i was 24 years old and i had just been fired – for the SECOND time.
those are two very fun stories – which i sadly don’t have time to get into right now but bottom line was, i was out of a job.
i realized that i clearly wasn’t cut out to be an employee, so i took it to be a sign that it was time to start my own business.
i had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. my dad was and had always told us kids that ‘we could do anything that we wanted to in life… just as long as you make it into a business’. so knowing that my life would include entrepreneurship i floated through my early 20’s waiting for a great idea to hit. with this latest canning (and my ‘two weeks in lieu of pay’, which i’m guessing had to be about $800) i felt like this was my moment.
i was let go on the friday and that sunday night i asked my buddy, craiggers to go for a slice of pie with me and help me brainstorm some business ideas.
we ended up meeting at this super cute little bookstore / café on queen street west. for those reading not from toronto, queen street is this very hip little strip – that at the time was nothing more than a few cafes, a cool kid hotel and one or two boutiques. it was bit of a sketchy strip at the time but it definitely had that up and coming feel to it (fyi queen west was voted vogue’s top 5 ‘hoods in the world!).
as we sat there i was enamoured with the cuteness of the space and i decided that i too wanted a cute little store on queen street west. i quickly imagined myself biking to my shop, grabbing a coffee, opening up my store, turning on the lights, greeting my customers, and of course being a super cool boss to my employees.
so i had my plan. i was going to do a shop! i just needed to brainstorm what i was going to put in this super cool store on this hip strip.
as craig and i threw out ideas i recalled the nail bar that i lived above when i spent a year living abroad in nyc. the nail bar was super gross (think carpet on the floors. yes, carpet in a salon with cold wet spots, nail clippings and callous shavings) but that little shxt hole was always busy – like rammed, morning, noon and night. so i thought about it and talked it out with craig – what if i did that… but just not gross…
for a little more background info – at the time the spa market in toronto and in new york and all over, was very divided with two polar opposites. you had the low end places… which could be / usually were: unhygienic, had poor guest care, had a dodgy / lack of atmosphere and inconsistent service quality / experience. then at the other end of the spectrum you had the high end day spa’s (think hotel spa’s or farmhouse style ‘retreats’). these were usually: expensive, appointment times were intentionally long treat-style / special occasion experiences (white robes, whale music) and of course, they were formal and a bit stuffy.
i thought, what if i took the best of the low end world, and the best of the high end world and married them together. take the best and leave the rest to create a fun, social vibe (grab your gang or come solo and meet a new buddy), that was ultra hygienic (#clinicallyclean), hire only expertly trained staff and give great guest care – all done with a peppy / efficient (walk in. strut out.) energy.
so that was my idea…
i road my bike home, downloaded a business plan template and i worked on it until 6 in the morning. (once i get an idea i get pretty ocd amp’d out about it.)
the next day i dropped my biz plan off to the bank and then i pounded the pavement. i walked up and down the queen street, going into all of the shops asking if anyone was leaving or going out of business and wanted me to take over their space. not totally the most tactful way to meet the neighbours. i was usually met with confused looks followed by ‘ah yeah, no we’re good here thanks’. but eventually i found a sweet angel of a woman who told me that their landlord owned a few places and that one of them was up for lease soon.
i found the landlord, saw the place that day and by the next day i had signed a 5 year lease (keep in mind, i just dropped off my business plan that week so i actually didn’t have the money to do this…. but i had dream, and a feeling that i knew it would all work out.) so naive. so so naive. but i will say that part of business is leaping and trusting that the net will appear…
over the next coming weeks, i found a contractor, hired a designer, ended up getting funding (thank god) -found a beauty supply company and signed up as an exhibitor at a local esthetics career fair. i often say that business is just one long ass never ending to do list. i find tackling things in a logical order helps with quelling anxiety (ie: you can’t freak out about the fear of customers not coming in the door if you don’t even have a door for them to walk into – so put first things first and gett’r done.
four months later i opened my doors! THE TEN SPOT® beauty bar was born! actually it was first called THE TEN SPOT® nail bar, but then we added more services and it made sense to change the moniker.
