Spa Home > Backstage Blog > Biz Fundamentals

Know yourself

If you're not organized, go to step FAIL. If you're not friendly, got to step FAIL. If you care more about making a profit than giving people a great experience and making them smile...yup, FAIL.

Gee, thanks Captain Obvious

You are so welcome. Realize that every business is different and I can't write advice specific to you which may make this blog a series of silly platitudes. However I emphasize customer service and self-awareness first because those are your primary tools as a business owner.

Be realistic

Don't expect to make a lot of money right away. Be wary of taking on expenses. You cannot control your profits but you can absolutely control your expenses. This is especially important as you begin your journey in business because the first people to find your business likely won't be customers but vendors and marketers. In other words, most of your initial contacts as a new small business owner will be eager to take your money in the name of making you money. Be wary, be skeptical, don't spend money you don't have on profit potential and when you do pay partners, always have a method in place to identify the actual return on that investment.

How we used this advice ourselves

Your biggest expense is likely going to be rent or mortgage. We were on our way up Mill Plain Blvd in Vancouver, we were checking out our umpteenth location option, feeling nervous about the prospect of a new business, when we made a decision to mortgage something instead.

Why? A combination of previous bad-residential-landlord experiences, a market where it was cheaper to buy than rent, and because we're control freaks. At that time we had just finished remodeling a Vancouver Heights home and the result, a place spotlessly clean and decorated to our particulars, was thrilling for us. It was therefore pretty hard to stomach the shabby commercial rentals which were available to us. We found NNN (Triple Net) costs to be pretty ridiculous because most of the places were in such general ill-repair. The thought of fighting the good fight to run a beautiful facility, only to be rewarded with higher rents or permission slips for remodels just did not appeal. Typically commercial properties are only partially finished and the tenant is responsible for improvements, which is a tax write-off but it's also a thankless job. If you have the means, I highly recommend you seek to own the property in which you do business.

Multi-use zoning

We ended up converting a 1950's era residential property in North Gate zoned for multi-use. It took about a year and no room was spared. The City of Vancouver was awesome and helpful to work with. While we received some very frightening estimates from some Civil Engineers we contacted regarding the costs to expect, we ended up taking their bid with a shaker of salt and completing the job ourselves at a fraction of the cost (less than half).

What we added

Our single largest expense was concrete for a parking lot. The Civil Engineers wanted us to perform a survey and pay them a few hundred dollars an hour to compose a site plan. We chose instead to use the last survey on file with the City already and we hired a friendly student architect to draft the site plan. Looking back, our biggest win was working with the City of Vancouver because they oriented us to what was required by law and the law often allows a layperson to do something. A scale drawing with graph-paper would have been fine; we didn't even technically need the to-scale CAD drawings we ended up with. All the driveway specs and drainage specs and ADA-compliant-bathroom specs came to us through City officials for free. The Civil Engineers would have charged us hundreds of dollars just to make us aware of them.

ADA compliance items like a wheelchair ramp and some very particular requirements for bathrooms were also provided by the City. We hit a snag here when we completed a restroom to 2012 ADA specs but failed to get it inspected before 2013 ADA specs came along and required additional modifications. I personally sawed out 16 linear feet of grout with a hand grout saw so we could move a sink 6 inches to the right, kid you not. Nevertheless, the result is better access for everyone and so it was a win.

What bit us in the tuckus

Traffic Impact Fees, fear them. Basically commercial constructs pay the City fees for the traffic they put on the roads. The fees are calculated using a proprietary, not-open-source, carefully-shrouded-in-mystery book which we learned belatedly was freely available at the right City office. We made the mistake of trusting the internet here and found all sorts of garbage data which even led us so far as to try to estimate our own traffic "discounts" which we felt strongly we should receive because we're on the biggest C-Tran route in town. What we learned here is that Traffic Impact Fees are not negotiable, they apply to everyone the same way. Not because it's a good way or a fair way but because sometimes being unfair to everyone equally is what passes for fair. We ended up paying the City of Vancouver nearly $5,000 USD when we re-classified the property from a dwelling unit to a medical office. We were also told by the same traffic engineer how many parking stalls we'd need to build which was necessary before we could turn in a site plan.

Tips on parking requirements

Put in a bike rack and you can put in fewer parking spaces. Also, stand-alone buildings used exclusively for storage don't count towards either your TIFs or your parking space requirements. Plan ahead and keep your customer area footprint to a minimum if lot space is tight.

Control expenses

As I write this, we're in our third quarter since opening, we'd already have buckled if we were renting from someone. The fact is, the vast majority of new day spa businesses start slowly and people can remain indifferent longer than you can stay solvent if you don't plan ahead.

New businesses are invisible for a while in part because everyone is waiting to see if they disappear. Hang on, it gets better.

Spa Home > Backstage Blog > Biz Fundamentals