The beauty of entrepreneurship

Relax Spas, created and managed by the vibrant and determined Noli Mini, has been steadily evolving and growing, creating employment and delivering an innovative service, since 2010

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Spa-preneur, Noli Mini, who has a passion for beauty and skincare and a penchant for business, has developed a unique spa concept, Relax Spas, in partnership with various hotels in the Western Cape, offering in-room spa services. Recently, Relax Spas extended their services to another Protea Hotel by Marriot.

“We’re pleased to be extending our services to yet another Protea Hotel by Marriott. Our first joint effort was at the Protea Hotel by Marriott Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge, and it has proved to be a successful venture. Being able to offer our clients a variety of locations is important to us and this new initiative expands their choices. We have no doubt that many guests at the hotel will welcome the opportunity to enjoy a spa treatment, too,” says Mini, Relax Spas’ founder and Managing Director.

The journey to success was not an easy one and required perseverance and a continued positive outlook.

“When I started Relax Spas, I had been working for about 10 years as a Spa Therapist for two other spa brand companies. I found that there were guests coming from other surrounding hotels and I identified that there was a demand for a formal mobile spa company. I thought to myself that perhaps I should try to become a mobile spa therapist, and so I took the plunge. I didn’t have a business plan and I didn’t know how to do it, however, I thought to myself that if I were to wait until I have a business plan, I am not going to start. So, essentially, I simply calculated how many massages I need to provide in a month in order to make a certain amount of revenue to cover my living expenses—it was very simplified.

“I was offering the service to various hotels—it didn’t matter whether it was a guesthouse, a boutique hotel or a four- or five-star hotel. I approached them all and started working with them. Unfortunately, it did not work out as I thought, because while you may be capable of giving 10 massages a day, realistically, you would get perhaps three or four. It was very frustrating and very difficult because I didn’t have an office either—I was based in my residence in Blouberg and my clientele was predominantly in and around the City Bowl area,” Mini reflects.

She explains that she spent most of her time in the car, parked on the beachfront trying to plan as the days went on, because things were not working as she had hoped. She realised that she had to find an edge, so as to set herself apart from the competition and that’s when she started approaching each hotel independently and offered her spa services.

“You find that, in terms of bringing something new into the hospitality industry, people take one look at you and before you’ve even said anything, they presume to know who you are—I had a lot of doors shut before I could even propose what the idea was.

“I read quite a lot about the hospitality and spa industry and would attend networking events where I started to meet the exact people I was supposed to speak to at the hotels. And through these events, I would have the opportunity to interact with them face-to-face and explain my brand and vision, and get my passion across, which is more successful than on paper,” says Mini.

“The thing about having a passion is that it surpasses everything else. For me, whether I was in a challenging space in terms of now being a mobile spa therapist and not generating any income, my passion saw me through because of the solution that I was bringing to the industry,” she adds.

At the beginning of 2011, she started working with a select few hotels, the first being the Protea Hotel North Wharf in Cape Town. It is here that the business model started evolving—she “evolved from a mobie spa therapist to an in room spa therapist. From there, she continued to press forward and had to make the decision to cease working with other hotels that didn’t see the full value of what she offered.

“It was a very difficult decision because I was getting revenue from these hotels. However, in order for me to see growth in my business, I had to let go, as difficult as it was. Even though it did not make sense at the time, when I look back, it was actually one of the best and most courageous moves I could have made in order for my business to grow into the direction I envisioned,” Mini says proudly.

She explains that Relax Spas started with the in-room spa treatments but due to space confinement challenges, a guest room was issued in which they could set up and do treatments.

“The minute we started, we saw a positive change in terms of the demand for the service and we began generating consistent revenue. However, it was working negatively on the hotel’s side, as they were losing revenue on the room. Thus, we then moved to one of the lounges and worked towards finding a space within the hotel that we could convert into a spa suite. In May 2015, we opened the fist spa suite.

