Then and Now…Interview March 2012 and 2018
INTERVIEW WITH CITYLIFE CHIANG MAI
Why did you decide to create SPAromdee?
Hello and welcome to SPAromdee. My name is Nick and I am from England. I visited Thailand for the first time only 3yrs ago but one brief trip to Chiang Mai during a whistle stop tour around Thailand, opened my eyes to the real Thailand and not just a blinkered view of the beaches, the girls and the beer bars that I saw in Phuket and Bangkok.
It wasn’t long before I decided I wanted to move here and soon started the process of trying to live my dream.
I decided to look for a business based, if not directly, then loosely around my experience in construction and design . My search had me looking at guest houses, hotels, restaurants, bars, but following many differing advices from expats these were not the businesses to exploit the floundering tourism trade.
To my surprise I came across this building which had been converted already to a certain degree into a massage shop, but still left enough opportunity to utilise my building and design experience to develop and further improve the premises.
But what do I know about Spas, and massage and beauty treatments?, well ..nothing….at the time I first saw the building I thought a body scrub was another name for a loofah and a body wrap was a dance….and I cant tell you what I thought hot herbal balls were…. but that was then………….
So the building and design work was easy for me, but I was clearly out of my depth when it came to designing a massage menu, choosing essential oils, studying body scrubs and having to choose outfits for the therapists. My business partner Wasu, already an experienced high end hotel guest service Supervisor was helping me with this part of the set up and I soon realised she was the catalyst to move the business forward and I am now so pleased she has joined the team as our reception supervisor,..
Now we are open for business, and with a wide selection of certified therapist available to us, we can now pride ourselves on providing a very high standard of service and products, and at very reasonable and competitive rates.
But It is not for us to tell you how different we are, you must see for yourself and experience the difference; then you can be the judge.”
“How can customers contact you?”
“And what time do you open?”
“We open 11am -9pm every day generally but if a customers comes in at 9pm for a 3hr package treatment then of course we will welcome them but we always recommend to book in advance only an hour as this can avoid disappointment for the customer and it helps us to prepare for your visit in advance.”
“Do you run Special promotions/offers?”
“Since we opened only 6 months ago, we have maintained our ‘ 2 promotions a month’ policy and we are always thinking of new offers that maybe other spas/massage salons don’t do. Currently we are running an offer where you can have 30 minutes free if you take 90 mins . This really does make a 2 hour thai/oil/scrub the best value you can find anywhere at this level. We also offer a combi thai and aroma oil massage, 2hrs for 750bt, saving you 25% off our regular prices.
We also now offer ‘multibuy’ coupons, so if you like thai massage or oil massage or a scrub you can pay for 5 random treatments up front saving you upto 40%; doubling the benefits in your wallet and for your body at the same time.
In april we hope to repeat again the huge success of our unique package offers on a local social website. This greatly raised our profile, and brought us many customers from Chiang Rai; Bangkok, Phuket and even Malaysia. Please check our facebook pages for updates.”
“Why are you different to other spas?”
“In the strictest sense we are not a spa because we do not offer the usual range of spa and beauty treatments, and sadly we don’t have 2 rai of lush gardens., but our previous guests can probably answer this question better. But our guests and therapists tell us we are very special and different to the rest, in service, attention to detail, cleanliness and professionalism. We don’t cut any corners for anyone or anything.
Many of our guests are coming to us via word of mouth, customers send friends, work colleagues, parents, and we are proud to say our reputation is growing rapidly and happily at the expense of having to advertise as much as we thought.”
“What special treatments do you do/ special products you use?”
“As we are a fledgling business, still finding our feet in such a highly competitive field. our previous experience was a combination of customer service and construction and architecture, so presently our massage menu is quite standard, consisting of foot/thai/head back and shoulder/hot herbal ball/aroma oil massage; we have 3 body scrubs and a thai mud body wrap, four main packages and three 90min mini packages. Our products though are not standard, they are high quality and this is why we offer such great value for money.
However we have plans to introduce other treatments for next season such as facials, hand and foot spa as we realise these treatments are very popular. “
“What is the environment/ atmosphere of your spa?”
“We are on the busy Sirmangklajarn road, but we have tried to create a soothing and tranquil environment from the moment you cross our bridge. Outside there is a small garden/decking area in which to sit and listen to the music, watch the fish, or our miniature ‘nam tok’.
