Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
After undergoing a brutal round of bilaterral mastectomies and chemotherapy in 2003, Kay Hechler of Gaithersburg, Maryland, began receiving massages to speed her recovery and regain the active lifestyle she enjoyed. "Massage relieved my pain and helped me regain movement," Hechler remembers of that tough time. In fact, she so benefited from massage therapy that she wanted to spread its impact to others in recovery. So, she left her previous career in marketing and publishing, and, with the financial expertise of her husband, John Phillips, opened a Hand & Stone and Facial Spa franchise.
The couple appreciated how massage had helped Hechler's recovery and efforts to regain freedom of movement; Phillips, who had also experienced stress, as the family caregiver during his wife's recovery, also benefited from massage. Today -- during Breast Cancer Awareness Month -- Hechler reports that she is currently cancer free and that she and John have returned to the golf games they love -- and to each other.
Name(s): Kay Hechler and John Phillips
Franchise owned: Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in the Kentlands (Gaithersburg, Maryland)
How long have you owned a franchise?
[Kay responding] My husband John and I bought our franchise in November 2013 and opened the doors to our Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa on September 13, 2014.
We felt that a franchise would offer us the best support and infrastructure for operating a successful business. The massage-therapy and skin-care industries are unique in and of themselves, and to know that we had the support of the knowledgeable and dedicated corporate Hand & Stone office meant that we would have a solid foundation for starting out and growing our business.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was in the publishing industry, running the sales, marketing and distribution operations of the United States Institute of Peace Press. John continues to work in earned-value management related to large government contracts.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I had been receiving massages for many years as part of my recovery from bilateral mastectomies, reconstruction and other cancer-related surgeries. Massage truly transformed my life. I had tremendous pain and limited range of motion after the various treatments, and massage was prescribed by my doctors as part of rehabilitation. Massage relieved my pain and helped me regain movement. It also gave me time to focus on "me," on feeling better and on moving forward in my new, post-cancer life.
I spoke to my husband about the possibility of owning a spa, whereby we could offer the services that have been and continue to be so beneficial and integral in my well-being. John was immediately on-board, as he too benefited greatly from massage. During my recovery, John also went for massages. We recognized the stress my illness placed, not just on me, but also on him in the role of primary caregiver, housekeeper and all-round “do whatever is needed” person to maintain our household.
From the business perspective, we both felt that my marketing and business background, with its origins in the publishing industry, were well suited for managing a spa, and his background in the finance world was also directly applicable to managing a business. We researched the industry, in general. In looking at franchises, we absolutely fell in love with Hand & Stone.
Founded by an insightful and committed physical therapist, John Marco, Hand & Stone offers massage and skin-care services at an affordable price -- thus allowing the masses to take advantage of and enjoy services which are often unaffordable or unavailable. After experiencing the services at Hand and Stone, we were impressed by not just the services but also the company’s mission and talented staff at the corporate office.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
[Per Hand & Stone Corporate]: A total single-unit Investment can range from $406,921 to $521,692, which includes the build-out, equipment, franchise fees, grand opening advertising, working capital and deposits. The total will depend on the size of the facility.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
We started our research online, reading about the industry in general and about each of the franchise companies and independent businesses operating in the industry across the country and in our area. We spoke and interviewed several franchise businesses, meeting with some in person. We consulted a myriad of professionals, such as franchise attorneys and accountants. We interviewed franchise owners --from many different franchises -- to learn about their experiences, their challenges, successes and failures. We read books about franchising and researched our county and state government websites regarding requirements and laws for running businesses.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
There had been recent reductions in the number of massage therapy schools and massage therapy programs, and we were much more challenged in the hiring of therapists at the onset.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
First, owning one’s own business is not for the faint of heart. The owner of a business has the 24-7 responsibility for every aspect of the business. Getting through the first two years can be likened to the first two years of raising a child. The business will cry a lot at first, and will not sleep through the night. Second, be prepared to invest oneself fully. The staff is critical to a business -- whether the business requires one person, 50 or 500. Hire the best, and be prepared to invest in your staff.
Third, love your franchise and the corporate team. Do your homework,and be sure that you align with the company philosophy and that you are comfortable with the corporate structure and dynamic. You will work closely with the corporate office. Communication is key. Fourth, be ready for change. Change is a guarantee.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are still in the infancy period for our Gaithersburg location of Hand & Stone. Based on our performance to date, we expect this year to be a pivotal year for solidifying the business. We are beginning to see the "baby" sleep through the night, and we are now getting to enjoy what we have established -- our amazing staff and customers, our business neighbors and our greater community in Gaithersburg.
We will continue to build our presence and find new and more ways to give back to our community. Immediately on the agenda: Our spa has partnered with the city of Gaithersburg and the principal of the Gaithersburg Elementary School, Stephanie Brant, in a children’s book program, and we are gearing up for our holiday children’s book drive. Follow us on Facebook for Hand and Stone -- Kentlands to see what we are doing at the spa and in the community. We look forward to welcoming you in the spa!