Sandy Stroehmann is the owner of Elixir Mind Body Massage, a spa and wellness center in Downtown Denver. Sandy spoke with us about her spa, the search for financing, and how she built a profitable business.
Tell us about your background and how you started your business.
I’ve been a serial entrepreneur all my life. I love business and I have always known I wanted to be in business for myself.
The idea around my business was an interesting process. I was living in North Carolina, and I was the executive director of a non-profit children’s health museum. If you’ve worked for a non-profit, you know it can be stressful. To relieve the stress, I went for massages. This was long before massage was widely available. “You know, this is a great idea. I should do something like this someday, but a little bit differently.” I think the idea of a beautiful space and a variety of services adds to stress relief, pain relief, that kind of thing. I just wanted to tweak it.
Fast forward a few years, I was living back East. Got a divorce, moved back home. And I started another company, and it was a good company. But I didn’t feel like I was making a difference, and in the back of my head, I kept getting this feeling, like, “Why aren’t you doing what you really want to do? Why aren’t you giving back?” So, I put together a business plan, got the funding together, and 18 months later, we opened Elixir. We’ve been open since June of 2007, and this will be our 12th year.
What do you love about being a small business owner, and specifically in this industry?
Entrepreneurs are a special breed. We absolutely love to create, and we have this dream, and we want to see it created, and evolve, and become something that is not just for us, but for everybody else.
I work with the most compassionate people, and we make a difference every day. People come here to see us because they’re in pain, they’re stressed, or they’re celebrating something. Being in an industry where we give back, it’s almost like the pebble in the water, where you can have an impact on one person, but that goodness ripples out to others. These kinds of things are really important to me, and I feel like we’re making a difference.
What has been some of the biggest challenges as a small business owner?
There have been several challenges, and they’re different depending on where we are in the business cycle. For us, kind of a constant is never having enough staff. We’ve got this great company, and we have a great product; however, we’re very picky about the people we bring on board. So, having hiring, training, retaining, that has always been a harder thing for me to do, and to do well. But it’s something that we’ve worked on, and we’ve got a great staff.
In your business, you need to make sure your employees are efficient, so you can serve your guests in a timely manner. How do you go about doing this?
We do a lot of training here, and education is a big part of who we are, both for our guests and our employees. We spend a great deal of time, anywhere from nine months to a year, to get all our service providers up to speed on our menu and services. We do a lot of training at the front desk as well, because it’s important that our front desk can do consultations, and really find out what works for our guests.
We have staff meetings every six weeks, which usually include a lot of training. There is also a regularly monthly session. We’re constantly doing evaluations with new employees. We have 30, 60, and 90-day evaluations where we’re checking in, coaching, and doing those things to bring them up to our standards of excellence.
What was it like looking for financing as a small business owner? What sources of capital did you look into?
In the beginning, it was easy. It was a good economy, I had a great credit score, and I was able to secure a lot of funding.
That funding pretty much dried up once we had 2008 hit. We had a line of credit with some of the bigger banks, and rather than continue to allow us to take the line of credit, they just canceled it and it turned it into a loan. We no longer had access to additional capital, and it made things very difficult. The big banks really didn’t want to give any funding anymore, and I think a lot of small businesses ran into that.
Luckily, we were in a position where we had always positioned ourselves as more wellness, as opposed to a luxury, like many spas. When people were cutting back during the downturn in the economy, they were still coming here because they knew their health really mattered. So, we were doing well, but we didn’t have access to funding. When I ran into OnDeck, it was a godsend, because they actually wanted to work with me. And made it easy to work with them.
So why did you choose OnDeck initially, and why have you come back?
OnDeck was more small business friendly. They were a little more expensive, but they were also so easy to work with, and the ability to get funds when I needed them enabled us to continue our business without any interruption.
I’ve come back to OnDeck for several reasons. They served me very well. Their customer service is exceptional. They also support the businesses that take loans from them. Their employees come to Elixir routinely. I always thought and appreciated the fact that they supported us that way. They also listen to their customers. I’ve been on customer forums at their offices here in Denver. And they would ask, “What things are we doing right, what kind of things do we need to be doing better?” And one of the things that I had mentioned was lines of credit are much better for me than loans. I rarely have the need for a loan, but sometimes I’ll need a quick infusion of cash that we can pay off quickly, where I don’t have a lot of interest expense. And next thing I knew, they had a line of credit available as part of their products.
How have you used the money to grow your business?
We’ve used it to hire staff, we’ve used it to create brand-new services, like our facials. We brought in new inventory. When we do training, when you’re hiring and spending all this money, you must do that for recruiting and everything, as well. We’ve also used it to create our own brand. Right now, we’re using it to rebrand and repackage our private label. So, all these things have helped to really increase not only the efficacy of our company, and the way that we serve our guests, but it’s also allowed us to expand and really move into some areas that have made us much more profitable.
What have been some measurable results on your ROI?
I have been able to hire two new managers to really help me more with the day-to-day operations, so I can spend more time working on the business instead of always working in it. I still work in the business, because I love it and I love our clients. But I do need to step back and work on the business, so that’s been really great. We’ve also hired a number of new staff. We have two new aestheticians. We’re constantly hiring new therapists. We’ve also added new equipment. We had to buy new equipment for our aesthetics and our facial room. We’ve increased our inventory. And of course, we’ve added our private label line and our repackaging that.
How has flexible financing helped you achieve your goals?
Anybody that has run a small business knows, it’s nice that you’re smaller, because you can turn on a dime. If you run across an opportunity, if you have an opportunity to do something different and you need fast cash to take advantage of that, you can. If an opportunity presents itself, I can jump on it, and I have. It also helps with unexpected expenses. These are the things that the flexibility allows me, and within a day, I have the financing I need to take care of it.
What are you most excited about when thinking about the future of your business?
Evolution. We’ve seen so many changes in the last 12 years; we added facials in 2018 because so many of our clients were asking for that service, and it has been exciting to see the change and the different clients that have come in from that. We’re looking at some new software here shortly. And the rebrand of our private label is exciting because we’re working to expand our brand beyond Elixir and our guests.