Alison Shaw is the powerhouse behind Ripple Massage Day Spa and Beauty, the woman who started the business from her home in Mount Tamborine in Queensland in 2005 and now has an office full of staff, business advisors and a brand new baby.
Alison shares with us how she manages the mix of family, work and constantly learning so she can realise her dream for a second to none business.
Tell us a little about yourself, what’s the day to day life like for a small business owner of the Ripple Massage and who makes up the team?
I am a mum with a 17 year old boy and two month baby, so my days are a mix of juggling my role as a mum and running Ripple. Usually I have my bub, Lucas, being carried along with me while I’m on the phone, answering emails, or checking in with our bookings team. Any mum will tell you that multitasking is a must!
Our team consists of a large number of therapists across all our regions, plus our bookings team of Wendy and Eliza, and I also have Chris and Eliza who look after all our human resources. Ripple also has an extended team that includes business, advisor, book keeper, accountant, and business mentors who are essential to the smooth running of the business and expansion. My role is mostly the marketing, introducing new massage styles and working out where we are going to expand to next. In short, I get to do all the fun stuff!
Who inspires you, that encourages you to reach out and make things happen?
I learn a lot from other business entrepreneurs through business books, interviews and online media. I love Seth Godin, because of his very humanistic approach to marketing as opposed to the big corporate angle to business. I read his blog most days and almost always take something away from it.
I love the business approach of Tony Hsieh from Zappos, there are a number of videos online about his focus on customer service and happiness which fit in with what we are trying to achieve at Ripple, so I find it inspirational to find someone so devoted to making his customer happy and having a positive staff culture.
But I love business books, you will often find me with my head stuck in one, and use them a lot to find ideas on how to do things better.
Why did you decide to make your business a mobile service rather than a studio setup?
I didn’t want outside investors or partners and I didn’t want a franchise, so a mobile service is a great way to expand without having either. Also there was a real niche in the market for more that what the market was currently offering, other existing businesses we just offering one hour remedial or relaxation massages. I really wanted to value add into our products with a lot of the pampering treatments you find in day spas like face masks, foot soaks and exfoliation.
There has also been a real need in recent years for services that are time efficient for the client. The mobile concept is being adopted over a lot of industries and the massage/beauty industry is no different. There is a definite market for people who want to take out some time for themselves and like the convenience that they don’t have to travel anywhere.
As a mum with a new bub it is almost impossible for me to get to a day spa for a treatment at the moment with breast feeding and all the other things going on in my life, but I can squeeze the odd massage into my schedule if it is done at my home, in between feeds. We also find some blokes are a bit intimidated going into a day spa as they feel it’s a very female environment, but they are more than happy to have the same treatment, including face masks, manicures and pedicures, in their home or hotel.
How have you found expanding into different areas and finding the right people to work with – it can be quite challenging and very rewarding?
The most critical part of a business is finding the right people and the right business model. It took us two years to get the formula right, but now we have it, it works like a dream.
I figured it out through trial and error until I met an amazing business mentor who specialized in HR and who gave me some really good tips on how to interview in a different way that got quickly to the heart of what people are about and what motivates them. That chance meeting with him and his help has streamlined the process and helped me be able to put the right people in the right positions. I’m still not perfect at it and its not my natural talent, but at least I’m not making the big mistakes I used to make when hiring staff.
What do you enjoy most about the business?
I love making people happy and great customer service, so whenever we get positive feedback on either of those elements that puts a smile on my face. I love getting up each morning and thinking “okay what’s next? What can we do to make this better?” I get a real buzz out of going further to make our clients happy and ensure that have a great experience with us.
So I really look for new ideas each day, either really big “change direction” ideas or even just a whole series of little ones that mesh together to make our product and service better. I also enjoy the personal growth that comes with running your own business. Whilst I still make big mistakes, I have learnt a lot over the last 20 years about myself and what I’m good at, and even more importantly what I’m not good at and need to get someone else to do.
What’s been the hardest part or experience you’re had since starting the business?
Probably making the shift from doing all the massage and treatments myself to moving away from that and concentrating on running the business. I miss massaging and some days I would love to be a Ripple therapist! But that shift from doing absolutely everything to then hiring people to do different tasks within the business was difficult.
As I am a control freak it was very difficult to trust others to look after our clients as much as I cared about them. I’ve been really lucky to find therapists who are intensely passionate about what they do as well so that has helped, but there are still days when I would love to do everything myself.
What do you think has been the most successful promotional activities you’ve explored to getting the word out about Ripple Massage?
Sensational customer service and word of mouth. Nothing beats it. If you do a great job and go beyond what your client expects then that is the best marketing you can do. So with our word of mouth we call all our clients after they have had their treatments to ensure that they were happy with what we did, we are passionate about customer feedback and also send out customer feedback forms as a double check that anything negative can be addressed straight away.
We also find some of the best ideas for Ripple come from our clients through these forms. We also get lots of positive feedback too on what people liked and we pass these onto the therapists who did the treatment. They love the positive feedback and it keeps them motivated as well.
You have a flourishing number of followers on Facebook – what do you think has been the best way of getting your name out there on Facebook?
Again word of mouth amongst our existing clients and that they can interact directly with the owner through Facebook.
We are a very personalised business even though we are growing, and our clients really respond to that. With the internet being so crucial to business today, people are looking for that very personalised experience, the big corporate, faceless culture has lost its gloss. So having a human face to the business is important.
How do you best manage your time and prioritise work activities? Have you been able to create a balance between work and everything else?
My work is also what I love to do so that makes it easy. Plus having amazing staff that do things much better than I ever could! I am very lucky to have found people that are just as passionate about Ripple as me and who are smart, talented and brilliant at making it all happen.
It can be hard to delegate sometimes especially if you are like me and like to control every aspect of the business and want perfection in everything we do, but trusting your staff can be beneficial and often they surprise me by doing things a different but more effective way.
What are the hopes and plans for Ripple Massage this year?
We’ll start expanding again at the end of the year, and already have three new regions lined up. We are also introducing two new styles of massage that will be unique to us here in Australia. Stay tuned!
What would be your top 5 tips you’d give to someone starting out?
1. Be original, find your own idea and products and develop those. Don’t copy someone else as you won’t be successful
2. Be prepared to put in big hours and work hard
3. Find the right people for the right jobs
4. Remember to take some time off occasionally and let the business run without you
5. Have fun, life is too short to hate your work.