You can leave the stress behind you and take a further step inside and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere with background music and tasteful Lanna décor consistant with an air of relaxation. We invite you to sample our essential oils, the exotic herbs and thai massage techniques that will refresh and uplift you for sure. At SPAromdee we want you to let our therapists indulge you with beauty and health treatments that for sure will relax and rejuvenate you.
We think it will be an experience you will surely want to return to, again and again”
“And what about the skills and experience of your staff?”
“We have about 35 female and 15 male therapists available to us, with backgrounds in top end, and mid range spas and massage salons, and many working in the hospitals in a professional massage/physio capacity. Each has had many years training and experience, fully certified; but although this is very important, it is the opinion of our customers that dictates, and each customer is asked afterwards for their opinion on the therapist and other aspects of our salon.
We are now finding returning customers asking for a particular therapist but also we are now able to ‘tailor’ the therapist to the customer depending on their sex, build, preference, condition etc”
“How do you treat customers?”
“We treat each customer as our most important one that day, not a number, offering personalised but non intrusive customer service with attention to the smallest of details, whether it be the volume of the music, allowing a guest to borrow an umbrella, finding a taxi or a good restaurant when they finish. We treat our guests as our friends, and when they return, we have remembered their names, their preferences, their previous therapist, and even the oil they chose before
In this business, we appreciate that discretion, respect and full confidentiality is of prime importance. We want a customer to feel like they can return here again and again
Every customer will receive a loyalty card, and unlike other spas, when you visit us only 3 times we give you a 1hr free massage, so we are able target the tourist who is only here for a few days and give them reason to relax after their busy days. Longer stay guests are tending to save up their ‘free hours’ and together with another treatment are organisng themselves with a really cheap package”
“What type of people are you trying to attract?”
“Of course we are able to service the needs of everyone from all walks of life but being based in the Nimmen/Sirimangklajarn area, by our very location we are naturally targetting those people who like to stay in this semi cosmopolitan area and like the nice restaurants, boutique shops and hotels, our prices reflect this to a certain extent., but the level of service we provide here is more akin to the Japanese, Koreans, middle class Thais and a few retired farang expats. These are the people that are at ease with massage treatments, its in their culture and tend to place a higher priority on taking care of their bodies. We are already seeing the ‘new generation’ of younger Thai people. becoming more affluent; being influenced, by the West, the media, now prepared to invest in their health, dentals, cosmetics and this is great for the city, showing its doesn’t have to depend on tourism for survival.
However as we say above, we welcome everyone and exclude no one, our brochures are displayed in every tourist stand and many hotels and guesthouses in the city and every effort would be made to secure transport for tourists in these areas..”
“Why should people visit your spa?”
“‘The best Value for money’ tripadvisor”
“We want everyone out there to realise that high quality service and products does not have to come at a price. We are probably a third of the price of the big name spas and the hotel spas and our products are of identical quality. They are all from reputable sources, eco friendly and absolutely no added chemicals, and the quality is very quickly apparent.
Since we opened in September we have been working with the Ministry of Public Health and we are now proud to announce our accreditation in achieving the Thai massage standards for products and service quality, management and health and safety…but as we say, even though our standard is high we want SPAromdee to be affordable to everyone.
So if you have time in your busy schedules please come and visit us.
Remember; getting a massage can do you a world of good; and getting a massage frequently can do even more. This is the beauty of body treatments. Taking part in this form of regular self care can play a huge part in how healthy you will be and how youthful you will remain with each passing year.
Budgeting time and money for your body at regular intervals is truly an investment in your health,…….So please come along and give your body the treatment it deserves.
”and what about the future”?
“As I said earlier, neither of us had any experience with spas 6 months ago; we realise we are just the latest of a long list of reputable and well established spas here. If we can make our mark and continue making a good reputation, then we will have much more control in who customers choose. We take each day as it comes, thinking of new ideas, how to improve but as with any new business I was advised to give it two years before deciding whether it has been a success or not; so we still have a long way to go. Then maybe SPAromdee 2 or SPAromdee Phuket, will be on my drawing board.
Its now 6 years since you gave that interview; and you are still here?
Hahaha, yes, is that a surprise? I must admit I am as cynical as the next person about seeing businesses come and go as quick as trains but a business very rarely manages itself; and in order to succeed you need resilience and determination, great staff and a bagful of good luck along the way. I think most businesses here fail due to lack of patience and determination. I am proud to say we are now well established.
When we set up in 2011, we were one of about 12 spas and massage places within a 400m radius. Now there are over 60 and already there is a turnover of a lot of those. The original dozen places I mentioned are all still there and more than a few have taken over some of less resilient newcomers.
