More Face to Face: Bonnie Waters' Interview Transcripts

How did you get into this industry?

I’ve been in the industry for 33 years, but I started as a manicurist and had a small nail salon in downtown Walnut Creek. Shortly after starting the little one, now remember, this is in the late 70s early 80s, the better direction would be a one-stop-shop full-service salon. Eight years after having the little one, I had the nerve to go into a broader base, it was very well received, fortunately, and we were able to grow. It started as 1,000 square feet, and now we take the whole ground floor and it is at 10,000 square feet. We began focusing on spa in 1996, and we went in and added designated space dedicated to spa. We knew we wanted to be part of solution to help clients feel beautiful.

I was 17 when I started my salon. My business background has come from the school of hard knocks I’ve been in workshop-based training, but I have no college, other than a few classes.

When I was waitressing, there were older women who had been to college and were waitressing next to me, and I thought what I should do would be to get a trade to earn more money so I could go to college. I got loved working with clients. I’ve always been fascinated with business, listening, learning, applying, trying; I’ve always been very intrigued with. Building a team and making the connection that my growth had to do with the people that worked with me. We’re a staff of 70, we’ve built the infrastructure in one location, after the economy uprights itself, we are planning on taking the best of our model to smaller locations, probably in 2011.

Given the year I got into it, there really wasn’t anywhere near the allure with the spa industry. There really was no spa industry then other than when Noelle DiCaprio was in her early days developing her day spa and wellness community. She passed away seven years ago, but was somebody who as days went by I learned more about. I fell into the industry as a trade and grew to love it and what it represented. As a technician, you’re able to get an instant feeling of gratitude for what you’re doing. I think that’s why people get drawn into it on the technical level, but all of us who work in a spa know that it is business.

What area do you think you have excelled in as a business owner?

I’ve realized that the arena of compensation is one that still mystifies many in the industry. I used to operate a program that I thought was the best of all worlds and allowed staff members to grow and become their own bosses within my operation, but learned that it wasn’t the end all and be all. A lot of people like to be part of something that is bigger than themselves, and the opportunity to be their own boss is often not at the top of their list. We’ve had our compensation scale for 22 years, and it’s an hourly plus bonus plus benefit program, nobody was doing that and even today, it does take a strong management presence to make that fly because it’s about coaching and working together as a team. When Nordstrom opened down the street from us, we saw the level of customer service that they delivered and we knew we had to work more as a team. Unlike a commissioned environment, if we were going to compete with the mentality, our clients’ expectations were going up. If we were going to survive and thrive, we needed to be in that genre; we compensated so it was no longer a commission-based pay and you were expected to do things that moved the team forward. That has allowed the business to grow and the focus to be on exceeding the client’s expectations.

Do you still work on the technical side of things?

I took my technician hat off 17 years ago when I had my daughter. I went to more of a 40-hour schedule that focused on building the business. I’ve been in business for 33 years, so about half the time technician and half business.

So you’re daughter is the same age now as you were when you started your business. Is she interested in going down a similar path?

At the age of seven, someone asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up and she said “I want to do what my mom does.” As the years go by, the answer is the same. At the age of 16, we brought her down and she worked last summer with us. She’s going to get her business degree and would fit into the spa world comfortably. She won’t know until she does the college courses. I know she loves the team and coming down and spending time with them.

I should have known it was for me because I had a clue that I liked the business side of it. I loved to play office, I loved to play accounting, they say that when we are close to our dharma in life, it comes effortlessly and we can lose ourselves in it. I’ve been blessed to find my dharma and I love the people the industry so much. I‘ve never not wanted to come to work. I feel very fortunate in that, I have a 14-year-old son, too, and I hope that both my children find their love and that they feel great about it.

Do you have any advice for other spa professionals?

Someone told me years ago so it permeates its truth: It’s not what you know or who you know or the education or money you have, it’s the ability to persevere when things are tough. It’s having a clear idea of who you want to be and focusing on that and staying true to that. One of the best things anyone can do for themselves in life is do some personal work, like reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People” from Steven Covey. It’s not sexy, but is so powerful to help me focus in on what is important to me and base and prioritize my life accordingly and review that yearly. Getting involved in a networking group of likeminded people, network with people in the same industry because you can learn so much from each other. Get together quarterly; I’ve been doing that for six years (one for spa and one for salon), but I love that and it’s been such a great way to create comradere and talk about real issues. And when things are really tough, it just helps to know you’re not alone and what you’re facing isn’t impossible and finding mentors and I feel blessed along the way.

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