The Sweet 'Sell' Of Success

January 30, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP — Vickie and Victor Bennett have quietly massaged their business into a national endeavor. In a little more than three years, they’ve made the Vasaio Life Spa and Salon a local success and are now willing to share their trade secrets with other entrepreneurs across the country.

The Bennetts, a husband-and-wife team, have begun selling Vasaio franchises. It’s a move they always intended to make, one that was on the back burner long before they opened the spa in October 2004 in the Terrazzo Fine Shops at 1100 East Paris Ave. SE.

In fact, Vasaio President and COO Vickie Bennett said being able to share her business insights with others has been a passion of hers for the past 23 years.

“I love to be able to create something and then help others do the same thing. So right from the inception of Vasaio, that was the goal — to be able to create it and then to replicate it,” she said.

Vasaio has a wide range of offerings that include massage therapy, skin treatments, a full-service salon and a physician-supervised medical spa. The thought behind the business — a concept that took 15 months to develop — is to mix a person’s wellness with his or her lifestyle. That means the Bennetts have concentrated on the health of their clients, and not just their physical appearance.

Those who buy a franchise will have to maintain the same focus, and the reward for doing just that could be tremendous. The field is already generating billions of dollars nationally from consumers each year and is growing annually.

“We’re still really in the beginning of the bell curve of what these services and what these opportunities can look like throughout the United States. So there is a lot of interest out there,” said Bennett, who was trained as a medical technician.

The first step a potential franchisee has to take is to visit the spa to get a general grasp of what the business is about. Bennett said Vasaio will impress them as having multiple offerings under a single roof, with the salon, spa and medical spa all tied together.

“It’s kind of like an extreme makeover,” she said with a noticeable smile in her voice.

“When they see that it’s all under one roof, that there is a way to manage it, and there is a way that separates and differentiates it from another location, I think they will find a lot of interest. After that — if they’re interested in it — the franchise fee, at this point, is $75,000.”

Bennett said the fee gives a franchisee all the training that is needed, legal rights to use the Vasaio trademark, and a priceless intangible that someone who goes it alone doesn’t have.

“Basically, what a person gets in a franchise versus starting one on their own is they get somebody to hold their hand at all times throughout the process and not make the expensive mistakes that we made,” she said, ending the sentence with a laugh.

“When you start things on your own, you have to learn things the hard way. In the process, you literally lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. So we’re going to provide everything from the proprietary software, to the types of skincare products that they use, to the whole way that you do Vasaio Life Spa — the processes and the protocols.”

The fee includes territorial protection that stretches for 14 miles in all directions from a franchised business, but a franchisee may own more than one Vasaio in the same market. Still, the Bennetts would like to see a buyer find success with the first spa before entering into an agreement for a second one.

“We would rather have five solid operations than 100 and have half of them go under,” she said.

The Bennetts have targeted the eastern portion of the country to market franchises. They see cities like Orlando, Atlanta and Rochester, N.Y. — which have grown economically in the past few years but aren’t spa-saturated — as likely candidates for future Vasaios.

Bennett said Vasaio also gives franchisees help in finding a location for the spa, getting the building built or built-out, and securing the appropriate financing to get the business up and running.

“Another thing that separates us from the rest of the franchises out there is we have our own development team out of New York State that not only searches out places for people, but works with Grubb & Ellis to find the very best location for the type of demographic that we’re looking for,” she said.

A potential franchisee may be surprised to learn that about a third of Vasaio’s customers are men, who especially have showed an interest in the skin rejuvenation services the spa offers. Bennett said that was a bit of a surprise to her as she initially thought her male customers would stick with their traditional medical massage therapy.

But it also told her there was another area for the business to explore.

“In the fall, we had a number of the men come in and say they were tired of the loose skin and broken capillaries in their noses,” she said. “That was actually quite exciting because that’s a whole population that we still haven’t really delved into yet.”

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