When most people think of a spa, they imagine steam rooms, heated pools, and serene relaxation areas. The words “mobile spa,” however, don’t necessarily conjure up those images. Without a fixed physical space to create ambience, mobile spa owners and their teams must rely on their own talent and cha- risma in order to make clients feel like guests in their own homes or businesses.
For owners of traditional stationary spas, the concept of a mobile spa may seem completely foreign. In truth, the operation of both types of spas is alike in many ways. “You have all the same expenses as a traditional spa—supplies, payroll, advertising, legal, accounting, licenses. The only thing you really are not tied to is a brick- and-mortar building,” says Janet Rotella, owner of SPArties (Southern Florida, New Jersey, New York, Eastern Pennsylvania). Yet, this difference effectively changes the way the business runs. “Because you do not have one central location, how you interact with your clients, how you communicate with your staff and contractors, and how the service is rendered has to be modified accordingly,” says Marie Watkinson, owner of Spa Chicks On The Go (New York City).
Another difference? While mobile spa guests can relax and enjoy the spa experience from the comfort of their chosen locations, not every amenity is available. “A traditional spa has to pay for expensive equipment in order to offer full-service treatments, many of which, either by regulations or simple logistics, cannot be done on a mobile basis,” says Rotella.
Though laws vary by state, treatments that could potentially break the skin are usually off limits to mobile spas, as each new location can- not be inspected for health and safety purposes. That means some popular options, such as facials with extractions, comprehensive manicures or pedicures, body waxing, and body scrubs, are candidates for exclusion on the menu. Further- more, having extensively experienced licensed technicians can drastically reduce the chances for service-based liabilities, as well as enhance the overall experience for guests. Other potential liabilities exist. Due to the unpredictability of changing locales, spa owners and their staff must always pay attention to their settings to avoid any potential legal or medical complications. Mobile spas must be conscious of their client’s valuables and possessions when setting up, as well as the safety and security of their staff. Essentially, mobile spa owners must be willing to give up the controlled environment of a stationary spa. Lori Traub, owner of MySpa2Go (New York City) notes that operating a successful mobile spa entails “constant managing of customers’ appointments at their requested locations in addition to managing employee schedules, making sure the staff has enough time for each customer and in between appointments to get from one place to the next.”
What mobile spa owners may face in liability, however, they gain in flexibility. They have the ability to set their own hours, run their businesses from anywhere at anytime, and work in various locations with a broad range of customers. They can also keep track of when exactly they need staff to be working or on call rather than hiring employ- ees to simply man the desk during normal business hours. This cuts down on labor costs by limiting the number of hours employees are working and eliminates downtime. Instead, employees come to work when there is work to be done, allowing them to feel both needed and appreciated as a vital part of the team. In fact, your staff can become your biggest asset, so it’s important to be discerning when hiring. “Choosing the right team needs to be your essential focus,” says Traub. “Your team is your only company representation, as you don’t have an actual spa to impress the customer with or to set the mood. So service and performance of your technicians is key. A great team will always ensure a happy customer.”
While there are, of course, pros and cons to every business decision, opening a mobile spa, and expanding a traditional spa to include a mobile arm, must be heavily researched and thought through before taking any action. The first consideration should be originality—setting your mobile spa apart from the competition can be tricky. “There is no manual for success, and you need to figure out the personal recipe that works for you,” says Watkinson. “I tell new business owners that in order to be successful, they need to be 100 percent original, which will give them a competitive edge in a saturated market.” Seeing what works for another company may not necessarily work for yours. In playing to the strengths of your team, you are developing your originality and creating a better chance for success.
In addition, mobile spa owners must be conscious of the taglines, services, and trademarked symbols that other spas are using and be careful not to mimic them too closely. Rotell advises potential owners to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and peruse websites, 800 numbers, and social media sites. “Make sure your potential company name is not in use, because you may not only be infringing on copyright laws but also creating confusion between your business and another,” she says.
Furthermore, by differentiating your mobile spa from the competition, your business stands out as new and unique, rather than simply more of the same. For example, Spa Chicks On The Go is not marketed as a mobile spa but rather as a “spa event marketing company.” Unlike many other mobile spas, the company does not offer at-home or hotel-room services for individuals. Instead, it works with corporate and media clients, billing itself as a mobile spa and marketing services/event-planning company. This unique concept has made the company successful, albeit not easily. “Everything I have done to bring Spa Chicks On The Go to the top in the field has been through nine years of trial and error, intuition, lots of hard work, and a healthy dose of luck,” says Watkinson.
Similar to any other business, another factor to take into account is the loftiness of your goals versus the practicality of reaching them. Rotella recommends trying not to do too much too soon. “If you are a one-person shop, even with a few staff members or subcontractors, keep goals realistic,” she says. “Trying to do too much too soon or expand too big too quickly is always a pitfall. The old adage of ‘keeping it simple’ truly is best.” Watkinson agrees, adding that she has seen countless mobile day spas open and close within just a few months. “I think their biggest mistake was to think it would be easy and have a minimal startup investment,” she says. “The business is far from easy money, and you need to be incredibly organized, disciplined, and have impeccable communication skills to keep your clients and employees happy.”
Though the mobile spa business is booming, it is not the right fit for everybody. Weigh the options, examine the pros and cons, and listen to the advice of those who have carved out a niche in this ever-expanding business. Make sure to do your homework and come up with a concept that is both familiar and fresh. Otherwise, your money and mobile spa may just end up running away from you. —Jennifer James