Small Business

Monday 28 July 2014

In the Buff: The salon business that has grown organically with its founders

Louise Kelly

Published 11/02/2014|13:36

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Marsha Abrahams and Eileen Flemming

It all started, like many good tales, in the City of Amsterdam

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Three friends, Jo Hepworth, Marsha Abrahams and Eileen Flemming, were working in Holland in different industries when the idea of The Buff Day Spa was first born.

The three tulips that don the business card of the salon today stems from this era – the point at which they decided to take their enjoyment of spa treatments to the next level.

“I had my first massage whilst I was living in Holland in 2000 and was introduced to the concept of "Spa" and "Relaxation" then,” Eileen told Independent.ie

Although educated in languages and working in IT, this massage was a “life changing experience” for Eileen. “Never before had I felt that amazing feeling of being utterly relaxed; aware, but not asleep. It was like a little piece of heaven on earth.”

The realisation that this voyage of discovery was something a business could be built upon prompted Eileen to return to Ireland and scout for the premises that would eventually be the base for the South King Street shop.

Marsha and Jo followed suit in Autumn of 2002 and each of the three trained in different disciplines – which included Aesthetics and Skincare, Aromatherapy, Reflexology and Reiki and Manicures and Pedicures – while also keeping up their day jobs, of course.

Making the recession work for them

This determination and drive is a testament to the continued success of The Buff Day Spa since its outset. Even as three became two when Jo emigrated to America. And, probably the toughest challenge of all, when the recession hit, having a huge impact on the beauty industry at large.  

Marsha said The Buff Day Spa noticed the difference when it came to the footfall of tourists into the salon.

“There were simply no tourists at all coming in so we took a different approach. We channelled all our energy into retaining and expanding our regular client base. This meant giving them more offers, more specials and letting them know just how important they were to us.”

The now duo also seized the downturn as an opportunity – to establish the salon as first in class as many closed their doors and the industry tightened.  “We’d always had a great reputation for our treatment standards – but we decided to really up that standard so that anybody coming in would think that we were number one,” shares Eileen.

“We also offered a repeat booking saving for ‘locals’. We decided to trial this for six months to see what happened. But five years later, it’s still going strong!”

Ironically enough, the financial pressure felt by their competitors - and the nation at large – actually worked in a relatively positive way for The Buff Day Spa.

“We got business from those that would have gone away for the weekend at the spa that couldn’t quite afford the couple of nights stay,” continued Marsha, who also admits to seeing clients directed to their shop when their former regular salon closed down, if it meant more expense than they were familiar with.  However, “because of our convenient location, and reputation, people were happy to pay that little bit extra than before.”

The knowledge that the therapist that was doing their treatment was top of the range is an impression that the two partners aimed for clients to come away with, as they employed a “thorough” recruitment process.

The team they built, now led by spa manager Carol Anne Bolger and general manager Jason Fenn, is a strong and impressive lot.

“We are very lucky with our Buff Day Spa team, each and every one of them are fantastic unique therapists with individual skill sets who are passionate about giving the very best treatment to their clients and passionate about growing and evolving as therapists,” gushes Eileen

And the dynamic duo report that the only time they have ever had to let anyone go was at the business’ nascent stages when they didn’t realise just how many people were required to run the business.

“After the first six months, we realised that the business wasn’t coming in as quick as our initial estimation. In the economic downturn, we never actually had to let anybody go,” Marsha proudly informs independent.ie. 

Friends, business partners…mothers

Yet, the business was not the only important thing in these women’s lives. They reached the point where they settled down and wanted to start a family too

But the resourceful partners figured out a way to make this work for them, according to Marsha, and the solution was actually more appealing to the new mothers.

“Instead of taking the full six months maternity leave, we actually ended up doing two days a week for a year,” she tells independent.ie

“I had my second child three years ago and I actually decided to opt for that schedule again because I thought – hey I actually prefer to do this. I ended up having five days a week with my child and then two days off in work!”

Tullamore-based Eileen is also a mother, to “the other love of her life” Saoirse, and commutes to Dublin two or three days a week, working from home the rest of the time. In fact, the self-confessed workaholic actually maintains that she has to “make the effort to pull away” at times and work “smarter not harder”.

“We recently took on a business coach to help us achieve our goals and grow our business. So far we are delighted with the results,” she says.

Standing out from the crowd

When The Buff opened in Ireland initially, they were one of the only places that actually stocked the extremely popular Dermologica product in Ireland.

The ladies have always used the products they put to market – and this goes some way to explaining the evolution of the range at the salon.

“When we put on a bit of weight, we needed something to keep us slim – and that’s where we got the idea for introducing the universal contour wrap,” laughs Marsha.

“The next range we got in was the maternity range because we were all pregnant! The Mama Mio range are products, too, that don’t contain any parabens or fragrances.”

And when we started to head towards the 40 mark, that’s when we started looking for a skincare line for more aging skin and got the Image range in.

The products at the Buff Day Spa are not on the cheaper end of the market but Marsha maintains that the salon is still within a lot of people’s budgets, reasoning that “there’s a lot of things on that give similar results but are a much higher price”.

What’s next?

But the focused pair refuse to rest on their laurels as they are “not out of the woods yet”.

Furthermore, one of their goals is to “reward our staff with career progression and variety when we open our next business,” explains Eileen.

“We would love to open a second and third place – and the also find the right product from overseas and become a distributor of it, an exclusive stockiest of that in Dublin,” agrees Marsha.

One disadvantage of the salon is being located on the first floor and not having a ground floor presence so the partners plan to open more of a retail place with a viewable shopfront.

With plans to enter (“and hopefully win”) a beauty award this year, the pair are also planning another trip to the States, to the summer Las Vegas beauty show “to see what is actually out there for our next product range”.

“We have seen how much we have learned and how much we have grown in the last 12 years and are ready to put this energy and passion into another business,” shares Eileen.

The life adventure has by no means ended yet. Take a look at the site here.

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