenBliss EcoSpa, she remembers the day she realized there was a void in the market. She was stuck in traffic for 45 minutes on her way home from a massage. “As they say,” says Ragan, “it really harshed my mellow.” Ragan thought that surely, in Los Angeles, she would be able to find mobile spa services that would come to her house to give her the perfect experience. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it turns out), she couldn’t find a mobile spa that provided services from a green perspective. Because of the void she saw in the market, Ragan created GreenBliss EcoSpa.
Cinnamon Bowser also felt a void in the market. “I had a roommate from college who had two children and was pregnant with her third. She told me she was dying for someone to come to her house to give her a pedicure, but when I looked, I couldn’t find anyone who would do it,” explains Bowser. With a background in public relations and marketing, Bowser evaluated the market, and realized she had found a niche market that was largely ignored. After two years of research, which included her earning her license, Bowser started Nail Taxi, a mobile boutique that services Northern Virginia and has expanded through licensed operators in Baltimore, Atlanta, and Chicago.
The mobile spa business is still a wide-open market, and techs, whether they’re currently in the salon or not, can take advantage of the benefits of offering mobile services. Take a minute to dream about what mobile services would look like in your town. Answer the traditional questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Here’s how that would look: first, who are you targeting? What does she want? Why does she want it?
When you’re trying to articulate your target audience, it’s not enough to say, “Anyone who wants to get their nails done.” Let’s look at Ragan and Bowser. While both Ragan and Bowser were talking to clients who wanted services sans the salon, their audiences are decidedly different. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, their locations are dramatically different. Ragan describes her L.A.-based audience as one living in “a celebrity culture that likes things hand-delivered. They have a busy schedule, and they have money,” says Ragan. If we look closely, we realize Ragan’s market is really a niche within a niche. Her clients are willing to pay a premium for ultra-luxury and for exotic products. “It’s sheer pampering,” says Ragan. “We have incredibly beautiful food soaks with products, such as balms, creams, and scrubs, that are all made from earth’s ingredients.”
Bowser’s clientele also wants sheer pampering. Only in Northern Virginia, sheer pampering looks different than it does in Los Angeles. And the fact that Bowser realizes this makes her a successful business woman. The client who Bowser speaks to still wants exceptional customer service, skilled professionals, and at-home convenience, but she’s not willing to pay for the exotic. Bowser says that nearly 90% of her business is parties, but she also accommodates clients who want on-location services not because they are too busy to get out, but because they simply can’t get out, including some clients who are on oxygen and clients who are pregnant. Other clients simply want a kind, gentle touch and conversation.
Try to get into the mind of your potential customer. Ragan’s customers want a personal, uber-spa experience; Bowser’s clients want quality, excellence, and value. Why would women (or men) in your market want mobile services instead of traditional services? What services can satisfy her preference for on-location services? The answer to this question helps create your service menu. The desire her clients have for the ultimate, on-location, personalized spa experience has allowed Ragan to expand the GreenBliss EcoSpa menu to include yoga, henna, massage, and facials, along with additional offerings of Reiki, EFT (a form of psychological acupuncture), and intuitive hypnosis. Nail Taxi clients want a feel-good, relaxing experience where they can enjoy spa services and their girlfriends. So Bowser markets her services as themed events, such as Martinis and Manicures.
Once you decide who you’re talking to, why they would want your services, and what you’ll offer, you’ll have a good idea of what your business is going to look like. But this alone won’t make your business a success. Success comes when you sell your idea.
How are you going to get your mobile idea off the ground so you can be a free-range tech? Both Ragan and Bowser used similar approaches when they began their mobile businesses. Neither of them was in the beauty industry when they made their move, but they both understood who they were talking to, what they would offer their clients, and why those services would appeal to their prospective client base. To get their idea out of the incubator, they each placed an ad in the newspaper for mobile techs, and they each got responses!
As the owner of a mobile spa, you could work independently of course, but since a large percentage of mobile services are in the form of parties, it’s likely you’ll need some help. As you find other techs (or any professional, such as a masseuse or esthetician) who buy into your idea of a mobile spa, keep their names organized in a database according to the services they are able to perform. Techs operate as independent contractors. When you receive a call from a client who wants a service or spa party, send out a call to the whole group, letting them know the time and date of the appointment. Whoever responds first to your call-out gets to work the party.
