Girls Just Wanna Have Fun at Spa’ Ladi-da!

Billed as “a pampering retreat for girls,” Spa’ Ladi-da! is a spa designed for girls ages 7 to 14, so naturally hot pink, lime green and other bright colors adorn the walls of this tween-focused store. Young clients can be found dancing to hip-hop, top 40, inspirational and other age-appropriate music videos that play nonstop. After getting their makeovers or manicures, the girls can relax on oversized beanbags, sip tasty drinks and munch on healthy foods.

Spa’ Ladi-da! is the brainchild of Detra Jones, a Charlotte, NC-area mother of two girls, who came up with the idea more than a year before the store’s grand opening last October. “My daughters were 10 and 12 at the time,” she says. “When I went to get my nails done, sometimes they came with me. But I realized there wasn’t a place designed for them.” She thought that there ought to be such a place.

Jones shared her idea with her husband, Victor, who immediately knew his wife had hit on something. “For me, it was a no-brainer,” says Victor. “I knew it was something that my girls would love,” he says.

Starting from scratch

A former professional athlete who spent seven seasons playing in the National Football League, Victor Jones is an experienced entrepreneur who in the past ran a bridal salon and a tie manufacturing business. “He’s very entrepreneurial minded—he’s a risk taker,” says Detra, who says she never fancied herself an entrepreneur. “I always liked working for someone else, knowing that I would be getting a paycheck,” she says. If it weren’t for her husband, she says, her great idea probably never would have seen the light of day.

Prior to launching Spa’ Ladi-da!, Detra was a long-time sales executive in the radio and TV industry. “I would go to work and when I came home, Victor would have a stack of papers with research on the tween market or examples of what other people had done for me to review,” she says. “He put together a 50-page business plan, and after about eight months, I saw that the idea was becoming a reality.”

Victor created his own informal focus group, bouncing ideas off his daughters and their friends. “I was able to talk to about 10 to 15 tween girls about what they would like to see in a salon,” he says. He developed the store based on what they said.

imageWhen the Joneses searched the Internet for similar businesses, they couldn’t find another tween spa concept quite like theirs anywhere in the US. The spa industry “was foreign to us,” recalls Detra. “It was something out of our everyday careers.” But whenever she expressed doubts about venturing into unknown territory, Victor reassured her.

“We’re a strong Christian family,” says Detra. “And he would say, ‘Dee, you always speak of having faith. You have to put your faith to work and believe this will happen.’” Much of the planning took place in the couple’s dining room, which soon sported dry-erase boards and stacks of paper, eventually looking more like a corporate conference room than a dining room. When friends visited, they would ask what all of it was for.

“We were very selective about with whom we shared the concept,” says Detra, who adds that several friends were so intrigued with the idea that they asked if they could invest in the business. Their investment dollars were put toward startup costs, and as a result the Joneses didn’t have to turn to their bank for a loan.

When it came time to scout for a store location, the couple at first considered the Charlotte area, before deciding on a temporary in-line space in Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem—a smaller market about 50 minutes from their home.

“We thought we should try a smaller market first, so we could iron out our mistakes and perfect everything before bringing the business to Charlotte,” says Detra. They also wanted to fly under the radar for as long as possible, to limit the possibility of someone lifting their idea. “We figured in a larger market, the chances of someone finding out about the idea and copying it—and doing it quicker—would be greater,” she says.

Though they were officially temporary tenants at Hanes, “We knew we weren’t going anywhere,” says Detra, so they designed the space as if they were permanent tenants. The goal was to create an environment that appealed to the tween mentality, not the adult spa patron. “When adults go to a spa, they’re looking for a place to relax,” Detra says. “But there’s nothing quiet or serene about Spa’ Ladi-da!”

Driving traffic

imageThe spa’s offerings include mother-daughter and grandmother-granddaughter pampering packages, an idea inspired by Detra’s juggling act during her former career. “I would have to leave early for sales meetings and work late nights sometimes, and I missed out on a lot of time with my girls,” she says. The packages are intended to give the generations “some quality time together.” The spa also offers a father-daughter pampering package.

Since its opening, Spa’ Ladi-da! has become Birthday Party Central. According to Jones, the store’s most-popular party package is called “On the Go, Head to Toe,” during which the birthday girl and her guests receive manicures, pedicures and makeovers that include fancy, fun hairdos and age-appropriate makeup. After the girls get all decked out, they can retire to a party lounge for food, which goes far beyond the typical kids’ party fare of pizza. The spa menu, prepared by a local deli, includes healthier offerings like turkey croissants, fresh fruit, green salad and baked potato chips.

For take-home treats, Spa’ Ladi-da! sells bath and body gels, jewelry, handbags, diaries, inspirational T-shirts and other gift items for the tween set.

To drive traffic and get the word out about the new Spa’ Ladi-da! store, Detra’s expertise in the TV advertising industry helped “tremendously,” she says. “We ran an aggressive six-week campaign, on [TV] stations like Nickelodeon, MTV and Discovery Kids, and on Lifetime and Oxygen to reach moms.”

The ads paid off. “We had five birthday parties on our first day,” she recalls. They ran the spots again in March, but otherwise have relied on the all-important word-of-mouth advertising, which is creating a lot of buzz.

imageAnd customers aren’t the only ones who love Spa’ Ladi-da. “The store is a destination place that has livened up its end of the mall,” says Sandi Rogness, assistant general manager of the Hanes Mall, who says the Joneses’ “positive, upbeat, down-to-earth [personalities]” are a good match for their business. She adds that they’ve recruited a good staff as well.

Spa’ Ladi-da! now has 12 employees, including licensed cosmetologists, nail technicians and estheticians (skin care professionals). “We talk to the girls about proper skin care and eating right, and we generally promote healthy attitudes,” says Detra, who says she feels blessed to have the opportunity to inspire girls to have a healthy self-image.

Franchising for growth

As for the future, the Charlotte store is in now the works, and Victor is busy applying for trademarks and structuring Spa’ Ladi-da! franchises. Even before the Hanes store opened, the couple envisioned taking the concept to the franchise level down the road. But after seeing first-hand the overwhelming reception from customers, who immediately began inquiring about franchise opportunities, they were prompted to work on their franchise offer sooner rather than later.

“People would come in and ask where our other locations were,” says Detra. “When we would say it was the only one, they asked if we would franchise it. We have had requests from Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, California, Georgia and other places.” Victor estimates they’ve received about 100 franchising requests in total. They’ve already completed the process needed to offer Spa’ Ladi-da! as a franchise in North Carolina and Georgia, and they are working on getting approval for other states.

“Eventually, we would like to be in all 50 states,” Detra says, “but we want to take our time and grow smart.”