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Spa-tacular success for the Upkeep Shoppe

By Malorie Bertrand on June 23, 2014

Preston Street nail and beauty salon goes retrospective as it celebrates its two-year anniversary.

Starting a small business is probably one of the hardest things an entrepreneur can do. Businesses come and they go, but in some cases, they manage to stay, thrive and expand. Based on its success, it’s clear that Natalie Esau, owner of The Upkeep Shoppe, an inviting, walk-in lounge-type nail salon and spa, was exactly what Ottawa needed. The modern spa, located at 358 Preston Street, between Aberdeen St. and Young St., has experienced great success in its first two years. Now, in celebration of its anniversary today, Esau shares her past experiences and the lessons she learned on the way to success and en route to expansion.

We met at the shoppe this past week and settled in with a hot cup of delicious Love Potion chai tea — from the shoppe’s popular, custom line of loose-leaf teas — and we immediately dove into talking about the business’s development.

Esau has been busy working with architects on blueprints and with the city for building permits. The new addition, which will take up the driveway and extend into the back alley, will house the front entrance, reception area, a lunchroom for staff, and an office for Esau, new manicure and pedicure stations and three new treatment rooms.

This expansion was a part of Esau’s business plan from the very beginning, but she knew from past experience, directing spas in Toronto and managing a restaurant, that it’s best to think big but start small.

“Many new business owners take on too much all at once, renting a huge space, hiring too many staff members and expecting customers to magically show up,” says Esau. “They end up with empty chairs, whereas we started off with a small space and now we’re turning customers away because of a lack of available spots. As soon as this starts happening, you have to identify if this is a consistent thing. If it is, this is when you say ‘OK, I’ve maxed out my staff, we’re open seven days a week, we’re filling our schedules, now it’s time to expand.’”

Drawn to the city to be closer to family, Esau spent three years planning for the shoppe and scoping out Ottawa’s neighbourhoods for the best location. She felt that Preston Street was the right spot for the spa because it would get daytime traffic from the surrounding government buildings and private offices as well as all of the future clientele from the street’s condo development. It’s also conveniently located close to the highway and in between downtown and neighbourhoods such as Westboro and Hintonburg.

“Our clients call for drop-ins for polish changes over the noon hour or they book a quick wax on their break,” says Esau. “After four, we get our business from the local residents.” Esau noticed that Ottawa lacked a laid-back spa that combined the convenience and flexibility of a drop-in nail salon with the quality service and warm ambiance of a spa. “There is one of these spas on almost every Toronto street corner,” she says. “So there was an opportunity to bring it to Ottawa and I think our clients are thrilled with the shoppe.”

Esau and her staff rave about their clients. “There’s one right over there!” she says as she points out a regular customer. “We have a lot of regulars and all of the girls who work here would agree that for whatever reason, whether it’s our atmosphere or our service, our clients always come in happy and leave happy.”

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The spa owner had been preparing her whole life to deliver exceptional client satisfaction in the spa industry. At 18 years old, she went to aesthetics school, then graduated and did services for four to five years, later becoming a skincare trainer. She went on to teach aesthetics and became a spa director. Esau’s experience managing a restaurant for two years in Toronto was her crash course in Business 101.

“Business is business and customer service is customer service. Regardless of your industry, if you get these elements right, you can run any business successfully,” says Esau. She learned how to manage staff, how to direct operations and she saw, first hand, how businesses grow. “When you first start off, you have to wear a lot of hats. You don’t have the resources to outsource graphic or web design. I have had to learn a lot but I love it.” Now, she can support local businesses, such as hiring design work and printing from Loudmouth Printhouse and her partnership with Yummy Cookies.

The Upkeep Shoppe’s expansion grand opening is set for this time next year, (permit and weather permitting), on the business’s third anniversary. Esau says that if business continues to thrive, she has plans for a second and third location in the coming years. Whether or not she’ll expand into Preston or another neighbourhood is unknown, but she is incredibly appreciative of the neighbourhood and business support.

“Everyone’s pretty tight here,” she says. “We’ve gotten to know each other over the past two years. We do cross promoting with Yogatown where they serve our tea at their studio and this works great for us. A lot of people who may have never stepped through our door come in begging for our tea.” For today’s party, the shoppe has partnered with The Nutty Greek, Two Six Ate, Moon Room and The Whalesbone, which has just opened up The Beechbone on nearby Beech Street.

The celebration is a high tea-themed party running at the shoppe from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. Visitors can enjoy tea or champagne and other beverages and receive complimentary skin bar facials. Esau has also brought in the head chemist from B. Kamins, the spa’s product line, to offer skin analyses and highlight products. “We’re doing different draws and promoting our happy hour, which is something we do on Wednesday nights where we serve complimentary drinks for groups of three or more. You can come in and get a mani or pedi, sip on a drink and then head out to on the town.”

The Upkeep Shoppe is a perfect example of a local business that was built from the ground up, slowly and thoughtfully. Esau is mindful of all of the elements of her business and has learned through experience how to manage her own expectations, listen to customers and the importance of patience. “Everything takes time,” she says. “You have to plant those seeds and let them grow.”

The Upkeep Shoppe is located at 358 Preston Street. Check their website for a full list of services and products. Call 613-695-9100 to book an appointment.