Her mother was an artist, but by her own admission, Elizabeth Milan, owner of Elizabeth Milan Day Spa at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, was not very good at visualization. Early in her career, she had visions of becoming a sales representative for a top makeup brand. When that didn’t happen, she still needed to pay the bills and accepted an administrative position at a health club. Its owner, who also owned several hair salons, eventually hired her to work with salon personnel and troubleshoot potential problems. When Milan’s call finally came for a sales position at Revlon, the health club and salon owner saw her potential in the industry, and offered her a higher salary and paid for her esthetic school classes.
After training with the likes of Edith Serei and Eve Taylor, Milan opened her own day spa in Toronto’s upscale area of Yonge and Bloor streets in September 1980. She was married to Milan Ichniovsky and decided, for business purposes, to take his first name as her last, rather than the longer surname that proved harder to pronounce. Ten years later, the Elizabeth Milan Day Spa moved into the Avenues level of The Fairmont Royal York Hotel. At that level, more than 1,200 shops and services are connected by the downtown area’s underground PATH Walkway. Today, the spa features two wet rooms with therapeutic baths among the 11 treatment rooms, as well as a pedicure room, three manicure stations, a full-service hair salon, a retail area and a relaxation lounge.
Throughout the years, Milan has not only maintained a very hands-on approach with her business, but has also been active in esthetic education. She is a chairperson of the Seneca College Esthetics Program and is a past chairperson of Sheridan College of Esthetics, both in Canada.
While business has always been good, the past few years have presented their challenges. According to Milan, the three greatest have been trying to adapt to clients with less time who want shorter services; competition; and clients who are being more careful about how they spend their money. “Time is what it’s all about,” she says.
About 75% of Milan’s clients are women and 25% men, and the most popular services are manicures, pedicures, waxing and threading. “Body treatments were huge about five or six years ago, but requests for those have dropped in the past two years. Facials have dropped as well, but massage therapy is still very good,” Milan says. She uses face and body products from Guinot, Laboratoire Dr Renaud and YonKa, and foot care products from Gewohl.
Milan is known for her international travels and has shared much of what she has learned from attending conventions and visiting spas in other countries with her clients. Examples include the Thai and South Sea body relaxation treatments offered on the spa’s current menu.
In addition to weekly training sessions on products and treatments, Milan reviews business practices, sales and the number of repeat clients with her team on a regular basis.
“You have to keep your finger on the pulse of everything, or you won’t survive,” she warns. For skin care therapists just starting out, Milan advises they work in a spa that provides training for at least two to four more years. “They should see what areas of skin care they enjoy and then decide if and where to specialize,” she says. “Make sure there’s a demand for what you offer—it’s more competitive out there than ever—and if you don’t make the right choices, it could mean a lower profit margin for you.”
No matter what, Milan says, there are few industries left where it’s OK to touch people and that element is still very necessary. “Clients feel as though they can talk to you about their problems and know you won’t be judgmental. They trust you and believe in you when they see results,” she says. A passion and addiction to her work is what has kept Milan in the industry for more than 30 years. “I’m learning something new all the time and have always been encouraged by my clients’ results,” she says.
Milan, her staff and clients will all help celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the spa’s opening this fall. Right now, she’s visualizing all sorts of special offers for her clients—and after so many years in this industry, it promises to be quite the event—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Award-winning writer Lois Hince was with Allured Business Media for 20 years, and is now manager of editorial and creative services at Scranton Gillette Communications.