Spring 2001 Just Add Water

Antoine Simmons|Getting Started

Company Name: Hydra Relax
Type of Business: Aqua massage
Launched: June 2000
Original Location: Hamilton Place Mall (Chattanooga, TN)
Additional Locations: Opry Mills Mall, Rivergate Mall, CoolSprings Galleria, Hickory Hollow Mall (all Nashville, TN)
Equipment Cost: $30, 000
Best Month: December 2000-$16, 000
Average number of customers: 125 per day
Advice: "The only advice I have is that this is a very good business worth considering. It's new, it's profitable, and we can help anyone interested to get them started." |

Interested in a Hydra Relax business of your own? According to Antoine Simmons, the best and easiest way to get started is to write to the company for an information kit and introductory video,

Hydra Relax
820 Fesslers Lane
Nashville, TN 37210

“Water massage for mall-going crowds.” Makes you wonder. After all, on-the-go shoppers would rather stay dry-wouldn’t they?

Antoine Simmons has an answer to that. As a rehabilitation care/physical therapist, he saw the therapeutic value of water massage-or to be more precise, aqua massage. He also saw that aqua massage in a mall environment was a concept that held tremendous potential. Today, Simmons licenses the equipment from Hydra Relax (based in Nashville) for his kiosk in the Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, and in four others. The concept is doing quite well, thank you–throngs of eager participants are lining up.

But first, a clean little secret: Get in dry, get out dry. No one gets wet at Hydra Relax. Yes, water is shot through 36 pulsating jets, but nary a drop lands on anyone. Customers lie under a vinyl cover that keeps them dry while the water massages the back, sides and neck. “The machine opens like a tanning bed,” Simmons says. “You leave everything on but your shoes, and you climb under the canopy, which covers you.”

How does it feel? Like being in a Jacuzzi-type spa, only more so: there are more jets, so the massage covers the entire surface of your body. “You’ve got this cover between you and the water jets, but you feel the [water] pressure.” You can also have the massage concentrate on several areas (like that nagging ache in your shoulders). After your massage is finished and you get out of the Hydra Massage, the vinyl cover is wiped down with anti-bacterial and anti-viral wipes so it’s fresh and ready for the next lucky customer.

Simply irresistible

The attraction is irresistible: the “ultimate relaxation experience” after a long day of hopping from shop to shop. For people who might not frequent high-end spas or a personal massage therapist, the sight of someone lying face-down on a pillow while buffeted by soothing water jets is an easy lure. Who wouldn’t want a little of that for themselves?

From the beginning, Simmons found that attracting customers was easy. The image of relaxation is what sells the service. The device itself is intriguing, Simmons says, but seeing it in operation is what pulls people in. “It’s wonderful how people are drawn to it. And once they get in, they see how good it makes them feel. The testimonials from the people who have done it and then tell others about it is great, because they know it’s not just a gimmick.”

Simmons is reluctant to give an exact price, as rates vary from mall to mall, and he’s still tinkering with his pricing. But it’s easy enough to do the math to get an idea of revenues: Customers pay a little more than $1 a minute for sessions that run from five to 20 minutes. And on an average weekend, 100 to 150 people will slip out of their shoes and slide under the vinyl cover of either of Simmons’ two aqua massage units in Chattanooga.

In some ways, the business sells itself. “Traffic is the key variable,” he says. “If you don’t have good foot traffic around you, it’s very difficult to do well. Our mall [Hamilton Place Mall] is very large, for example. The volume of people in 1999 was 40 million. So we picked places with solid traffic in Nashville as well.” Despite the success of his locations thus far, Simmons is being cautious about expanding further and is wary of moving into other venues that might not prove as profitable. “We’ve been asked about spas or health clubs, and we’re exploring that area, but I don’t think you can really do it. You won’t have the volume or traffic you need,” says Simmons. Last December, the Hydra Relax kiosk at Hamilton Place Mall recorded gross sales of $16,000. During non-holiday months, Simmons pulls in an average of $10,000 to $12,000.

Taking the plunge

Setting up shop, however, is not for those with thin wallets, poor loan prospects, or an unwillingness to take on debt. This is a pricey venture that requires a level of solid capitalization.

