How many years have you been involved in the spa industry?
My wife, Susie Ellis, has been part of the spa industry for over three decades, so I have been aware of what was happening since before we were married in 1985. In 2000, I became interested in a niche, print-based, spa information company named Spafinder that I thought had tremendous potential as a web-based business model. That same year the Ellis Family Trust became the majority shareholder of Spafinder, and in 2001 I became chairman and CEO. I have been actively involved in the spa industry for 15 years.
What was the path that led you into the spa industry?
Two distinct paths led me to the industry. First, I married Susie, who has always been passionate about spa and wellness. Then, after founding and taking public the first automotive buying and research website, Autobytel.com, I became convinced that many industries were not taking advantage of all the Internet had to offer, which was the case in the spa industry 15 years ago. When I first took the helm of Spafinder, it was a business decision but it has since become a passion. I’m proud that today the company is the world’s largest spa and wellness marketing, media, and gifting channel, and connects more than 20,000 spas, yoga, Pilates, and fitness studios and wellness businesses with millions of wellness enthusiasts through Spafinder Wellness 365.
What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being in the spa industry?
It is rewarding to work in an industry with people I really like wonderful people who are devoted to helping people be healthier and happier and are passionate about what they do. I also enjoy the many activities our industry offers, from spa treatments to wellness travel to amazing, healthy cuisine. The biggest issue is that the spa/wellness industry is very fragmented and it can be challenging to help thousands of entrepreneurs understand the benefits of technology and of working together.
What has surprised you most about working in the spa industry?
I was surprised by the incredible lifestyle the spa industry offers. What could be better than discovering a new spa, learning how to eat healthier, or working with people that are passionate about helping others feel better? I really enjoy going to work every day and can’t imagine a more rewarding business.
What excites you most about Spafinder’s new location (Miami)?
I am very excited about the energy in Miami, which is exactly the kind of vitality we want to foster at Spafinder Wellness. It was a hard decision to move our global headquarters from New York but Miami has been described as ‘America’s City of the Future,” and that is where we want to do business. It also has a very positive business climate that will be conducive to our continued growth and further our mission to help people, including our staff, live well every day. I’m especially excited that we are able to offer employees new offices that will enable them to live a wellness lifestyle and work in a collaborative environment.
Where do you think the industry is heading?
The spa industry has experienced strong growth for several years, and I think that will continue if spas continue to evolve and expand wellness offerings and provide programs that can be accessed by all kinds of people, young, old, men, women, and families. It is apparent that technology will also continue to play a strong role, especially as new generations replace Baby Boomers and become the largest group of clients. And I think we will see surprising new offerings that we can’t even imagine today.
What is the most bizarre treatment you’ve experienced?
I stay away from treatments that are bizarre for the sake of being bizarre or shocking. I don't think they reflect the positive aspects of the industry.
What new spa treatment would you like to try?
I really am old school, just give me a very deep tissue massage that has a sense of rhythm to it, and I am happy.
Tell us two things about yourself we don’t know.
When I first started out in business I owned six automobile franchises and appeared in so many car commercials that my picture was on the wall of the Palm, a famous restaurant in LA, next to photos of movie stars. In 1997, my company Autobytel was the first Internet company ever to run a commercial during the Super Bowl; it starred Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame.
If you could work in any other profession in the world, what would it be?
I would operate a yacht club facility on an island in the Caribbean.
How would you sum up your personal philosophy?
He, or she, with the most customers wins. And be happy with what you have.