There’s no doubt about it, 2009 may have been the most challenging year for small businesses since the Great Depression. People are beginning to tell survival stories about how, by some miracle, their business weathered the storm, and these tales will certainly go down in the family histories of those business owners who lived to tell them.
With the storm clouds beginning to clear, it is a good time to get back to the basics and look at your company with a fresh set of eyes. After all, it’s a brave new world out there, and the spa industry is full of companies that have formulated strategies through trial and error, allowing them to both survive and thrive through a variety of challenges.
A successful company is comprised of many details, including hard work, persistence and a positive outlook, but what is the magic combination of these details that can help your business blossom in 2010?
Beyond every other detail, no matter how much desire a small business owner has for success, it won’t be realized unless there is a good, solid plan to back it up. Universally, there are certain details to consider when starting or reinventing a business, including finances, competition, location and team development. All of these should be addressed within a comprehensive business plan.
Finances. “When you’re starting something from scratch and building it, you face the financial investment, which is always a challenge,” says Cygalle Dias, founder of Cygalle Healing Spa, located at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. In other words, you have to know where your money is coming from before anything else.
“Liquidity is always a problem,” agrees Pamela McNair-Wingate, owner of Gadabout SalonSpas, which has multiple locations in Arizona. “It’s important to fully realize how much it costs to do the things you want to do. You have to have enough cash flow to keep the business moving, pay bills and pay employees for at least the first year,” she says. “You have to make payments on time and stay on task.”
Competition. After figuring out where your money is coming from, it is crucial to get a realistic lay of the land. When Michael Wolfgeher, founder, president and CEO of California-based professional skin care supplier Sircuit Cosmeceuticals, considered entering the skin care market, he was concerned. “It was a challenge to go into this marketplace because it was very saturated. I saw an opportunity to provide a product that wasn’t available in the marketplace, and that was a huge in,” he says. “It’s important to figure out how you position your company; how you will stand out in a crowd. That should be a big part of your evaluation.”
Yet, even if your product is different, competition still exists. “Even though you create something different, there’s still a lot of competition, so you have to create a brand that stands out, and you have to provide the best services, best quality and have an innovative concept, and market that concept to the target audience,” explains Dias.
For Philippe Hennessy, co-founder of professional skin care company Pevonia International, one of the details that allowed his business to make a splash in the market was improving upon the status quo. “I started looking at our competitors and saw the big ones and what they were doing, good and not so good. I tried to do better at education, marketing and advertising. I listened to the problems our customers were having and tried to overcome them,” he says.
Jane Wurwand, founder of California-based professional skin care supplier Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute, offers a theory on how that can help you find your niche in an oversaturated arena. “If you can identify the greatest pain in an industry, you’ve also identified the greatest opportunity,” she explains.
Location. The importance of finding the right location can be crucial for a business, as well. When Patricia Owen, founder and president of FACES DaySpa in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, opened her first business on the idea that there was an opportunity for marketing cosmetics in the laid-back resort town, she says she made all the wrong moves. “I picked a location that seemed perfect, in the downtown area. I grew up in a metropolitan area and didn’t know how a beach community worked; it wasn’t the right location,” she says.
But by learning as she went, Owen succeeded in the community and took the opportunity to move to a better location in Hilton Head when she was able. Dias also believes location is an important aspect of success, saying, “You have to find a space that is the right fit and keep it growing, getting it to the next level.”
Team development. “Somewhere along the way, I learned that I cannot be all things to all people, and I cannot do everything perfectly. I may do some things well, but I need to hire people who know more than I do,” explains McNair-Wingate.
It truly is a team effort to obtain business success. Without the right people driving your business, you don’t really have a business to drive. “You have to work with people who share your vision, and who are on the same wavelength as you; people who work like you and think like you,” says Dias. “It’s a challenge to put a strong team together; a team that’s consistent and that works really hard.”
The secret to finding the right team members, according to Wurwand, is to consider looking beyond the résumé. “Hire the person, not the résumé,” she says, noting that five people who joined her business in the beginning are still employed with the company. “When you interview someone, look for passion, excitement and the ability to connect emotionally. Your team members have to commit to the journey. The piece of paper isn’t coming to work for you,” she says. “If someone has a somewhat weak résumé and you’re bowled over in the interview, have a second interview or even give the person a project and make sure what you see is what this person really is.”
If there is one thing the economy has taught small business owners, it is how to persevere. Qualities such as getting back to the basics and reinvention have become the cornerstones of the businesses that will succeed in the new malleable marketplace that is emerging after the economic downturn.
Back to the basics. “Although the economy has been devastating for so many, it also has been enlightening,” says McNair-Wingate. “I personally feel like everything got almost too big, and I think we are now looking at our businesses and lives in a different way, taking inventory, figuring out what’s really important. We were willing to go to any lengths to not reduce our employee base, and we have been able to get through the last two years without doing it. We have changed our hours; we don’t offer the overtime we once did.”
