Selling spa services, nationwide

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By REBECCA LIPCHITZ
Sun Staff

LOWELL A high-tech marketing executive with a gift-giving dilemma, Joan Beeson Healy turned to entrepreneurship.

And, through the UMass Lowell incubator program, she recently launched a Web site selling spa services nationwide.

It dawned on Beeson Healy one day while trapped in an airport, unable to obtain a sister's birthday gift on time and subsequently being chewed out by her other sisters. She knew that the best gift for her California sibling was a facial. But finding out where to buy a gift certificate local to her sister was a challenge that, in today's digital world, should be easy, she thought.

Taking her technology marketing expertise developed working with companies such as Corporate Software, International Data Group, EarthWeb and Lotus, Beeson Healy enrolled in the UMass Lowell business incubator program, and raised $267,000 from investors, many of whom are local.

There, with the help of UMass Lowell students and other technology consultants, she developed www.givebeauty.com , a Web site where one can purchase a gift card good at a national network of businesses such as salons, spas, masseuses, estheticians, yoga and pilates studios and dermatologists. Recipients can redeem the card at any participating location.

Beeson Healy has raised money, cleared technological hurdles and created a network all while raising her seven children with her husband in Lowell.

'I'm really indebted to this community,' said Beeson Healy, noting that the incubator program has provided emotional and financial support.

Challenges now include growing the network and gaining a volume of customers that will be crucial to making the business work.

The business will make small amounts of money on each transaction; from a fee added to a gift card purchase, as well as payments from salons to be part of the network.

The fee paid by the person buying the gift card is 2.5 percent of the gift card amount plus $2; thus, a $50 gift card costs $53.25. Salons and other businesses pay a membership fee. GiveBeauty.com has so far signed up more than 100 businesses in Boston, Lowell and throughout the country in California, New York, Michigan and Washington state.

The site launch was celebrated at the celebrity-magnet John Barrett Salon in New York City. A less flashy but key deal was made with The Salon Association, a 7,000-member nationwide non-profit trade association.

But the challenges of opening a business continue to arise. During a recent meeting, Beeson Healy was considering accepting $1 million but with strings attached. At the time, she was leaning against it for the sake of being able to make the business decisions she feels are right.

'I don't have an exit strategy,' Beeson Healy said, determined and optimistic about success.

She continues to plan on adding amenities for giveBeauty card holders, including loyalty programs (a discount on return visits to one location), custom packages (buy a spa weekend for someone and send flowers) and sponsorship specials (a deal or a freebie from brand name cosmetics with use of the card).

She hopes loyalty programs will benefit consumers and merchants, since many programs offered by competitors, such as spafinder.com or spawish.com, take a 15 percent cut of what is spent at the salon. GiveBeauty cards wouldn't have such a fee, Beeson Healy said.

She also aims to make the business more than skin deep by collaborating with and donating to charities such as Dress for Success, which provides interview suits, confidence boosts and career development services to more than 45,000 women in 73 cities each year.

Rebecca Lipchitz's e-mail address is rlipchitz@lowellsun.com .