So business has been good then?
In a word yes, and I say that not in a flippant way. Wasu has worked very hard at SPAromdee to make it a success. Our first year returned a very small loss mainly offsetting start up costs and we were lucky to get 2 customers a day but we persevered.
We spent an unnecessary amount on brochure advertising, something myself and Wasu had completely different ideas about. She was for advertising, I wasn’t
.We started diy-ing the advertising. I designed a leaflet, we printed it and I walked around Nimmenhaemin and put our flyers on every parked car I could see. It was useless I don’t think we had one customer. Then we spent a lot of money getting 10000 brochures printed and distributed in every tour agents racks. I knew it was a waste of money and it was.
Our luck changed just 18 months later when the influx of Chinese appeared. 2013 it started, then 2014 and 2015 the Chinese were everywhere and 90% of our customers were Chinese.
Wasu went to college a few days a week in the spare hours she had to learn Chinese. Our annual turnover went from very good the previous years straight to very good +40% .
But the Chinese are no longer here?
Last year, yes, there was a sudden drop off just after Songram, it was like someone said ok lock the door. We really struggled last year. They had literally gone and not returned and in those preceding great 3 years myself and Wasu moved out of living at the spa and bought an old timber house on plot out of the city. I designed a new house on the plot and bought lots of tools and started a 3 year building project based on those great years.
The good news is that last August we noticed someone unlocked the door to Chiang Mai again and those Chinese have come back.
Since August, this year looks like it is going to match those golden years with this February having achieved the best month in almost 7 years.
Is your Spa still the same as it was.?
Yes, almost. Wasu is of course in charge and she has her assistant Tarn who has been with us for 3 years. Together they split their days to ensure we can open an extra few hours a day, something we started doing last year when it was quiet and quite stressful for us all.
Our menu and brochures and prices are still the exactly same as 7 years ago but we have added a few new items. Because of the busy years we also found that we had insufficient oil beds and massage mats. I converted our old room that we lived in into the Bamboo room which can accommodate two beds and also a small steam room. We added an extra oil bed into what was the single spa room and with some difficult reconfiguration of the curtains we added an extra thai massage mat in the massage room.
On the outside, my lovely entrance area had suffered with annual wet seasons and termites were eating away the bamboo, and the canopy gutter was hanging off so we have for now just cleared it all out and replaced it all. I have plans to further improve the frontage in due course.
Do you still have the same staff?
I am happy to say I still have Wasu and Tarn, they are a fantastic team. Massage therapists however come and go, it’s the life they lead. We still have over 30 ladies but those ladies that were here in 2011 have since moved away or needed to work overseas; many went to Korea.
We have a regular half dozen ladies that are part of our team but they still need managing by Wasu and Tarn to ensure they meet our high standards.
Are your standards still as high as they were?
Oh yes, I think that’s been a key to our success. We operate to the standards of a 5 star yet we are only 3 star prices. We attained our health ; safety and operating standard soon after we opened and in return we have the certificate on display.
Every two years we have to go through the same rigorous testing but more recently we have needed to provide things such as fire extinguishers, fire alarm bells and emergency lighting and I even had to make a big sign in Thai lettering “for health” which is outside our front door.
What have you learned about making a successful business?
You have to love your business, nurture it and the harder you work the more you are rewarded.
I am not there very often but I see the amount of effort and determination and love Wasu puts in. Every day is like a military operation, the need to go to the market, get there early for a booking, sending me shopping for provisions, she even buys material and makes all the ladies uniforms, makes the mattress covers, makes pillow cases and curtains. They still do their own washing and ironing to save paying someone else to do.
I also see the draw of money; its more need than greed. When its going well everyone is very tired but afraid to take a day off for a rest, that’s where I came in and insisted she has her day off even if it meant missing out.
And what about the future?
When this was asked previously I mentioned the possibility of SPAromdee 2. After 7 years though I can see how much together time the spa takes away from us. Another spa means twice as much work and twice as much stress.
We don’t see very much of eachother with me building every day and Wasu often not arrving home before 10pm
I have now just about completed work on our house and we have decided to try and run the old house as a home stay. I still have another 6 months work to develop the gardens but Wasu wants to return to her hospitality strengths and become home stay host. She thinks I will be taking guests cycling around the environs in my retirement!
The challenge is always to try something new, create new ideas and have different aspirations; that’s how we develop ourselves ultimately.
SPAromdee; open every day 10am-10pm