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Finance to Franchise: Woodhouse Day Spa Franchisee Alla Shapiro

FranchiseHelp interviewed Alla Shapiro, a Woodhouse Day Spa franchisee with a corporate financial background. Alla emigrated from Ukraine to pursue professional success in the US. After receiving her MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business in 2003, she worked as a portfolio manager for Bank of America before making the decision to leave the corporate world and go into business for herself. In 2008, Shapiro and her husband, a former Morgan Stanley executive, opened The Woodhouse Day Spa. She speaks to FranchiseHelp about her transition from finance to franchise, choosing the business opportunity, and how she's made her business a success with the right advertising and marketing.

FranchiseHelp: Tell me about your decision to leave finance and open a spa? What aspects of the spa industry attracted you to the opportunity?

Alla Shapiro: I loved working in financial services but I always wanted to own and operate my own business. When I started the process of researching different business opportunities, I looked at different franchise systems and decided that I wanted to own a spa. One of the major contributing factors was meeting the CEO of the Woodhouse Corporation, Jeni Garrett, who is very passionate about this business and the Woodhouse franchise. I loved the upscale, holistic concept of the spa, which creates a great experience for its guests, and I wanted to be a part of it.

FH: Did your finance background and MBA experience help you in opening your own franchise? If so, how?

AS: The finance background is helpful but absolutely not necessary in opening the franchise. It was helpful that I knew how to read the financial statements, but it is not a skill that cannot be learned quickly. In retrospect, any experience that one has is helpful in opening and running your own business. You are faced with so many different challenges on daily basis, therefore the more experience you have with Marketing, Operations and Finance, the more tools you have to solve these problems the best possible way.

FH: Why did you decide to open a spa as a franchisee as opposed to an independent business?

AS: I did not have enough business knowledge to open an independent business. A good franchise system provides the support you need in the aspects of the business you have no experience in. The Woodhouse franchise has tremendous support and helped me to come up to speed very quickly.

FH: What were some of the most important elements you analyzed when deciding which franchise/non-franchise business to run?

AS: I wanted to love what I do – that was the major factor. I looked at how the current business owners in the franchise system perform and I asked many questions about their experience with their businesses and the franchisor support.

FH: How much of a challenge was it to get your business off the ground (financing, location scouting, getting clientele, etc.)?

AS: I had a difficult time, initially, starting the business. I had no problem with finding financing, but the major difficulty was finding the appropriate space, and the build-out process was very difficult and unpredictable. It was very challenging to stay in my budget and to finish the build-out on time. Getting clientele was not difficult! I followed the franchise system and it worked pretty easily.

FH: What do you do in terms of marketing and advertising for your customers?

AS: The major portion of our advertising is online through Google and Facebook. We also advertise through local magazines, participate in SpaWeek and SpaFinder Wellness week. But most of our guests come through word of mouth referrals.

FH: How is the economy affecting your spa and the overall industry?

AS: The business opened in summer 2008, right before the last recession. To be honest, it was a difficult first year. However, since then, we’ve been steadily growing every year and even though the economy is not at its best we are performing really well.

FH: What new trends are you noticing with customers and offerings? What are some new developments you've affected to keepup?

AS: I notice that more and more guests use our online gift card system and many book their services online. We used to mail many more gift cards and now a significant number of people opt to receive electronic gift cards. I also believe that in terms of advertising, it is becoming more important to have a significant presence online and to do social marketing through Facebook and Twitter.

FH: What advice can you offer to others who are thinking of leaving one career path to embark on another?

AS: The most important thing is to find what you love to do. That will allow you to persevere in difficult times and to become successful. Also, it is very important to not give up. As a business owner, you will find yourself in very difficult situations in which it is too easy to give up. Do not become emotional when solving difficult problems as that prevents you from finding the best solution possible. And there is always a solution to every problem. At least in my experience!

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