For some, just the mention of Europe conjures images of glamour and relaxation—a time to get away from the stresses of everyday life. After spending two years in Waterloo, Belgium, Michael Carter decided that the residents of Brentwood, Tennessee, needed just that kind of escape, without having to go all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. He started Athena Health Club & Day Spa in May 2004 as a European-style facility that offers advanced European spa services, including Dead Sea mud and salt treatments, as well as a relaxation room and a private changing area.
The purpose of going to a spa is not just about the menu items offered, according to Carter. “Here, the issue is the experience. We want people to come and have an experience,” he explains.
With a background in business, he was the director of marketing and government affairs for Anthem Alliance, an Indianapolis-based United States Department of Defense health care contractor. Carter retired and, with his wife, relocated to Belgium for two years in 2000. He wanted to start a business, but wasn’t sure what type.
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The Carters moved into a beautiful home there, complete with an indoor pool and a basement fitness area. Because he always has been an avid athlete, swimming competitively and participating in triathlons and marathons, Carter began teaching swimming and athletics in his home. The idea of starting his own spa began to take root, so he decided to research the spa industry in order to determine if it was a viable project.
“I viewed it as a business opportunity,” Carter says. “I didn’t have a prior background in the spa industry, but I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. I looked into it and observed double-digit growth throughout the past 10 years in the spa and health industries. As a businessperson, I saw the opportunity to start a company and surround myself with bright people.”
He decided to open a European-style spa because he says the Europeans have been practicing this profession much longer than the Americans. “They’re the trailblazers,” Carter asserts. He wanted to cultivate a niche clientele to set his business apart from others in the spa industry. At the Athena Health Club, women are the focus and can exercise without feeling intimidated by men.
“We are a place that caters to women,” he explains. “We wanted a facility where they can come and be cared for—a place that’s all about them. Hence, Athena: She’s the Greek goddess of wisdom and knowledge, and represents the total woman.”
Men are welcome at the day spa, which is separate from the health club, and players from the Tennessee Titans professional football team are just some of the male clientele.
With the success that the Athena Health Club & Day Spa has enjoyed during the past two years, Carter has decided to incorporate another business venture—Athena Salon & Image Center, which is located about 10 minutes from the main location in Brentwood. It will focus on hairstyling, professional makeup and photography for the recording industry and bridal parties.
For Carter, the challenge in his new line of work has been to merge his business perspective with a spa focus. “For me, as a business guy, I have to understand that people are artistic and creative in nature on the spa side,” he says. “I’m process-oriented—procedural in terms of how I do things. I wanted to bring business tools to how our organization is run.”
His technique is working; Carter currently serves as chairman of the Day Spa Association. He also makes sure that his team members keep on top of the latest trends and techniques in the spa and fitness industries by sending them to educational forums and seminars.
Working in this profession has been rewarding for Carter, allowing his strength in business to merge with his love of providing health and relaxation for others. According to him, “It is rewarding to see people who have been with the organization for a while grow and develop. Nothing is more important than serving our clients.”