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“Don’t jeopardize your core business in the process, but be open to occasionally taking a chance and allow enough space in your business for serendipity.”

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Kayse Gehret, CMT is an acclaimed massage therapist, bodyworker and Reiki practitioner, working with countless celebrities, professional athletes, corporate execs and rock stars in her decade-long practice. She has contributed to numerous massage and spa publications, authored Body/Work: Careers in Massage Therapy (2010) and is founder of Soulstice Spa, Inc., a bodycare and cosmetics company retailing across the United States and Canada.

Soulstice is a boutique, high performance line of skin & bodycare and cosmetics. Their line is 100% vegan, cruelty-free and made in the USA. A portion of proceeds are passed on to vital non-profit social and environmental organizations.

Kayse Gehret, Soulstice Spa - Founder

MO: After a decade in the bodywork and spa industry what inspired you found a cosmetics company?

Kayse: I was planning to open a spa back in 2005-2006 in Northern California, but the real estate market was at an all-time high. Commercial rents were peaking, and in a business with slim profit margins I was finding it impossible to find both the right space and a sensible lease. The process of finding a location took so unexpectedly long that I began researching a product line, something I’d originally planned to do only after being in business for a few years. In hindsight, the timing was a blessing. Having come from a service business background, there was quite a learning curve when it came to a product business. It would have been much more difficult to manage the product end of things if I had a spa operating simultaneously. A few years later when the recession hit I was fortunate not to be saddled with a massive rent and payroll. Now, going forward, when I do open a storefront it will be in a much stronger financial position and better market conditions in terms of leasing space.

Even though Soulstice is a product business, I’m still able to infuse a lot of my philosophy and ideals into the brand – from the get go we have donated a portion of our proceeds to social and environmental non-profit organizations. We enjoy sponsoring events and helping to promote great causes. The entire line is vegan and cruelty-free, and everything is formulated and manufactured in the United States. We could manufacture overseas and pocket a lot more money, but keeping every aspect of the line here in the States was important to me.

MO: What was your biggest challenge in creating the Soulstice Spa brand? Was there anything easier than you anticipated?

Kayse: When I was first developing the concept, there weren’t a lot of cosmetic or skincare companies in the “green/luxury” space. Yes, there were organic lines with natural ingredients, but they didn’t always perform well or have the best smell or texture. On the other hand, you could opt for pricier department store brands, which might be effective but were chock full of chemicals and toxins. For Soulstice, my goal was to create a natural, high performance line of products; the brand should be as healthy and natural as possible, but also stand up in quality to anything else out there. One of the biggest challenges in launching the line – and I was surprised by this – was the initial reluctance of stores and spas to try something new or a brand that didn’t fit clearly into one box or the other. It was unexpectedly difficult to launch into a nascent space versus one that was already well established. Thankfully, we have an extraordinarily supportive and vocal customer base, and they were key in overcoming that initial hurdle by insisting spas and stores carry the line.

This is going to sound odd, now, but it was almost too easy to get funding back when I was starting out. For an inexperienced entrepreneur having too much money can be as disastrous as having too little – you run the risk of spending precious cash on all sorts of unnecessary stuff. When you’re lean, you are forced to analyze and think through each expenditure and how it will directly benefit your business. In the beginning, if a spend doesn’t directly result in product development or drive sales, skip it. Having cash on hand gives you control and leverage. You will make much better decisions for yourself and your business when you’re coming from a place of stability and strength. Unfortunately now we’ve swung to the other extreme and it’s much too difficult for many entrepreneurs to access the funding they need to develop and grow great ideas.

MO: How much creative control did you have over the development of the Soulstice Spa products? Did you have a clear vision from the start or did you employ consultants to help you evolve your ideas?

Kayse: I’ve always had complete creative control and, if anything, I have too many ideas! I’ve had to learn to discipline and focus myself because – like so many entrepreneurs – I have an overabundance of projects and curiosity. I operate often on instinct and intuition when it comes to product development, but I also seek out feedback as often as possible during the process. Whether it’s product names, packaging or design elements, everything I come up with gets run past a trusted circle of friends and colleagues. The process is always helpful and revealing. When everyone agrees, I know I’m onto something. But on a few occasions I got a resounding “no” even though I personally loved the idea. You have to be willing to be open to criticism and proactively ask for the opinions of others. Otherwise you won’t know until it’s too late and no one is buying.

