Entrepreneur Q&A: Jason Goldberg, director of SpaSeekers.com

SpaSeekers.com director Jason Goldberg tells SmallBusiness.co.uk about his mother's struggle to find a health farm, working out of his garage for 10 years and setting the bar for employees.

When was SpaSeekers.com founded and what was your motivation for starting the business?

SpaSeekers.com was founded in July 1989 and was originally trading as ‘Healthy Venues’, a free central reservations and unbiased advice service for UK health farms.

The seed was sown when my mother wanted to go to a health farm with a friend but found it almost impossible to obtain information on locations, costs, facilities, etc. At this time I was 17 years old and despite playing county level golf, was realising that I was not going to make the grade as a professional golfer.

My father suggested that we visit the health farms to familiarise ourselves with their services and facilities in order to provide an unbiased advice and booking service based on customers’ location, budget and reasons for going.

As the first ever spa booking agency, 30 years on we are proud to still be the leading supplier of UK spa experiences.

What goals do you have for the company?

We are as ambitious as ever as we continue our growth of market share.

Moreover we invest continuously in our website and CRM systems to provide our customers with the best possible online experience. We want customers to easily find their perfect spa experience and then provide the facility to book instantly online with our live availability booking system.

How much initial investment did the company need to start and what was the money used for?

The initial investment was minimal – we incurred small costs to travel the around the UK to familiarise ourselves with the country’s leading health farms. Then there were set up costs for the standard stationary requirements with the main expense being classified advertising in national glossy magazines.

We renovated our garage in to a cosy office which we operated from for the first 10 years. It only had two phones and three desks but it saved a fortune in rent and enabled us to accumulate money in the business which we would later use for further investment.

What marketing did the company use to maximise exposure?

Well, this was in 1989, so years before the internet! Marketing was a little more straightforward in those days and to begin with it was a case of selecting the most appropriate glossy magazines based on our targeted demographic.

We also compiled a database of leading national journalists and sent regular press releases about our progress and had our lucky break around the Christmas of 1989 where we secured a double page editorial feature in the Femail section of the Daily Mail. This was a silver bullet for our business and we were inundated with enquiries for months after, so much so that we had to increase phone lines.

How have you handled your company finances?

Being a family-run business with few overheads, we had a tight hold on the purse strings, plus we kept our drawings to a minimum.

Even from the early days we aimed to build up as much money in the business as possible and I am proud to say that in 30 years we have never been in the red and always managed our growth in a calculated manner.

When we had more profits to invest then we would increase the number of magazines that we advertised in, if we had a quiet month then we would cut back on advertising costs. It wasn’t until the internet came along that the business grew more rapidly.

Even when we invested in our first website the company had sufficient profit to cover and we steadily increased our investment in to this which was fast becoming our most effective marketing tool. Our website improved over time and later incorporated e-commerce which was a major milestone which enabled us to take payment online.

With continuous and managed investment in our website we had a few rebuilds along the way,  with the latest significant investment being in 2013 when we invested over £250,000 in a responsive website and incredibly intelligent bespoke CRM & CMS systems that gave us the platform to support the growth that we have seen over the past few years. Needless to say that we continue to invest in our website and booking systems.

What do you look for in your employees?

Your team must share your vision and this will only be achieved by good communication and by developing your employees to an exceptional level.

Once employees realise where the bar is set then most will perform at this level. Personally, there is no point keeping anyone in our team if they are under-performing as it’s too destructive for the greater good of the business, moreover it reinforces the clear message that you have a level of expectation from your team and that you are not taking any prisoners.

Combine this with your passion for the business which should come naturally, together with some charm and understanding on how to get the best from different characters within your organisation and I think you can become a pretty formidable leader – along with a few other attributes too!

What specific advice would you give about ensuring the future of your business?

It’s all about a solid strategy and building a great team around you. Sounds easy doesn’t it? But a solid strategy can take time to develop, often by exploring various avenues that may not necessarily work out how you intended.

Once your strategy is working and you are running an efficient operation, together with a good team which may include outsourcing elements, then your business should be streamlined and maximising profits.

Growing your brand through marketing channels is an important element to get right,  and this could require investment from your company profits or outside investment.

An internal restructure could also be necessary as sales increase and the business evolves. If you have done a good job developing your team to an exceptional level then they should embrace this as you would have long got rid of those characters that would be the ones to moan about change and dampen morale.

If it is a reliable model then you should reap the rewards from the profits.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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