A Fresh Start
LAST FALL, HURRICANE KATRINA ALTERED THE lives of most New Orleans residents. My partner, André West-Harrison, and I were left stranded in Indiana for five weeks with only three days worth of clothing. While there, we had plenty of time to wonder about the state of our home and business in New Orleans.
Upon their return to New Orleans, Keith and André West-Harrison survey the damage from Katrina.
In the Beginning
We always had a plan for the future, and part of that plan was the creation of Miss Celie's Spa Orléans, a luxury day spa in the French Quarter hotel we owned. Less than three years after opening our doors, we had the top-rated spa in New Orleans.
After years of running the hotel and spa, we started to plan for the next phase of our lives and put the property up for sale. It sat for more than a year with no interested buyers. We weren't concerned though because it was generating a great profit each month. But then things came up that were not part of the plan. Evacuating from a hurricane was something we hadn't done before. We never felt threatened because we were living well above sea level in New Orleans, and our hotel had survived more than 150 years of hurricanes.
In better times, Miss Celie's Spa Orléans provided a welcome retreat.
Picking up the Pieces
Last August was different, however. As the situation worsened, we knew it was time to leave. We drove north through bumper-to-bumper traffic for 16 hours to get to our hometown of Evansville, IN. As usual, we devised a plan. Even with six anxious dogs and a cat packed in our car, André and I began to discuss our future. "What do we do if we lose the house," I asked. "Start our new lives," he replied.
In Indiana, while we waited to return to New Orleans, we decided we wanted to consult full time. Our plan was to sell the spa and move to the country where we could live a less hectic life. When October arrived, we were finally able to return to New Orleans. We were fortunate in that there was no real destruction to our home, although there was some looting and theft. We sold the hotel and spa within three days and planned a move to California.
In June 2005, we had started formalized training to expand our careers as day spa consultants by taking classes with Douglas Preston of Preston Inc. outside of San Jose, CA. This planning saved our careers. Among other things, Preston taught us the pitfalls of spa operations with the corrective measures that spas need. It seems like that was years ago now. We took our profit from the sale of the hotel and bought part of the Preston Inc. consulting and education division. The same company that trained us to have a new career is now our new career. AOL captured our entire transformation from hotel to spa to consultants on their online reality series, "The StartUp," at www.aolsmallbusiness.com
Helping Others Help Themselves
We now spend our days helping others in the day spa industry make their businesses more profitable. We specialize in retail sales and service training, private-label branding, day and medical spa start-ups, and profitability. In just a short time, we have worked with consulting and product clients from England to New Zealand. We've also created Retail Magic, a two-day seminar that shows spa owners and their employees how to maximize their relationship with clients. We also created a teleseminar program called the Spa Coaching Network, a monthly call for owners and therapists covering topics from compensation to career planning.
Miss Celie's Spa Orléans welcomed locals and visitors alike in New Orleans's French Quarter.
Our work today is extremely rewarding. People tell us they received their first real paycheck in years thanks to our consulting. As I write this, I am taking conference calls on our sun-filled deck in the mountains near Santa Cruz, CA, well above any flood zone and with a view of the ocean. Just a year ago, we worked seven days a week, 18 hours a day, running a hotel and spa. Even with a plan, I never expected things to go from so horrible to so great. We miss New Orleans but have been blessed. Because Katrina kicked us out of our nest, we can help others find the happiness we've found. I hope we can teach others from our own lessons in life and in business.
Keith and André West-Harrison live in Boulder Creek, CA. They can be contacted at (812) 430-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about their training and education, visit www.spacoachingnetwork.com