Bowser admits it can be a challenge to trust that everything will work out when you build an event around independent contractors. “When you’re sending someone to a client’s home, you need to make sure they are professional, dressed well, and timely,” says Bowser. Each time a tech arrives at a party, she helps build your brand and your reputation. Choose your representatives carefully.
Once you have a network of techs, it’s time to get your name out so your clients can find you. Design a business card with your name, contact info, and a website address where the curious can find a description of the services you provide and a price list.
There are a number of places where you can advertise your services. Start with current contacts, customers, and friends. Also, work the corporate angle. Approach local businesses, including law firms, and sell the idea of corporate wellness: a mani/pedi at lunch tells your workers you care about them, and the pick-me-up in the middle of the day makes for a productive afternoon. Approach hotels to let them know you are available to provide services for their guests. Many travelers would love a manicure or pedicure when they visit a new city, but they have no idea where to find a good salon. Take the guesswork out of it and come to their room.
Rent a spot at local shows and perform free mini manis. Bridal shows are always a good place to start, but don’t overlook other opportunities to get your name out into the community. Bowser launched Nail Taxi at a local women’s conference. She provided mini manicures to each woman who visited her room at the conference. Each woman filled out a card and became a “member” of Nail Taxi. From that one event, Nail Taxi had a place in the market. “It’s an early example of viral marketing,” says Bowser.
Write a press release to gain some media exposure. A human-interest story in the press is an excellent way to get your name into the community. Use the web to generate interest. With the surge of networking sites online, it’s fairly easy to get your name out for free. Facebook your friends. Tweet about your fabulous spa parties. Talk it up everywhere you go. Help people break the mold of thinking “salon” when they think of manicures and pedicures. Instead, help them think of nail services as part of every celebration: bridal showers, baby showers, girls’ night out, first day of summer, shortest day of the year, mother/daughter night, birthdays, and ... you get the idea. It’s always time for a spa party.
With all the potential benefits of a mobile nail business, you might be ready to jump right in, but before you spend too much time dreaming about your new free-range career, make sure your state doesn’t have limitations on mobile spas. Get online or call your state’s licensing department to find out the laws on mobility. Next, you’ll want to have a couple of contracts drawn up: one that can be used between you and your independent contractors, and one that will be used between you and your client/spa hostess. You can write the first draft of the contract yourself, but it would be wise to take your notes to a lawyer and have her draw up a legally binding document.
The mobile nail business is still ripe with possibility and promise. In a wobbly economy, people may slow down their visits to the salon, but they won’t stop having celebrations. Your job is to get them to equate celebration with on-location pampering.
Don’t get nervous about having a website. It’s easy for you to have a virtual presence. Drupal, Yahoo!, or even a blog offer a quick solution to the need to be online. No, you may not have all the bells and whistles right up front, but you can grow into it. People will hear through word of mouth that there is a mobile spa in town, and they’ll look online to find you since you don’t have a store front. A website is a must-have in this segment of the market.
The Legal Stuff
The document between you and independent contractors should state the legal relationship between the two parties and it should cover terms of payment, whether that is a percentage or an hourly rate. Bowser suggests the contract between you and the client should include the minimum cost, the start and end time of party (if you are booked from 4 p.m-7 p.m., but guests don’t arrive until 5 p.m., you’re still going to leave at 7), which services will be provided, a contact number, the address of the party, the number of techs they expect, a deposit amount, and a clause to discuss fees for extending the time of a booked appointment if you are asked to stay longer.
Work Behind the Scenes
If you’re already working in a salon and can’t imagine walking away from the desk, you can still build a mobile business. You don’t always have to be at the event to build the business. Like Ragan and Bowser, you can create and market the business, and orchestrate other professionals to do the traveling. Sitting behind the desk is a great place to talk about mobile services and parties. You can be the owner of a mobile business without ever leaving the salon, or you can pick and choose which parties you want to work before you offer the event to your team of mobile workers.
For more on mobile services, check out these articles online. Go to www.nailsmag.com and click on Past Issues.
June 2006, “Nail Services on the Move”
August 2005, “Spa Services Hit the Road”
June 2005, “Have Tools, Will Travel"