within months of opening we were in every national publication. we had that ‘good’ business problem of being too busy. so lots of bumps and learnings happened real fast.
one early mistake i learned was a hard lesson on the importance of a booking system. up to this point we only took walk in’s until one day this very (very) prominent pr woman came in and asked if we could book a bunch of pedicures for her friend’s bachelorette. not wanting to lose this golden opportunity of having one of toronto’s social elites host an event at my bar i told her ‘absolutely’ and then jotted her appointment into the ical of my personal computer. we all know where this story is going… of course, i forgot all about it and when her and her six friends walked in that busy saturday we were fully at capacity – it ruined her plans, i got yelled at and felt like shxt. that day i purchased a front desk computer, some spa booking software and took down my ‘walk ins only’ signage.
despite me royally pissing off the pr maven (who we ended up doing business with in later years) we started rackin up best of the city awards. people from all over the city came specifically to see us. we were the destination beauty spot in the city.
and that’s because… the market had never seen anything like us…
we were the original anti-spa beauty bar giving guests a social experience.
i built my business plan around the best of two extremes in the industry – peppy energy, clinical cleanliness, great price points – all of these ‘anti-spa’ attributes. but just as important to this plan was the concept of social activation and the experience in the bar.
I wanted coming to THE TEN SPOT® to be something you could do with your friends on a thursday or friday night as part of your pre-gaming primping routine or as part of a saturday / sunday friend date – ie: grab brunch, do some shopping and then get your mani’s and pedi’s done together…. this seems so obvious now, but 15 years ago this wasn’t the case.
in other places, you’d always be at your little station or in a separate room from who you came with. i wanted to flip that, so i designed these super cool long concrete tables where groups of gal pals could sit together and have their services done. i did the same thing with our pedi banquettes – they seated 6 and we saw people coming in for work meetings, bachelorettes and bridal parties.
it was taking something that was formerly treated as a necessity or or specialty pampering into a weekend outing to look forward to with friends.
we also had loud music playing in the main space, tv’s in all the waxing rooms (so you could focus on friends re-runs instead of the hair being ripped off your vajayjay). our “esthetic experts” called you by your first name, instead of the formal ‘hello ms. gale’ and we created a vibe where we treated our guests like they were long-time friends – even if it was their very first time with us.
we also ran really fun promo’s and had very cheeky marketing…
we had a ‘break-up’ package that was two pedi’s plus a pint of ben and jerry’s for you and your broken-hearted bestie. we had the ‘hot box’ special which was a free brow clean-up with your brazilly® wax and my fav was our male manicure which i dubbed ‘the hand job’ (it’s a job done on their hands…). sadly that one we put out to pasture after a few creepy callers. i even did a martini and a manicure night – which gained national press with a front section page article in the global and mail (canada’s national paper). i did end up in court over that one as i didn’t realize you couldn’t give away free booze, but again, i’ll get into that another time.
bottom line, we had a full customer base within the first few months of opening. buuuuut in those first few months, i found out that in addition to not being great employee – i also wasn’t a great manager.
my talent was working on the business, instead of in it. so, i promoted one of my star estheticians to a manager and then I began to systematize and operationalize everything.
i created all of the manuals and operational guides. every role in the business had protocols and it got to the point where the business really ran itself.
so… i did what any normal small business owner would do in their first year of opening and took off to backpack through thailand…followed by paris for a couple months. when i tired of that i decided it was time to come home and test if this was really a model that could be replicated and expanded.
turned out it was!
i opened 2 more locations in toronto and then met my first husband (i’m between husbands now…) and had a baby and we moved to his hometown, which was hamilton (for those that don’t know, hamilton is a smaller city about an hour away from toronto). i felt like this would be a perfect test to see could this model be run in a different market than ‘the big city’ and if i could run everything remotely.
and again, turns out yeah!
so by this time i knew i had something special. i had a replicable and systematized business model that worked in large and small markets with me as a semi-absentee owner with managers at each site.
basically, I had a built a franchise system without intending to.
