Launching a Local Business via a National Franchise
Chris Mann’s first career was in radio. “I loved that work, but I had to move all the time, and I could see that digital media would soon be taking over,” he said. “I knew I had to find something else. And I really wanted to have my own business.”
So, about 10 years ago, Mann began looking for a franchise to buy. “I didn’t think I had enough solid business experience to build something from the ground up,” he said. In his research, he read about Woodhouse Day Spa in Entrepreneur magazine and was intrigued. “I loved the idea of a luxury franchise,” he said.
The Woodhouse Day Spa was founded as a stand-alone day spa in 2001 in Victoria, TX; soon, its founder and CEO began franchising the concept. Today, there are nearly 50 franchises, and the company plans to add at least 250 more.
After reading about the Woodhouse, Mann called the CEO and arranged to visit her in Texas. “We met at one of the company’s spas in San Antonio,” Mann said. “I knew as soon as I walked in that I wanted to bring the concept to Cincinnati.”
He came back to Ohio and put together a business plan. (“I had the benefit of reviewing the plans of lots of other franchisees,” he said.) Then he went to his bank to get a loan. “The banker didn’t even want to talk with me,” Mann said. “Fortunately, I knew a Huntington banker who introduced me to an SBA lender there. Ultimately, he and Huntington couldn’t have been better to work with.”
“Chris came to the table with strong qualifications: He had a good business plan for buying a franchise in a proven concept,” said Huntington SBA Specialist Robin Washienko, who helped Mann obtain his loan. “He planned to put the spa in a rented space, so he wasn’t buying real estate. That meant he could launch his business with a smaller loan.”
Mann opened his first Woodhouse Day Spa in Cincinnati in 2007. In 2013, he opened a second spa in Beavercreek, also in a rented space. Recently, he acquired a second SBA 7(a) loan through Huntington to build a third spa in Liberty Township, which he plans to open in 2017. (This will be the first Woodhouse Day Spa franchise in a franchisee-built and -owned building.)
Getting the first spa up and running was particularly challenging, Mann said. “It took us a couple of years to really get a handle on the business and the guests. The biggest hurdle was getting people in the door; once they came in, they loved it. So in the early days, we hosted lots of events to bring people in.”
Mann learned some important business lessons since launching his first SBA-approved franchise, he said. “I made the mistake of thinking that running a franchise would be easy. There are certainly benefits to being a franchisee—we have access to corporate marketing and web expertise, and connections to a very supportive group of franchise partners. But owning and running the spa day-to-day is in many ways just like owning and running any local business.
“The hardest part for me was growing from one spa to two, and learning that I have to lean on others to get everything done,” he said. With his first spa, he had 12 employees. Today he has 80. (He’ll hire about 20 more when he opens his Liberty Township spa.) “I hired a regional operations director to oversee the individual spa directors, and that has been a big help.”
Today, Mann is contemplating adding more locations. “At the Woodhouse, I think we make a positive difference in the lives of all our clients. It’s a great business to be in.”
SBA 7(a) loan details:
Loan one: Woodhouse Day Spa, Dayton
- Loans: $490,000 term loan; $50,000 line of credit
Loan two: Woodhouse Day Spa, Liberty Township
- Loans: $2.898 million construction draw loan plus $50,000 line of credit (approved but not yet closed)