4 years ago today, my partner and I purchased and took over Pavia Day Spa. I still remember vividly that I could not be there that day when we took the reins over from Cristina Howes, Pavia's founder and previous owner. I was in Anaheim, CA managing a trade show for my then-employer, Syndeo Corporation. I even remember that our revenues that first day, which was a Tuesday, were around $1,300.
4 years later, I've learned so many lessons, fallen so many times, and dusted myself off so many times that I am amazed at my own journey. These are the biggest things I've learned about myself (and the spa industry) these last several years:
1. Owning a spa is more stressful, not less stressful, than working in high-tech. Yes, it's true - from the outside looking in, I also thought that owning a spa would be fun and relaxing and soothing. Well, it is only that way for the customers. For those of us who have to make it that way behind the scenes, it is NOT at all.
2. I am actually pretty good at customer service. I didn't realize that this would be a strength of mine. After all, I had zero experience in this arena, except perhaps if you count hobnobbing with cable industry executives and taking them out to expensive dinners. I am talking about the kind of attention to detail and service required of the best servants...i.e., butlers, housekeepers, concierges, wait staff, etc. Good service means anticipating your clients' needs, and I feel that I've gotten quite good at it. Our clients probably don't even think twice about the fact that we chose dark colors for our disposable spa wear (like thong bikinis and bras), but they can certainly feel more comfortable wearing them than wearing white, see-through disposables. It's the little things that count.
3. I am not nearly as tough as I should be. Each and every time I go to a different spa for a service, I try to learn as much as I can about how their operations are run. And all I've got to say is, my employees have NO CLUE how lucky they are. Other spas do NOT care what your physical limits are in terms of massage; if you're tired, sad, hurting, it doesn't matter. You will do as many massages as they want you to do, or else. Other spas give 5-15 minutes in between services; I give the employees 20 minutes. Other spas give employees their schedules for the next six months - meaning that the employees have their schedules dictated to them and their vacation times pre-set. I pretty much have never said no to a vacation request. I need to run a tighter ship, but I don't know if I can!
4. I would not trade the experience of the last 4 years for the world. Yes, I've been through the wringer in terms of stress and financial hardship. Yes, my husband and I are now living paycheck to paycheck. Yes, I have done things I've never thought I would do because I have an MBA from Stanford; everything from doing laundry at midnight to cleaning up the bathroom after incontinent clients who "miss" the toilet to picking up dead frogs that got stranded in the spa. BUT, I've learned so much about life, about business, and about people. I've met so many wonderful people, from my clients to my employees, that they have become precious to me. The emotional connections that I've forged are far stronger and deeper than any I had in high-tech. I always felt, in corporate America, like I didn't quite belong. I always felt that I was different, sought a deeper level of meaning and understanding with my colleagues and customers, than they wanted to give me.
This job transcends that, however. I will always treasure this most of all, which is perhaps why I now consider myself a "lifer" in the spa industry.