10 - Julie Wilson - Spa Owner at Body Kneads, Etc

When I first met Julie, she was living in the corporate world traveling five days a week.  A move to Nashville, TN because of her husband's job made her re-evaluate what she wanted to do with her life.  So what did she decide to do?  She became a Massage Therapist and launched a spa with her daughter in Lebanon, TN. 

Not only is she surviving four years later, their business is THRIVING.  Each year, they're maintaining incredible growth rates and amazing survey ratings from their clients (98% when the average is around 80%).

Julie shared with us how she got started, what she has done to stand out from a typical spa and make them different, and how she's made a partnership work with her daughter.

Just some of my favorite quotes from this interview are:

'From day one, I think that you need to run your business as if you were a billion dollar company.'

‘I was going to concentrate on rewarding my clients that were already there.’

‘Become friends and build relationships with those people you think would be your enemies’.

How did you make the change from corporate America to owning your own day spa? After traveling five days a week for her corporate job, Julie knew she really wanted a change.  It was when her husband was transferred from Dallas, TX to Nashville, TN where she decided to take advantage of the situation.  She thought since she liked massages,  she would just become a massage therapist to hold up her side of the income.  However, after she and her daughter started a partnership, and found the perfect location in a town outside of Nashville, they started to think of more possibilities.  They got a huge opportunity when the only other spa nearby, ended up going out of business.  When they offered to buy their equipment, they landed a client list of over 4,000, and their spa began to take off.

They kept things small, only borrowing a little bit of money.  They negotiated a great contract and lease with the building.  It needed to be refurbished, but they used the little money to work on getting the spa that they wanted.

How did you find your first building? They had an idea of where they wanted to be, location wise, but they also knew they wanted to be a little different.  They just started driving around and looking for houses for sale and rent.  There happened to be a house on a great corner. 

There were a few other important factors for their growth.  Both her and her daughter, Heather, are working partners.  They set up immediately how much each of them would need to bring in with massage therapy in order just to cover their bills.  They kept it where if anything were to happen, they could continue to work and keep the business afloat.   They set-up worse possible scenarios made a plan of attack, then moved forward.  Knowing that no matter what happened in this business, they would be okay. 

What was the biggest change you had to make in the course of your business? It was all about finding a niche that no one else did when it came to spas.  There were some places that did pretty similar things, so they had to set out to become different.

It was specializing in Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy.  They specialized in something else that no one else was doing.  There are only 25 therapists who do it in the state of TN, and they count for two of them.  By specializing in this, they took advantage of promoting total body health versus just massage.

Was networking or marketing the bigger advantage to letting customers know about the niche? It was a little bit of both.  It was really important to get involved with the community.  It was also about building relationships with the competition.  She introduced herself, so they didn’t see them as a threat.  She explained that they could work together to grow the industry as a group of people. 

They also work on exceeding their customer’s expectations  They do mostly word of mouth marketing, and network with other businesses that are their clients.  She also developed relationships with the chiropractors and doctors in town.  It was about educating, and getting referrals.  Her motto was to become friends and build relationships with those people you think would be your enemies.

They’ve maintained great growth, by not seeking opportunities, but really looking into opportunities as they’re presented to them, and taking immediate advantage of the things that they see as something potentially great.  When they were able to help a personal trainer in Nashville, he invited them to come and practice out of his location at Impact Fitness and Wellness Solutions

How have you made the partnership work well?  The biggest obstacle has been that it’s a family business.  They found they have to set boundaries and establish rules.  They kept slipping into a parent/child relationship, instead of an equal partnership.   Even Heather would continue to slip into the child role, and she was allowing her to do it.  This year they actually decided to hire a business coach.  It was a huge plus for them because they really needed someone else to come in and referee, and learn to separate business from family.   But getting through that they also know each other better than anyone else does, and it helps in making business decisions.

What are some things you to do keep your customers so loyal?  Her philosophy is different from most, as she’s not into giving new clients the discounts, but then not treating her loyal customers as special.   She was always bothered that as she goes to businesses, she sees new clients getting the discounts, but she’s not getting the reward for being loyal.  She decided that when it was time for her to start a business, that she was going to concentrate on rewarding the clients that were already there, instead of trying to bring new clients in.

They have promotions every month of some sort.  The only places they’re promoted is their in-house newsletters or someone who likes them on Facebook.  They’re not advertised in the newspaper.   Their current clients are getting all the rewards.  In the end, there are some financial hits getting taken on the promotions, but the clients keep coming back. 

They also give things like birthday treats, or if they haven’t been in 3 months, they do get a coupon to come back in.  However, it's all about targeting their current clients, and they also do referral programs and active surveys.  They have a survey rate of 98%, which is the spa industry is typically in the 80’s.  So they’re seeing great results in how they’re treating their customers. 

They treat people as if they were in a guest in their home.  They’re not rushed through their service, they’re called by the first name when they walk in the door. 

What’s a piece of advice to give someone starting a business? From day one, I think that you need to run your business as if you were a billion dollar company.  At the beginning, they didn’t have a ton of business, but they kept running it like it was a million dollar business.  They had policies in procedures in place so as it grew fast, they could accommodate them.  It’s all about having a plan in place behind the scenes and getting your business there, vs running it like a small mom and pop. 

What’s one thing she can’t live without?  Her daughter’s partnership in the business.  She’s also brought in her daughter-in-law to help with social media, and it’s actually helped bring her family together.

More About Julie:  Julie Miller-Wilson and her daughter, Heather Hull are the founding partners of Body Kneads, Etc., a full-service day spa outside of Nashville, TN.  Together Julie and Heather studied Neuromuscular massage therapy at Southeastern Institute and continued their education in Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy through the MYO Pain Institute, Chicago.

Body Kneads, Etc. was established in April of 2010.  They were voted Employer of choice in 2012 by Southeastern Institute and followed that up the following year with Best Day Spa in Wilson County, TN.

Julie recently became an Instructor of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy and is dedicated to educating the public on the benefits of massage therapy and promoting health and wellness.  Their goal is to partner with clients utilizing touch therapy as a means to promote healing and relaxation.  Their intent is to positively affect the health and well-being of others.


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