Spa Talk with Melissa Ferst

Meet Melissa Ferst, owner of International Orange and a 16-year spa veteran who got her start in the business as a yogi with aspirations of opening a day spa that offered yoga.

What was the path that led you into the spa industry?

I was in my early 20s and having problems with my back, so I started doing yoga to relieve pain and strengthen my back. I eventually became a yoga teacher. My early business partners wanted to create a day spa with a yoga component so that is what initially drew me to the industry. When we opened International Orange in San Francisco, we had a spa and a yoga studio, and in between folding towels and booking spa appointments, I taught 11 yoga classes a week.

What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being in the spa industry? 

I would say that the most challenging and rewarding part of this business is one and the same and that is managing employees. With more than 50 employees, including massage therapists, estheticians, and front desk staff and managers, it is a constant challenge to help people stay focused, motivated, and committed to their work and the company. The most important part of my job is hiring, training and retaining the right people. When I see my employees happy and proud of what they do and motivated to keep learning and evolving, that is the biggest reward I could ask for. That is what I strive for every day. 

What is your proudest accomplishment?

There was a time about five years ago when for many different reasons, I didn’t know if IO was going to survive. I had to dig deep to figure out where I saw my future, as well as IOs. I decided that this business was my passion, and I truly believed in IO’s brand and its employees. I was able to become the sole owner of IO, keep the flagship location alive, and now we just opened our second location in Marin.

What’s your favorite skincare ingredient?

I am a huge fan of face oils. My favorite product of all time is In Fiore’s Calme Face Oil. It has a grapeseed oil base and blends chamomile, rose, and ylang-ylang essential oils for an incredible feel and scent. I’m addicted!

What positions have you worked in that you feel have been most influential to your career?

While we were writing our business plan and raising money for IO, I worked side jobs at Pottery Barn and Nordstrom. Both of those jobs taught me so much about customer service, as well as operational strategies for managing a team of people in a high-touch, detail-oriented business environment.

How do you like to spend your time away from work?

My time away from work is mostly spent with my husband and three kids doing everything from watching baseball games and riding scooters at the park to movie nights with popcorn on the couch. I try to get a little time for myself with a Pilates or yoga class or a glass of wine and chocolate with my girlfriends.

What’s the best advice you’ve received? 

In owning a business, you are constantly presented with challenges and tough questions.  A long time ago, a trusted advisor told me when presented with challenges, don’t respond right away. If you give yourself the time and space to sit with something, the answer almost always presents itself. I’ve found this is a much less stressful way to problem solve.