Owen also has pared down for the better. “We set our benchmarks and sales goals, and we are tracking more, monitoring more and training more. It has forced me back in the box; I’m having to go back to the basics and ask how can we do what we’re doing better,” she says. “We’ll never go back to the old ways. All of what we have put into place, we will keep. It’s harder work—we put more thought and effort into everything—but it really has helped us.”
Wurwand agrees, saying, “It’s forced us to be more creative and work quicker. We have to do more now and come up with ideas; you’ve got to be relentlessly focused on growth.”
Reinvention. Many businesses that existed before the economic downturn have found the business credos they once held true have gone out the window, and reinvention is crucial for future success. “The economy has proposed an opportunity to relook, rethink, redo and change where necessary,” says McNair-Wingate, and Owen agrees, “The most important thing is to be flexible. Keep your eyes open and instead of giving up when faced with challenges, find a solution that is different than expected.”
Owen practiced what she preached in order to survive the recession, revising staffing, providing a fuller and lighter staff availability depending on what was needed. “We also explored new marketing trends, such as social media marketing and online marketing,” she says.
Wurwand agrees that a reinvention of marketing is critical to success. “You have to use social media. It gives you another opportunity to reach out. Every spa is like a social media hub; it’s all about conversation, and social media is allowing you to make the conversation bigger. This is what we’re really good at and it is a natural fit for our industry,” she says. “When we look back, we are going to see a lot of great companies were started during the recession. Why not reinvent or jump start your business now?”
Perhaps the most important component to business success is the business owner’s perspective. Optimistic, pessimistic, realistic or idealistic, the outlook that drives a company’s leader will set the tone for the business’s employees and clients, whether you like it or not.
When McNair-Wingate began her business, she knew failure wasn’t an option. “I knew that I had to be willing to do whatever it took to make it work. I don’t know if you would categorize that as survival, but I was always told—and believed—that if you did what you loved, you would never have to work a day in your life,” she says. “I knew that if I stuck with it, it would eventually work, because I believe that’s what makes people successful—continuously doing the same right thing.”
It isn’t only persistence that makes a successful outlook, however; it also involves a true sense of faith in the business you are growing. “It is important to believe in what you’re doing very much; be passionate about what you’re doing,” advises Hennessy. Dias agrees. “You need to start off with a dream or come from a passionate place, something that you really believe in personally, and you can see other people caring about, too,” she says.
And although you can—and should—research business decisions extensively, there is something to be said for going with your instinct. “As an entrepreneur, I have the luxury of being a benign dictator,” says Wurwand. “If I was in corporate America and needed to make a decision, I would have to quantify it, but I am able to go with my gut. If you’re having thoughts and strong gut instincts that may not be quantifiable, it is important to go with them. We’ve never really been wrong when we’ve done that. Your gut is sifting through all the experiences you’ve had and is giving you a strong direction,” she says. Owen explains it by saying, “It’s important to take a risk when you know it’s time. If I would have known the success and failure rate of small businesses, I never would have opened mine.”
Also, although being a small-business owner requires you to put in long hours at the office, it is important to find balance in order to maintain a strong company with a solid direction. According to Wolfgeher, you have to know when to call it a day. “I figured out when to turn it off; at 6 or 7 PM, the computer’s off, that’s it, on with the new. When you are building your business, you need to work from a position of balance,” he says.
Along with shutting down work in the evenings when possible, successful entrepreneurs also recognize the importance of fitness and spirituality. “I find my own quiet time for prayer and reflection. My faith helps a lot because I know things will always work out, and it’s just a matter of how. I also exercise daily,” says Owen.
Wurwand, who prefers the word “resilience” to “balance,” also finds peace in these efforts. “You have to be fit and strong. I can’t imagine being able to make the decisions I make every day if I wasn’t fit. I’m not going to get sick as often, and I feel mentally prepared. It de-stresses me,” she says. “Also, whatever spiritually reassures you or strengthens you is important. Some form of a deep belief that there is a bigger picture and a bigger plan reassures me that I’m not a runaway train.”
A stronger business
So, what does make a successful company? Although everything is relative to different situations, it is important to have passion, pay attention to the details, keep on top of the competitors and know that change is the only thing that remains the same.
And if your company has survived this storm, the storm itself has probably made your business stronger. “We have a sense that we can do anything now,” says Owen. “I don’t know if this year will be a whole lot different than last, but we’ve done it once, and we can do it again.”
Although there are a lot of cogs in the machine that is a successful company, the belief that your business and your team are strong, resilient, relevant and unbeatable can go a long way to continued success now and in the future.
Editor’s note: This article is Part I in the three-part series about Business Success. Part II, which addresses elements for staying on top, will appear in the May 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine, and Part III, which explains various strategies for success, will appear in the June 2010 issue.