Ever wonder what it’s like to open up a spa? Perhaps you’ve done it, or perhaps you’ve just experienced the effects of it (massages, facials, and all-around goodness). While it’s relaxing to go to the spa, it’s far less relaxing to open one.
The award-winning Hiatus Spa + Retreat in Dallas (winners of the “Best $50 Spa Week Treatment” Luxe Award of Spring 2011) is expanding; just over the weekend they opened a second location in Austin. The 6,000 square-foot day spa opened its doors on December 18th and it is a site to behold. Founded in 2007 by Sheila Garrison and Kristin Heaton-Peabody, these women of wellness have dreamed of opening a second location in Austin because of their deep ties with the community (and rarely miss a Horns game).
To give you some insight, Sheila and Kristin were kind enough to answer our many questions about their experience opening a second spa location. Anyone in the spa biz, listen up! They share the good, the bad, and the lessons learned.
Michelle: What are some of the biggest challenges with opening a second location?
Sheila: For me it was trying to find time to stay sufficiently involved in the daily operations of the Dallas location. There is never enough time in a day to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished.
Kristin: When I think back to opening Dallas, it was our sole focus. Every little detail had its time in the spotlight for contemplation. In opening the Austin location, we juggled build-out and design with the ongoing operation of a very busy first location, 60+ employees, and working hard not to take our eye off the ball. We found ourselves placing large opening orders a week before the big day. Lessons learned!
M: Was it more or less challenging than your first opening?
Sheila: It was definitely easier the second time around, but still a crazy experience. We felt like the clock was ticking as we were frantically trying to get open during the holiday season. Our first location in Dallas opened December 5, 2007 and had 4,300 square feet; we expanded to nearly 6,000 feet in our third year of business. For our Austin location we decided on 6,000 feet from the beginning.
Kristin: I can’t say that one was more challenging than the other; they were “different.” And similar to having a baby, you soon forget about childbirth and focus on the joy of it all.
M: What were some unexpected surprises (good or bad) that you encountered?
Sheila: One great unexpected surprise for me was the quality of the workforce in Austin. We were able to hire a dynamic team of warm, friendly, passionate and talented people!
Kristin: My favorite surprise was the day our new landlord referred to Hiatus as their “anchor tenant”, which was much different than our first venture. The worst surprise was the difficulty in getting funding the second time around.
M: Any predictions for the most popular treatment? Hiatus Massage, Hiatus Facial, Body Glow, Revitalizing Body Wrap or Mani-Pedi Retreat?
Sheila: I imagine it will be the Hiatus Massage. As people look for ways to de-stress in today’s fast-paced world, I think it is universally popular.
Kristin: I am going with the Hiatus Facial… as people become more in tune with wellness, they become more interested in all that spas have to offer. While massage is our most requested treatment today, I see facials taking market share. Our facials include our signature hand and foot massage, and our guests emerge with beautiful skin. And with the choice of three fabulous skincare lines in Aveda, SkinCeuticals and entirely organic Intelligent Nutrients, who can we possibly not please?
M: How is the spa culture different in Austin than in Dallas? Was there anything in particular you needed to take into consideration?
Sheila: We really believe Austin and Hiatus are an ideal match because the people in Austin are extremely active and focused on wellness. Austin demands excellence and quality in food, music, and everything else. We strive to be excellent in providing quality spa services.
Kristin: The spa culture here is different than that of Dallas; it is intricately woven into the community as a result of the outdoor playground that is Austin. Regardless of location, the culture and mission of our company remains unchanged; there will always be a contingency of people who view spa as a wellness ritual, and those people are the foundation of our business.
M: How important is design and décor for a spa? You mentioned the interiors having a modern feel with washed white oak, organic colors. Was there a specific reason for that aesthetic?
Sheila: We worked with Dick Clark Architecture- a well-known local firm. We believe a spa should have modern, organic, uncluttered, and understated surroundings with clean lines that help guests relax and clear their minds. The artwork in both locations consists of beautiful, abstract watercolor paintings by Austin artist Jan Heaton. She draws her inspiration from nature, so her work is an ideal fit for a spa environment.
Kristin: We feel that understated, simplistic design and comfortable surroundings can really impact the way a guest feels. Our goal is to provide a superlative experience in a beautiful environment at a great price.
M: What are your future plans? Expand all over Texas? The world?
Sheila: We believe the spa industry is going to continue to grow. We want to grow with it. We have the franchise concept about 80% complete and we are planning to launch in the second half of 2012 starting in Texas and California.
Kristin: In 2012, we will be filing our franchise disclosures, after almost two years of planning. Our goal is to grow slowly though franchising, seeking like-minded partners and collaborators who will help us grow the business organically. We would love to see Hiatus expand nationally, and then, who knows?
M: What are some words of wisdom you can pass along to someone else who might be interested in opening their own spa or small business?
Sheila: My advice would be to do your due diligence before jumping into any new business venture. You can’t easily unwind the early mistakes. We spent six months on our business plan for Dallas, and did a lot of market research- it was truly our road map in the first year. We also were able to secure SBA loans for both locations which kept us from having to bring in investors. That gives us 100% freedom and autonomy to make decisions for our business, so that our vision is not compromised in any way.
Kristin: Always do something you are passionate about, that you believe in with all of your heart. When you are working seven days a week and 15 hours a day, you had better love it.
Hiatus Spa + Retreat
Gables 5th St. Commons
1611 West 5th, Suite 155
Austin, TX 78703
Photo credit: Ryann Ford