Leap of Faith

As the brainchild of Hungarian master esthetician and former model Eva Sztupka-Kerschbaumer, ESSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare (Aspinwall, PA) debuted with three intimate treatment rooms in an unused walk-in cooler of a local yacht club in Fox Chapel, PA, in 2002. Sztupka-Kerschbaumer and her husband, Scott Kerschbaumer, who serves as manager, opened the spa with an advance from their credit cards. It has since grown to become a two-level, 8,000-square-foot health and wellness retreat that caters to residents of four surrounding states. The spa, which features 13 treatment rooms, four pedicure and four manicure stations, a five-chair Blow Dry Bar, a Chella Brow Bar, a spray-tanning booth, and more, employs a staff of 32. The couple also opened a second location in 2010. ESSpa Spa Resort at The Carnegie Inn (State College, PA), overlooking the 17th green of the Toftrees Golf Course, features seven treatment rooms and employs 17 staff members. Here, Kerschbaumer shares how he and Eva have been able to grow the business they started with such modest means.


How has ESSpa Kozmetika continued to succeed over the years?

A. ESSpa Kozmetika was and remains successful because Eva cares. She cares about the type of concrete used in our floors. Eva cares about how the washcloths feel when they touch clients’ faces, hands, or feet. She cares about how the person answering the phone sounds when clients call to schedule an appointment. She cares about the ingredients in the products used in the treatments and for sale on the shelves. Eva cares about her employees, treating them to complimentary spa services, holidays off, mandatory vacations, and a Rolex watch for those who have worked for her for 10 years. Most of all, Eva cares about her clients and her clients’ families. She cares so much that she doesn’t think of her clients as customers. They are all guests and friends, and she is 100 percent invested in creating and expanding a personal relationship with everyone who walks through her door. Beyond that, the spa delivers visible results.


What makes the spa successful?

 It’s a combination of incredible, professional employees who really like working at ESSpa and treatments that deliver positive results, all provided within a repurposed historic auto-mechanics garage. Beyond that, the relationship that Eva has with her guests keeps them coming back for more.


What have been some of the greatest challenges you’ve experienced operating the spa throughout the years?

A. Our biggest challenge has always been finding enough good professional therapists to meet demand for services. While we do have a core group of really fantastic employees, we are always in need of additional staff who actually want to work, will show up on time, don’t call off if they have a hangnail, aren’t afraid to recommend a retail product, and take pride in their trade and their space. The other challenge is that the daily operation of ESSpa has always been on a shoestring budget. Because we funded the company with personal credit cards, it has been both incredibly difficult to succeed and equally amazing that the spa is successful. There is little to no room for error.


How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit? 

A. Even before opening day in 2002, Eva tasked me with figuring out how to connect with both her existing customers, as she managed a local spa in Pittsburgh before starting ESSpa, and to engage and attract area residents. Fortunately, I grew up about one mile from the spa’s main Pittsburgh location. We wanted Eva to be the face of the business and created a multifaceted marketing system, which now has more than 14,000 opt-in guests receiving weekly emails and text messages. We also improved our standing in the community by sponsoring as many charity events as possible. More than simply donating a gift card for a silent auction, our sponsorships result in the donation of more than $150,000 worth of $20 individual gift cards per year, every year, to various causes throughout the region. Finally, spurning Groupon, LivingSocial, and other discount aggregators, we reward our loyal customers every year with special in-house sales, discounts, and packages that result in our guests receiving world-class luxury spa services, such as 90-minute Hungarian Facials or 90-minute Body Wraps for as little as $30 per treatment. This helps deliver strategic cash when necessary to fund expansions or upgrade equipment but also ensures that existing customers don’t even think about going somewhere else.


How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?

 Email and text messaging are the lifeblood of our marketing success, and they, by far, deliver the best, highest, fastest, and most economical return on investment (ROI) of anything we have ever attempted. Social media is nice, but because our existing database allows us to speak directly to our guests, we don’t need to spend as much time trying to engage people on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or whatever is the hottest internet space du jour. We have tried to do this and have hired others to curate our social media, but the results are wanting. Our newest approach is to try and leverage our existing guests to post directly to their social media accounts using video testimonials, as this is the best way we can see to generate significant word-of-mouth and friend referrals.


How do you keep the menu fresh and enticing?

Eva is the national director of training for both Biopeptix Cosmeceuticals and M.A. Dermaceuticals. As such, she attends at least one major conference or trade show every month of the year. Via these and other venues, she is constantly meeting other professionals, vendors, and manufacturers from all over the country and the world where she can identify, cull, and incorporate the best practices and products into the ESSpa menu of services. And I’m always at work finding new ways to attract new people to try the spa by creating seasonal specials and packages that utilize fresh ingredients, such as locally grown honey, peaches, and apples.


To what do you attribute the spa’s success?

 I attribute it to Eva’s generosity, the professionalism of our staff, the unique nature of our space, and the effectiveness of our treatments.


What plans do you have for the future? 

 Eva has plans to take over the skincare world and become the next household name in the beauty industry, as she makes top-quality skincare a regular necessity in the daily lives of American families.