Spa Services Hit the Road

The mobile beauty business is booming as women want to bring the spa experience home with them. In part two of our article on mobile services, learn how to create a spa setting on the road, gather the right service providers, and market the fabulous experience you can provide.

In January 2005, Small Business magazine called it “one of the 10 ventures to help you cash in on the trend toward healthy living.” It’s also been called an “explosion,” “the latest trend,” and “a boom in the beauty industry.” And there is more good news: Nobody is in a better position to take advantage of this trend than you. It’s called the mobile spa, the traveling spa, spa-on-the-go, or more creative names such as “Door-Step-Divas” or “Good-to-Go.” And it is big, so get ready. Plato said necessity is the mother of invention, and it was necessity that prompted Kristina Schuff’s adventure into the mobile spa business. Two-and-a-half years ago, while Schuff was pregnant, she was searching for someone to give her a pedicure in her home. “I couldn’t even touch my toes,” she laughs. When she realized there was nobody in her area who offered that service, she teamed up with a friend and started her new business. Still in relative infancy, their San Diego-based company, Puur Spa, has not only grown into a successful mobile spa network, but has also helped spawn more than 100 independent mobile spas across the country. Combining her marketing skills and partner Jeannie Owens’ web design background, they have developed a package for would-be entrepreneurs that includes an informational CD explaining the start-up process of filing for business licenses, tax forms, and other murky paperwork.

“We wanted to provide information to business owners that would help them avoid some of the confusion of starting a mobile business,” Schuff explains. The changes in the beauty industry have been swift and exciting in the past few years, but they have left many techs feeling displaced and insecure, in part by the proliferation of discount salons. These salons fill a need with customers who are looking for a no-appointment-needed fill that still gives them change from a $20 bill. This has stirred feelings of fear in some newbie techs (and perhaps some veterans) that their services aren’t marketable when compared to the convenience and low pricing available at other salons. The mobile business should give comfort to the faint of heart. This business boom confirms what we knew in our hearts: Clients love doting service. Love it. Will seek it out. Will share it with friends. Will be loyal because of it. And, perhaps closest to home, will pay for it. But before you jump right in, sit back, sip some green tea while your feet soak in a mint foot bath, and think of your business strategy. The mobile spa business is most successful when it is well-planned, well-organized, and well-executed.

Visualize the Big Picture

If you are thinking about expanding into the fabulously indulgent world of the mobile spa, you will need to keep one word in mind: excellence. Uncompromising excellence is the bedrock of the mobile spa business. You are not offering only exceptional services — like a moisturizing mani, deep-tissue massage, or an aromatic pedi — you are bringing the whole spa experience to a mobile location. Ask yourself: What do I get at a spa that I don’t get when I go to my tried-and-true nail tech? Think about the sights and sounds of each experience. A nail appointment, while enjoyable and relaxing, is a time to chat with the tech, and the atmosphere is a bit more festive than a spa. The spa will more often than not have softer music, lower lighting, and a quieter atmosphere. This is what you want to create at the mobile location — whether doing traditional nail services or more exotic spa-style variations.

Visualize what atmosphere you want to create and weave that into everything about your mobile business — from the colors and pictures in your literature and website to the way you answer the phone and present yourself when you are marketing the business. You and your marketing need to reflect professionalism, competence — and excellence. Let nothing about your experience look common. Whether you are or not, you don’t want to appear to be a couple of friends who are working home parties for some extra cash. Candles, robes, slippers, and relaxing or invigorating scents all add to the authenticity of a spa experience. Have fun creating this reality in someone’s home. Decorate each mobile location just as if it were a room in a spa. Bring props, such as small Roman columns purchased from a local craft store, so you can elevate candles. Bring a table-sized rock fountain that can be plugged in to create the sight and sound of running water. Have a uniform for your staff. It can be as classic as a white T-shirt with the company name and black slacks, or more clinical such as a lab coat. Whatever you choose, continuity in dress among the techs gives a positive visual to the guests, and it underscores your commitment to professionalism.

Cynthia Brown, owner of Time-Oasis, a mobile spa based outside of Philadelphia, says she arrives early at the location to “decorate the environment.” She has brought in various textures of materials to drape over furniture to create the atmosphere she wants. “I’ve even laid out magazines as if the guests are in a real spa,” she explains. In addition to creating the look of the environment, which satisfies the visual sense, reinforce the luxury by teasing the olfactory sense. If you’ve created a Caribbean-themed spa, use scents in your lotions such as coconut and passion fruit to provide continuity with the senses. Serve pineapple slices and a tropical drink to stimulate the taste buds. Tammy Butler, co-owner of Pamper Perfect Mobile Spa based out of Delaware, says she and partner Kenya Stone offer guests theme spas with names such as Chocolate Paradise or Fruit Exotic. As an optional add-on, they also make gift bags available, and offer the hostess a gift that complements the theme of the party. Guests take home a piece of the spa party as a special touch that prolongs their experience.