by this time i had big ambitions of making this thing huge. i felt like we were so unique in the market and the business model was so successful that we could really take over and grow this thing into being something huge.
so i decided to franchise.
i called up a lawyer, got them to draft our franchise agreements and started awarding locations.
for those that don’t know, it’s very very easy to become a franchisor. you pay a lawyer a butt-ton of cash, they draft your docs based off of a template and congrats, you’re a franchisor!
in reality – to be a franchisor is a lot, lot, lot, more complicated and nuanced. it is a relationship that is based on a contract. a very detailed contract that outlines all the obligations of each party and all the worst case scenarios that can arise and how to deal with them. you sign this agreement and then put in a drawer and you never really look at it again. you then work hand in hand with your franchise partners like you do any other relationship – with tons of communication, patience and learning. i know this all now but i sure as shxt didn’t when i got those docs drafted and started ‘selling’ bars.
it was through very patient, understanding, open and amazing first franchise partners (in fact we did an interview with one of them that you can read here!) that i got my crash course in franchising. and when i say crash course i mean it. opening one location at a time is difficult enough but we ended up awarding our first bar, then another almost at the exact same time. it was both insane and amazing.
both bars opened within a week of each other in 2013. and they both killed it… like, first month, they both broke even in terms of covering their costs (loans aside, i mean).
it was incredible. we had 2 half a million franchised bars in year one.
not only were we gaining press and notoriety for our beauty bars in the markets they were in, but we really started to get noticed in the business world…
when i say we i mean ‘we’ i got to be the lucky face of the biz but it was totally all my head office peeps, our franchise partners and of course of 10spotters® and guests that made all this happen. here’s the list 😉
- canada’s top growing companies award, presented by the globe and mail, 2019
- bmo expansion and growth award, 2019
- canada’s top 40 under 40 award recipient 2017
- winner of the bronze franchise award of excellence for 2019, by the canadian franchise association
- winner of the bronze franchise award of excellence for 2018, by the canadian franchise association
- winner of the bronze franchise award of excellence for 2017, by the canadian franchise association
- franchisees choice hall of fame 2020, by the canadian franchise association
- franchisee choice award recipient 2020, by the canadian franchise association
- franchisee choice award recipient 2019, by the canadian franchise association
- franchisee choice award recipient 2018, by the canadian franchise association
- franchisee choice award recipient 2017, by the canadian franchise association
- franchisee choice award recipient 2016, by the canadian franchise association
- listed as one of 500’s fastest growing companies 2018 by mcleans and canadian business magazine
- listed as one of the GROWTH 500’s fastest growing companies 2018 by canadian business + macleans
- listed as one of the PROFIT 500’s fastest growing companies 2017 in canada
- listed as one of the PROFIT 500’s fastest growing companies 2016 in canada
- listed as one of the PROFIT 500’s fastest growing companies 2015 in canada
- named one of entrepreneur magazine’s top global franchisees in 2015 by entrepreneur magazine
- listed as w100 canada’s top female entrepreneur 2016 by PROFIT/chatelaine magazine
- listed as w100 canada’s top female entrepreneur 2015 by PROFIT/chatelaine magazine
- listed as w100 canada’s top female entrepreneur 2014 by PROFIT/chatelaine magazine
- named canada’s top young female entrepreneur for 2015, presented by chatelaine magazine
which was all so fun and so amazing – and it’s rewarding to see all of your hard work being recognized amongst other incredible brands…
but most importantly, we were being awarded and recognized by our franchise partners.
every year our franchise partners are surveyed by the Franchise Association we have racked up numerous awards year after year for outstanding franchisee satisfaction.
we’re actually in the CFA’s hall of fame now. which is really meaningful to myself and to the hq team that we are serving our partners well. after all, as. i learned a little too late in the beginning – they are our internal customers.
so this takes us to where we are at today!
we are almost sold out in canada.
we are closing in on 100 10spot® beauty bars awarded this year … with over 50 of those bars open and operational.
and we’re beginning to see the same success we saw in Canada with our expansion into the United States.
and we did his all by offering a compelling business model – which i’ll get into in another post another day! (sorry! so many new post promises!)