Opened in 2006 with just one treatment room, Joanna Vargas Salon hasn’t let a tumultuous economy slow its growth. Recently, the spa moved to a larger location in the same building to accommodate its growing skincare clientele. “We have three treatment rooms, and the vibe is a definite mix of clean and modern with old Hollywood 1940s glamour,” says owner Joanna Vargas. A renowned skincare guru and celebrity facialist, Vargas and her staff are already outgrowing their new space. “I have nine amazing women working with me who are each smart and talented,” she says. “In an economy where many small businesses are looking to downsize, we have doubled our revenues for two years straight.” In addition, she also recently added four new products—Daily Green Serum, Rejuvenating Serum, Exfoliating Scrub, and Vitamin C Face Wash—to her natural skincare product line.
How has Joanna Vargas Salon continued to succeed in these trying times?
A. I think the key to our success over these past few years has really been two key things. First, I am old fashioned in lots of ways. I really believe in old school customer service and manners. All my employees get taught to really listen to their clients. It’s not about banging out a certain number of facials a day. It’s about listening to what someone wants and trying to give that to them. With the number of spas in Manhattan alone, I feel like being known for this is really something special. The second thing would have to be my commitment to training and staying current with our knowledge and techniques. All my staff, from the receptionists to the estheticians (including myself), all read various books, articles, and training manuals weekly. There has never been a point in my career when I thought I knew it all. In the last five years, I have learned more about skincare than I have during the sum total of my career prior. If there is something better out there, I want to know about it.
Why do you think the spa has been able to succeed where other spas have failed?
A. I think I excel at personal care. I have taught my staff members to think through their treatments and not be cookie cutter. That way, the client always gets what she wants. The commitment I have made to new technologies has advanced my skills immeasurably. I can do things now with people’s skin that are still amazing even to me. Education is also a big ingredient. People who come in to my spa are getting treated by a very capable set of women.
How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?
A. At the beginning, I would always offer a special treatment as a gift to anyone who referred a friend. It made clients really feel good about helping me. I also decided to start a blog. Clients would always comment on how interesting some of my commentary was or that they learned so much from speaking to me. So I started to write down my thoughts about skin health, nutrition, and beauty. I would send out my new blog posts in an email newsletter. People started forwarding it to friends, and it introduced me to so many new people. My clients and I have a dialogue that never stops. I am very accessible for all of them, and I think it’s been a great asset.
How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?
A. My e-newsletter has been, since the outset, a great help. I started using Facebook during my second or third year. It was amazing—clients were friending me after their treatments, and again, it was a great way to keep a running dialogue with them. These days, I use Twitter to share insights and tips about skincare I think are interesting. I love Twitter, because I feel like I am connected to many amazing women in the beauty industry. We all can learn so much from each other. I still feel like I have a lot to learn about social media, but it certainly helps to have such a young, hip staff. Also, I think a key part of my success online was that I decided to rebrand myself in 2009. I hired someone to design my logo and website. I believe the new look better reflects who I am and what the spa is about.
Did you change your menu of offerings?
A. The first big change I made to my menu was adding LED light therapy in 2008. It doubled my income overnight. People loved it as much as I did, and we were soon giving light treatments to nearly 100 percent of our clients. In December 2010, I had an LED light therapy bed engineered that I designed with the help of a leading company in the field. I had at that point just tripled my spa size to accommodate the anticipated interest. The bed certainly didn’t disappoint. People love the bed, and they really feel confident that we are leading the field technically. The idea was born from me doing what I do best—working on a client and listening to what she wanted.
What steps and cost-cutting measures did you employ to offset the recession?
A. The truth is, I really didn’t do anything differently. I already owned all of my big pieces of equipment. My rent was not crazy, because I am just a conservative person in general. And any skimping on product or treatments wouldn’t be true to who I am. I felt that people would only spend money on quality work. Anything less, and I would be damaging what I was known for. Sure, we lost some clients, but many kept the spa in their budget, because they saw results, and it made them feel good to take care of themselves when everything was so stressful.
Have you had to let any employees go?
A. My policy from the day I opened was to commit to a happy work environment and keep really positive people around me. I never had to let anyone go due to the economy. But I will say that my business grew into the many milestones we have reached because I have a great staff who love to come to work. They are happy and keep me upbeat every day. We are all supportive of each other, and I think clients can feel that when they walk in. The only “creative” thing I do with the girls is that I have turned them into mini managers. They each have weekly statistics given to them based on the prior week. They are taught to look at them and see how they can improve their performance or maintain it. They each know what makes them good at their job and what clients respond to about them. It takes the mystery out of life and makes them really goal oriented. They all know I think the world of them, and they believe in themselves too.
What have you learned from surviving the recent recession?
A. I think the main lesson I learned throughout this entire situation is to believe in what we do, maintain high standards, focus on customer service, and never stop learning. I haven’t built my business off of one treatment or a cookie-cutter facial. It’s been old-fashioned talking to people and listening to them. It’s all about the clients for me. I have learned so much from them.