“Our brand evolves best based on what our client wants. It’s not a fixed standard to say we want a big spa with spa facilities, etc. We create boutique spas where, if you’re a guest, you want to experience exclusivity, whether it be a hotel guest or a local client. You want to come to a space where you’re not going to feel like a number, you’re going to feel luxury, exclusivity, and you’re not going to be overwhelmed by the number of people around you—I feel that is what bigger spas sometimes lacks. It’s about getting to know you as a client and getting to know you as a hotel brand, so that we can work and grow together in terms of creating a wellness element for our hotel partners,” says Mini.

Mini is also in the process of establishing an academy to train beauty therapists. “A challenge is that we have a lot of therapists asking for work but they don’t have a high enough standard of training for our services. Our academy will train according to those standards and the students will have access to hands-on practical training at Relax Spas, and the potential to be employed if they make the grade,” she says.

“I registered it at the end of last year and started putting things down very informally on paper. I had the benefit of attending one of the open days with the Services SETA and I shared with them what I would like to create with regards to the institute. Essentially, the institute will be offering short modular training courses, specialising in massages, manicures, pedicures, waxing and spa therapy,” explains Mini.

The foundation will provide five-star hotel spa-specific training. When we start at the beginning of next year, we will only have five to 10 students, so that when the end of 2019 approaches, we will have success stories, as opposed to opening up an academy with 20 or 30 students whom we are unable to provide employment for. We will train them, starting with theory, then practical, and then they will do their practical hours at our spas, where they will be exposed to our brand and the hotel brands that we’re working with,” says Mini.

She explains that, upon the completion of their training, they will be employed within existing Relax Spas. Alternatively, if there’s an opportunity to collaborate with them in terms of joint-ventures or micro-franchises, it would be an option because they would already have a foundation of what the Relax Spas brand is about, having trained there.

Mini believes that within the spa industry lies endless opportunities for the right people with the right mindset.

“You have to be focused and start with the end result in mind, as difficult as this may be. You have to follow the lead of what’s in your heart in choosing brands and people that you align with, you have to be submissive at certain times, be resilient and be respectful and humble.

“I live by the spirit of Ubuntu—we become who we are because of other people—and I’ve gotten here today because of being resilient, respectful of others and not having to always see my own way coming to fruition, and that takes a lot of courage an trust. It’s very difficult but nothing good comes easily. My first mentor soon after I started my entrepreneur journey was Colin Naiker, Hotel GM of Protea Hotel North Wharf by Marriott Cape Town at the time, and he provided me with invaluable guidance, ideas and insight, and that foundation led to where my brand is today with Marriott International,” Minis says.

“All the challenges that I faced helped me in terms of making sure I function operationally in terms of legislation, compliance—in all aspects of the business. I used them as stepping-stones to where I am today,” she adds.

An additional aspect of Relax Spas’ offering is to provide spa treatments at corporate wellness days. She is also introducing her own brand of beauty and skincare products.

Currently, Relax Spas is operational only in Cape Town, however, her vision is to expand further. “I’ve had people asking me if I would like to franchise but I don’t want to just franchise with anyone, because I’ve seen companies franchise and lose their essence. In terms of brand standards, I would want to franchise with people who are ex-spa therapists and who want to be entrepreneurs, because then, in that sense, their passion is not entirely driven by a financial interest, but also by customer experience. And that is what Relax Spas is all about. I make sure that it is the understanding of all my employees,” says Mini.

“The team I have now brings value to the brand and they’re very focused. They want to grow; they’re very customer-centric, which is key in a business that is about people’s experience. They bring value to my business and that’s why I invest a lot in them with training initiatives—it’s to show that we want them to grow and they’re appreciated,” she says.

Mini is also active in social upliftment and has partnered with Relate Trust, an organisation that supports different NGOs. She sells their bracelets, handmade by women in a local township, and the proceeds go to the Amy Biehl Foundation, which offers training to unemployed young women in beauty skills, among other initiatives. 

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