That said, everyone thought I was a bit nuts when I decided to create a Soulstice nail polish… However, here we are sixteen months later and Soulstice Nail Colour is our best-selling product. If you have a gut feeling about something or an idea you can’t shake, sometimes it is worth taking a calculated risk. Don’t jeopardize your core business in the process, but be open to occasionally taking a chance and allow enough space in your business for serendipity.

MO: What would your advice be to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in the bodywork or spa industry?

Kayse: Seek out successful people you admire in your industry and connect with them. Learn from them by reading their books and observing their business models. In some cases, you may be able to receive coaching or mentoring from them. One of the reasons I wrote Body/Work: Careers in Massage Therapy was to assist new or aspiring massage therapists in establishing their career. I’m continually meeting brand new therapists who have the drive and desire to succeed, but aren’t sure how to get there. Massage school and training programs provide the technical skills, but many are a bit light on business practices. You can be the most amazing practitioner on earth, but unless you have some foundational business training you’ll be limited when it comes to the scale and scope of your practice.

In my experience, the most successful people in life are also the most generous with their time, advice and wisdom. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those people through social media. With Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to connect with our mentors and participate in our industry community. I also recommend attending conferences, such as the American Massage Conference. It’s extremely affordable and draws a great group of people; this year’s is taking place in San Diego in April.  Individuals can also find a lot of information on schools and resources at careersinmassagetherapy.com. I’m personally on LinkedIn and Twitter and love connecting with others in my field, especially individuals brand new to the massage therapy and spa world.

MO: Why do you feel that it’s important for some of the proceeds to be passed onto non-profit organizations and how did you choose the charities that you contribute to?

Kayse: I think social responsibility should be baked into a company at the outset and part of its model, fabric and culture. We’ve seen clearly in recent years that we can no longer count on the same economic stability and social programs enjoyed by previous generations. The gap between people keeps getting bigger, and as a society we need to come up with new and innovative ways of taking care of all members of society. I think we’re only at the beginning of a trend toward a more conscious consumerism, with the development of B-Corporations and the launch of so many wonderful creative SREs (socially responsible enterprises.)

Soulstice has a large number of 20-something customers, and I love seeing so many in this generation energized, engaged and excited about making a difference and valuing companies and products in alignment with those priorities. They still want “cool,” but they want meaningful, too. In fact, we often partner with charities and non-profits that our customers care about and introduce us to… We tend to focus on social and environmental causes.

More than government or non-profit organizations, business has the ability to create widespread change for good with its singular ability to create and distribute money and resources. Individuals have yet to truly realize they have enormous power and a voice in their wallet and where they choose to shop really matters. Sure, you can have cheaper, faster or bigger by shopping huge chain stores or goods manufactured overseas, but – given the choice – I think a lot of people would opt to pay a bit more for top quality products and services that also do good. Our job as leaders of socially responsible enterprises is to create fabulous, essential products that people love on their own; it’s not enough to simply appeal to their consciousness alone. People want well-made, beautiful and useful products, and there’s no reason why we can’t give them all of those things.

MO: You were able to achieve profitability in 2011. What factors do you attribute to the success of Soulstice especially when other companies are really struggling in the current economy?

Kayse: One of the advantages of being a lean enterprise is that the company doesn’t have to answer to anyone except our customers. Being small, we can be flexible and make decisions and adjustments quickly. If one product is selling really well we are nimble enough to quickly focus and favor that item over others in our promotion and marketing. We can pivot quickly.

The last few years were challenging for every business to navigate, and it required a lot of patience, creativity and tenacity. Too many people give up and throw in the towel when things get tough, but obstacles and problems are really blessings in disguise. How people and companies react when challenged is revealing in a way you’d never normally see otherwise. During that time we had to be creative, prioritize expenditures and continue to meet the obligations and promises we’d made to investors, vendors and customers. As a result, we have incredibly strong relationships today, because we’ve proven we can be counted on even when things get tricky. Establishing trust organically by our actions and decisions has taken a bit longer to achieve than having a big marketing budget or PR firm, but it’s created a depth and loyalty we couldn’t have attained any other way.

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