I’m delighted, and just a little bit humbled to welcome the first contributing poster to the blog.

Dr. Sarah Bruton runs a business in South Wales called Captiva Spa, and as well as offering a brilliant product, she is a deep thinker about her business. She also happens to be one of the main contributors to the community we are creating here, being absolutely happy to pitch in and share ideas and offer help to others that post here or in the Facebook group. Here’s what Sarah had to say about working with me directly over the last month or so – its a great read for anyone runnign a business, interesting and inspiring in equal measure! And of course, absolutely a real life example of what businesses are facing every day.

‘My business, Captiva Spa, was established three and a half years ago, and although has been relatively successful during that time, I felt that I had come to a crossroads.  What had been set out in my initial business plan had been achieved, all my ideas – good and bad – had been implemented, and everything I knew how to do to grow the business, I had already done.

At the same time, I was starting to question the business I’d created. Offering luxury spa treatments, holistic therapies and high-end salon services had worked well three years ago, but things were different now. Economic circumstances had created a culture in retail of massive discounting, and in the spa/ beauty industry, Groupon & Living Social were ripping apart traditional client loyalty. Much of our current business was based on offers and discounts, and although our margins allowed for this now, I worried for the future.

I am heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the spa, making it dangerously easy to get bogged down in the detail (the person who stole my treatment room towels – I know who you are!) and to lose focus on an overreaching strategy for growth. Also like all small business owners, that strategy is pretty much down to me, so there is little opportunity for brainstorming, creative thinking or challenging ideas.

A few months ago I was introduced to the Completely Free Sales Advice project. The altruism of the experiment seemed almost too good to be true, and I was absolutely taken aback by the offer to help. In the early hours of one morning, I outlined via email some of my key concerns, as well as a few ‘gut feels’ about where we, as a business and as an industry, were heading. In particular:

–          The current economic climate, and whether spa treatments were luxuries that could no longer be justified;

–          The consumer’s attitudes were changing, stretching out time between appointments  and expecting discounts;

–          Our higher-end competition were lowering prices in line with ours, yet with superior facilities and brand power;

–          AS a result, offers and discounts were dominating our sales – how would this progress in the future?

–          Previous attempts at advertising had produced a poor return;

 At 8.15am the same morning, I received a detailed reply. Tony raised pertinent questions and relevant observations that formed the basis of what we would discuss in our later meeting. Even at this stage, it was energising to have such an expert validate my instincts, acknowledge that what I was doing was essentially ok, and confirm that there was a way through.

In our meeting a week later, we focused on these key issues:

–          The importance of ‘luxury’ – I worried about possible negative connotations, but Tony felt that the ability to position ourselves as a high-end indulgence, and to create a perception of quality and luxury, would, in turn, inspire desire for our product. My focus now is to feed this desire, but also to employ specific discounting tactics to imply temporary accessibility to that luxury.

–          We discussed our competitors, and felt that their discounting diminished their brand. Tony said: ‘Either be the cheapest or be different.’ We need to create something unique to us, which in our case must focus on creating an almost concierge-style service – personal, high-end and memorable.  

–          To make advertising and events choices that only produce direct sales; this means choosing events where we can make sales/ bookings on the day, rather than adverts or events that only build general awareness;

–          While we connect well with clients on our physical premises, we need to create the same engagement in our virtual spaces, by adding relevant content, developing personal relationships, and positioning my team as the experts that they are. Facebook & email database marketing seem the best methods to do this at present;

–          Development of ‘authentic helpfulness’  to create raving fans of the business;

–          Establish a sense of exclusivity & ‘club benefits’ to build client loyalty;

–          Recognition that there is a life cycle for every client – that clients will leave and that’s ok (a new one for me) – so there is a constant need to drive new business;

To many of you reading this, each leaders in your relative business field, this may not seem anything revolutionary. But to me, it is a daily revolution. It has been such a long time since I have been able to view my business and its practices objectively, and the fact that Tony has been able to do that with such skill and clarity is empowering. In an hour or so, he got to grips with my client base, my business model and the wider spa/beauty industry (although I am saving the finer points of Brazilian and Hollywood waxing for a later meeting!). Rather than panicked responses, I have specific objectives and a better sense of who we are and what we’re about. The benefits, just seven days later, are already tangible:

–          We have increased our interaction with our Facebook database, begun to add improved content and added 23 new friends; importantly, my team members have also been involved in those interactions, helping my workload and contributing to better client relations;

–          I have completely scrapped our Valentines campaign, and am working instead on a more ‘luxury’ offering, which includes hand-delivering beautifully gift-wrapped spa vouchers actually on Valentine’s day;

–          Stopping the advertising spend for local magazines etc. will make a significant saving;

–          I feel so much more enthusiastic because I have a specific project to undertake;

I wrote this response because Completely Free Sales Advice is an exciting, innovative experiment, and my own hands-on, work-in-progress ‘story so far’ seems far more in keeping with its true spirit. Feel free to follow my progress, particularly from a social media perspective. Working with and learning from Tony is a privilege and an inspiration; I am learning as I go, but that’s exciting. I am currently delighted to have a Facebook status post which has attracted 23 comments; the novelty of having customers contact me at 11pm probably will wear off soon, but for now, I love it, and more importantly, I love my business again.

I know Completely Free Sales Advice is a long-term project, but perhaps now more than ever, it is exactly what businesses need.’

So there you go – I told you she was a deep thinker! Thank you Sarah. Not only for a brilliantly detailed response and the kind words, but also for so wholehearlty taking part in what I am trying to achieve here. Your input has already gone a long way to shaping what CFSA is all about.

What do you think dear reader? are we onto something here? Let me know what you think in the comments below, like the facebook page for regualr updates or enter your email address using hte follow button on the left of the page to recieve ‘completely free sales advice’ directly into your inbox.

  1. captivaspa
    captivaspa says:

    What an amazing experience Completely Free Sales Advice has been – personally and professionally! Many, many thanks, Tony, for this inclusion, for your support and for creating such a fantastic project, which I know will help many, many businesses, in the way it has already benefitted mine.