The equipment alone costs $30,000. (A deposit of 10 percent is required for the manufacturer to place an order in the production schedule.) So what does $30,000 buy? A machine that has already seen 10 years of testing in the medical world before the Hydra Relax corporation decided healthy people might enjoy it, too-and in environments that are more fun than medical surroundings.

Could you create a do-it-yourself water massage for less? Simmons says that simply hooking up a high-pressure hose, buying a plastic tarp and setting up shop does not make an aqua-massage kiosk. “This equipment has all sorts of patents, so we’re not really worried about people trying to steal the idea,” says Simmons. “But if you did try to build cheaper stuff, it’s going to be of poor quality. That really hurts not just you, but all of us using the equipment. What happens is we all end up having mall managers telling us we have a bad reputation based on someone else’s mistake trying to replicate the equipment,” he says. “So we’re protective of our manufacturer.”

In addition, he says the service contract on the equipment is important, too (not that it’s indicative of any maintenance and repair nightmares). “It’s very durable equipment. Most of the bugs have been worked out over the last 10 years. You could service it every six months maybe, tops. My equipment has been serviced once in seven months.”

While the start-up costs may seem high, Simmons says the Hydra Relax wholesale distributor network gave him a great deal of assistance. “When I saw [Hydra Relax] a year ago, I said to myself, I could do that, and I wouldn’t even have to be there to do it,” he says. He asked about how to get involved, and they helped him set up.

That set-up process, from placing an order for the equipment, finding and negotiating for space, and then installation, took six to eight weeks, which he says is standard. By June of last year, he was up and running.

And just as he envisioned, he didn’t have to quit his day job to get things moving. Simmons operates his Hydra Relax business in addition to his full-time job. For hands-on management, Simmons enlisted his wife, Audrey. She had been looking for something they could oversee together but wouldn’t require her to spend the entire day away from their home and baby. “It’s a fairly simple concept to manage, and it’s an exciting one,” Simmons says. “As soon as my wife heard about it, she was enthusiastic. She really does the day-to-day management, as well as my partner in Nashville. It’s just a business that’s very simple, but you could certainly run it as your primary job.”

While one employee can handle the onslaught of 100 people in one day, Simmons’ employees work four-hour shifts, overlapping during the holidays. “We have some very dependable people working with us,” Simmons says. “Training is real easy, because the equipment is self-explanatory. We just make sure we educate our people so they can explain to customers that we aren’t a medical service-we’re a relaxation business.”

Today, thanks to the success of his first kiosk, opened in June 2000, he’s already expanding. He recently moved to the Nashville area, where he and an associate pooled their resources and opened four more locations.

Helping hand

As part of his arrangement with Hydra Relax, Simmons now covers an area that includes Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, and he works with prospective kiosk operators looking to set up within his territory. “The whole country is divided up, and every area has a territorial dealer. It’s a network, so if someone contacts me about another state, I can put them in touch with the right people in their area,” Simmons says.

Hydra Relax isn’t a franchise-owners are in business on their own, but they get a great deal of help. Simmons is quick to point out that while each owner has exclusivity rights to their area, the goal isn’t to make money from other operators, but to make sure they’re successful-which is for business for all of them. Given the initial cost of the equipment, the daunting task of finding a suitable and potentially profitable location and the ongoing task of ensuring a positive reputation for the overall business, Simmons instead functions as a consultant for prospective operators in his area, and offers them a range of services.

“[For] anyone who wants to start a company like ours, we’ll consult with them, set them up, help them get the equipment, and charge them a consulting fee,” he says. “We’ll research the area they’re interested in, including the demographics.” Assistance includes searching for a location as well as help with financing the equipment-clearly the steepest expense. The Hydra Relax network can help secure the financing, or consultants can research potential funding that might be available in the area. And if need be, Simmons or whoever is consulting will even handle negotiations for leasing space.

Why all the hands-on shepherding? According to Simmons, it ensures that anyone setting up their own Hydra Relax kiosk does well. “We’re not worried about competition from mall to mall,” he says. “The fact is, it takes away from the whole business if they don’t do well. That’s why everyone involved in the network asks a lot of questions. We want to make sure people are serious and legitimate.”

“Dry” water massage only sounds funny. Antoine Simmons knows it’s serious business. As a physical therapist, he understands its potential to tap into the need to relax, reduce stress, unwind. With Hydra Relax, he offers people a way to untie a few knots in a few minutes–at good prices, in convenient locations. All wet? Not at all.

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