By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
LONGVIEW, Wash. – When people walk out of a doctor’s office or health clinic they might feel a range of emotions, from relieved to worried, but rarely do they feel wonderful. Wonderful is the emotion that Barbara Sudar and partner Kim Schlais wanted to capture when they purchased Estetica Day Spa in Longview in 2008.
After working in healthcare for more than two decades, most recently setting up and managing healthcare clinics and medical practices, Sudar said she wanted to get back to the reason she went into healthcare in the first place – to make people feel good.
The common work of a health clinic – diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, suturing wounds, explaining and managing chronic diseases – is obviously necessary and important work, Sudar said, but in her 20 years it has rarely involved healing touch.
“I can’t tell you how many people never get touched in healthcare,” she said. “When you have the opportunity to touch people, they oftentimes gain the ability to heal themselves.”
Buying rather than building
At Estetica Day Spa (http://www.esteticaspa.com/), services include facials, massage, body wraps, body polishing and makeup application. The spa offers reflexology, an alternative therapy in which the clinician applies pressure and manipulates the client’s feet or hands to promote relaxation or healing in other parts of the body.
Sudar and Schlais originally thought they’d have to build their spa from the ground up, and they sought out their local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in 2007 for advice on how to proceed.
The Washington SBDC is a network of more than two dozen certified business advisors working in communities across the state to help small business owners who want to start, grow or transition a business. The Washington SBDC (http://www.wsbdc.org) receives support from Washington State University, the U.S. Small Business Administration and other institutions of economic development and higher education.
As they were working through their business plan to open a new spa, Schlais floated the idea of approaching an existing business owner to find out if she wanted to sell. Their SBDC advisor at the time, Susan Hoosier, encouraged them to give it a shot. When the owner of Estetica said yes, Hoosier worked with them to help make that happen.
Advice for growth
In 2014, when Sudar and Schlais decided it was time to move forward with growing their business, they returned to the Longiew SBDC and began meeting with Jerry Petrick, who became the advisor in 2011.
Sudar said she and Schlais appreciated being able to discuss strategy and next steps with Petrick.
“It can be lonely at the top,” she said. “He’s another person who can assist in bringing forward new ideas.”
Opening a second location – with greater visibility on a high-traffic thoroughfare – was part of their five-year plan from the start, Sudar said, and Petrick helped them talk through the pros and cons of various locations. Once a decision was made, he helped them get their financial spreadsheets in order and put together loan applications.
Free counsel, coaching
Sudar said she appreciated having access to “a free-of-charge person who could help guide us to our goals. Without the SBDC we would have needed a consultant we couldn’t afford.”
Although they were anxious to move forward, finding financing was difficult. Their numbers were good but not always as good as lenders wanted to see.
“When the numbers looked gloomy, Jerry was still positive,” Sudar said, and he was good at pointing out the progress they’d already made.
Still, she said, he wasn’t so much a cheerleader as a reality check: “He pushes you, coaches you, makes suggestions and challenges you to take the next step.”
New location, healthcare emphasis
It wasn’t easy, but the partners’ perseverance paid off and they were able to secure financing from a local community lender in early 2015. This spring they launched E at Riverwoods on Ocean Beach Highway where they have more visibility and are adjacent to other healthcare practices.
When Sudar and Schlais purchased Estetica in 2008, the business had four employees plus the owners. Now with two locations, they have 11 employees. The business is thriving, Schlais said, because clients are realizing that spa services such as facials and massage can have a significant impact on health, including reducing stress and building the immune system.
“People are being more proactive in regards to wellness,” she said, and spa services are becoming part of their routine, along with eating well and exercising.
Their downtown location continues to offer a day spa experience, including full body massages and hot stones, while E at Riverwoods is a more treatment-focused, upbeat wellness center. Services at E at Riverwoods include body polishing, facials, waxing, brow and lash tinting, foot massage, reflexology and makeup. E at Riverwoods also has a small boutique with personal care items and accessories.
Sudar said their plan is to expand services at E at Riverwoods and offer additional wellness therapies, including reiki, acupressure and other forms of healing touch.
“I started out in healthcare thinking I was going to touch people,” Sudar said. “This has brought me back full circle.”