Reflecting On Kocoon Spa
When I set up Kocoon Spa more than 10 years ago, I had no experience at all, but I was full of passion.
Everything was created from scratch; the name, our logo, the website, the team, the standards, and procedure manuals etc,.
The spa which was voted Best Spa in Beijing several years in a row, shortlisted nomination as Best Spa in China by Spa Asia, and was highly recommended by Louis Vuitton City Guide, and Luxe City Guide. We first opened in a commercial building, moved to The Opposite House- a premium boutique hotel, opened at a luxury French hair salon, and finally launched in our own stand alone space in 2013.
As a foreigner in China, without any experience in managing a business, there were many struggles. As I look back, I reflect on the lessons learned, and will share with you 6 things I would do differently, if I were to start a brick and mortar business again.
I Will Talk About:
Space surface and lay out: Why it matters.
The rental contract: A time bomb.
The importance of staying focused on your core business.
Without clarity on the numbers, there is no business.
Getting help earlier to avoid burnout is crucial.
Partnerships: Defining roles as well as an exit strategy from day 1.
Spa Lay Out And Surface
I’d start with a smaller surface, and smarter lay out.
We started with 196 sq m (2066 sq ft.). I would have started with a smaller space, and then I would have waited to grow to move to a larger space. This would have avoided the pressure of having to pay a hefty rent while struggling with getting the first customers in.
I would have consulted a spa consultant just to look over the lay out of the space before we start renovations. When we started the first venue, the space was not designed for profit: There was a huge reception area with a tiny retail area, a foot massage and pedicure area that ended up being underused, not enough spa treatment rooms for the total size of the spa.
Learning from this mistake, when we opened our new space 5 years later, I drew by hand each area (and furniture!) in details, for maximum space efficiency and service fluidity. Our space was 165 sq m, and we had 4 treatment rooms instead of just 2 in Nali Patio.
Business Rental Contract
I’d be more “hands-on” when signing the rental contract.
A rental contract should not be taken lightly and outsourced to a lawyer blindly⇢ Because can you trust a lawyer blindly?
I would have had a better start if I had gone through the contract in detail - even if it has more than 100 pages, with an experienced business owner who has my best interest at heart. And in addition to this, go through it with a fine comb under the protection of a specialized lawyer.
The first location was in Nali Patio, a newly built commercial building in a trendy neighborhood. The problem was that it was poorly managed and there were a lot of internal issues. When we opened, for half a year there was no businesses on our floor! After a year, the building was still not fully occupied-rather on the empty side, and turnover was suspiciously high.
If I were to sign again, some of the points I would better negotiate would be:
An exit strategy because what if you decide to leave or you can’t continue?
I would never sign a contract with 6 months’ rent deposit.
Clauses to protect me in case the landlord postpones the opening date of the building, changes the management company, and doesn’t fulfill his obligations of marketing the businesses in the building- all of this happened with Nali Patio.
Better conditions and less penalties for rent payment delays- which were inevitable due to the business environment.
When we signed the lease for the last space, I knew the clauses that would be the most important to us, and although it took three months to sign, it was a fair contract.
All in all, signing a bad contract or a wrong location when you start, is a big waist of your cashflow (our real start was delayed and we lost six-month deposit when we left) and can delay your success. You’ll need enough financial oxygen to be able to get back on your feet.
I’d focus on one thing from the start rather than experimenting too many things at the same time.
The brand’s name at the beginning was Kocoon Spa Lounge & Elixirs and our business scope was: Spa treatments, waxing, nail service, Japanese foot massage, tea lounge and retail, martini lounge, we also had five different types of body masks…there were too many things on the list and our identity was confusing!
If I were to start again, I would focus on one thing, and strive to be known for it. In our case, we became the cleanest and most hygienic waxing service in town! And then people learned about our massages and facials and that part developed as well.
Numbers are undeniably the lenses through which you should run your business, I would face it rather than look away.
I have a master degree in international business, but I was overwhelmed by numbers and looked away. Bookkeeping was always outsourced, and for the first 2 years, I didn’t have any clarity over the expenses, and there was no revenue projections, no income target.
It’s only when we went through the toughest financial period (we almost considered closing business!) that I decided to take ownership of the accounting. Every Monday the spa was closed, I’d go to a cafe with the stack of bills from the previous week, and I’d computerized everything, and work on my P & L .
After this, I would reward myself with a nice pedicure or massage in the neighborhood. This ritual was not only empowering me with clarity, it gave me a better visibility of our situation and what we needed to do to scale our business and become more profitable.
I wouldn’t wait to get burned out, to get help from a coach.
I mention this in my About story, starting a business from scratch without any experience at all can be a lonely journey, with a lot of pressure and stress, which even lead to chronic migraines. I thought that I was done with my business when in fact, all I needed was help. The best thing I did was to get help from a life coach.
With just one session every week over 3 months, I became a more peaceful, happier, and resourceful business owner. That reflected on how I managed the team, and how I developed the business.
This newly found mindset was the determining factor that allowed me to personally grow and create my own freedom- I could step out of operation and finally work ON the business, not IN the business. I had more energy and was inspired to pursue more projects to develop our brand.
All in all, having the support of a life coach really helped with accountability, finding clarity, and confidence. I learned tools to cope with stress and overwhelm, that I can use for the rest of my life. It was a transformative experience, and it accelerated the expansion of my life and career in an unexpected way.
I would write everything down, and plan ahead for every scenario possible.
“Kocoon is a mother and daughter business of self-confessed spa junkies who wish to set a new standard in spa experience.” This is how we launched Kocoon Spa and marketed it.
My mother who lives in France, came to China as often as she could, and we were very excited to research, and set up the business together. However over time, it became unpractical to work together by long distance, and almost impossible to make decisions together.
I learned that:
There can only be one captain to lead the boat, or this will create tensions and unnecessary waist of energy and time.
Roles need to be defined in a written contract, because expectations will differ as well as the level and nature of involvement for each individual. I would emphasize this point especially for close people because it’s easier to cross boundaries and I would want to protect the relationship first.
I would define an exit strategy from the start, because if one no longer wish to be involved, if this has not been discussed beforehand, it’s complicated to come to an agreement.
Partnership problems are very common, and I witnessed similar issues in friends’ businesses as well.
So here you go, there were many other things I can think of, I would write a whole book full! But I prioritize the 6 points above, because those are the ones I found being the most important ones when you set up your business.
If you can start on the right foot, with the right support, things will be less stressful, and you’ll enjoy the process much better. Because ultimately, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
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