Do What You Do Well

Consider what services your spa will offer. This will depend on what services you can provide personally, and which ones you will have to contract out. Decide on pricing with the knowledge you will split the profits with, for example, a masseuse or an esthetician. Are you willing to organize the caterer for the hostess of the party? You need to acknowledge your strengths and abilities and either accept the challenge to plan the whole event for a particular fee or graciously decline, and stick with what you know you do well.

Once you have decided on the look, the feel, and the fragrance of your services, you will need to find exceptional staff. Many of the mobile spa owners we spoke to were not cosmetologists themselves; they were business people who sought out licensed or certified professionals they could contract to provide services according to their instructions.

The mobile spas had an entire network of professionals who had expressed an interest in the mobile business and a commitment to the company’s policy. These professionals sign a contract prior to each party agreeing to the specific payment for each job. Sometimes the company is hired to attend a function and the contracted professionals are paid a flat fee; other times the agreement provides for a percentage of the service fee. There is a lot of flexibility in the relationship: the tech is not required to participate in parties, and the company is not obligated to provide them with a certain amount of work.

Market the Whole Experience

Once you have developed your package, it is time to market the spa experience. Companies such as Puur Spa help start-up businesses market themselves by creating attractive brochures, postcards and — the life- line of any spa party — the website. “Everything is done virtually,” explains Schuff. Clients get on the website and they can book a party, schedule their services, or request further information. “The business can be run from home, on vacation, or even from a different city,” says Schuff.

Because of the high level of communication that can be done through the website, this is one place that cannot be neglected. If you don’t have the knowledge or creativity to design a website, hire a company who has a proven record of success. The websites created by Owens are not only attractively designed, they are search-engine searchable, which generates hits to the site. Make sure whoever you pick to create your site understands the importance of this.

Once your site is up and running and you have hard copies of your literature to hand out, focus on your market. It’s wide open. In the private sector, a spa party could be for brides, bachelorettes, bachelors; the reason could be a birthday or other celebration, or it could replace the girls-night-out with the girls-night-in. In the corporate world, think boss’s day, secretaries’ day, celebration of a promotion, or even a goodbye party. Don’t forget hotels. Schuff says spas cost hotels a lot of money so it serves the hotels well to have a mobile spa they can contact to provide the spa services their guests require. Don’t be timid about approaching hotels and corporations. You are providing a service they want. Many businesses already provide some sort of wellness options to employees and this service is seen as a benefit to both the employer and the employee.

If you live in one of those states with regulations prohibiting mobile salons, there’s hope. There is some leeway in the law, which gives techs some leverage when approaching the cosmetology board. Consider this: One of the most sought-after services in the mobile spa business is the massage. Massage is not bound by the same rules as cosmetology. Massage is the maverick of the beauty industry and as such is regulated differently. Further, many of the states that limit the freedom of mobility are operating under laws that were written before the evolution of the drive-thru society. Presumably, reasonable people who want to continue to see an increase in the industry wrote these laws. In other words, they are changeable.

“The concept is so new,” says Butler, “many times the board simply needs clarification on the intent of your business.”

Since it is still a relatively new business, and certainly the frequency of the requests is new, many boards are reviewing the law on a case-by-case basis. The few boards that we called agreed that the state has a no-go policy, but encouraged us to challenge the law. So be proactive. Keep making phone calls, writing letters, and pressing your request. Find out why the limitations are set and see if you can address the board’s reservations. Unite with groups who have opened mobile spas in your state.

It’s time for nail techs to dream again, to think of creative ways to meet customers’ demands for the private spa experience — their return to doting customer service. It’s time to achieve the next level of excellence.

What You Need to Get Started

Don’t neglect the fine print. Every business needs to have a clear policy and the mobile business is no exception. Make sure you (and all your contracted workers) have all the paperwork in order.

• Business licenses

• Professional license

• Tax ID forms

• Certifications

• Non-compete agreements (if legal in your state)

• Proof of insurance

• A policy handbook

• Price list (this will depend on your city and your services)

• Cancellation policy (do you want a non-refundable deposit?)

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