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People of ISpa

Written by Paul Heslop on November 9th, 2016.      0 comments

Starting up in a garage: it might be the oldest business cliché in the book. If business folklore is to be believed, Harley Davidson, Amazon, Nike and Hewlett Packard did it, and so did Apple. All of those companies turned into multi-billion dollar businesses - so perhaps Utah-based Salt of the Earth is in good company.

The business was run out of a neighbor’s garage when current owner and Chief Executive Paul Heslop first came across it, but as a budding teenage entrepreneur back then he had other things on his mind. Things like lawn care in exchange for pizza credit or in exchange for chocolate, cutting his entrepreneurial teeth while his friends begged their parents for an allowance.

Getting into the spa business was never Paul’s intention. In a sense that makes him unusual in our industry – many of our top executives spent years going to spas as guests and customers before their careers in the industry even began. An interest in massage, wellness or sports is the most common start of a spa journey. Paul started off very differently.

Knowing he wanted to be an entrepreneur, Paul had tried his hand at several businesses throughout his teens – with varying degrees of success. “I loved the freedom of owning a business – not so much the money, but the fringe benefits. I had a lawn care business and we cut the grass at the owner’s house of the local pizza we would hang out at. I got paid in store credit, and felt like the most popular kid there. By the time I was in college I owned my first business, a cell phone franchise. But despite all of the effort I put into research, it turned out that the guy behind it was unethical, to put it politely. I learned important lessons early on.”

It wasn’t just unethical practices that put Paul off. It was the long hours and the fact that his store was tied to a carrier, thus taking a large part of the pricing control out of his hands. It just so happened that another business he had worked for as a teenager was about five houses down the road. One run out of his neighbor’s garage. Aptly for Utah, a salt business: Salt of the Earth.

“This was in 2008. I phoned up the owner and asked what she planned on doing with the business, which she had run for years without much marketing or sales push that I knew of. I was lucky enough to be able to get a loan from my dad, and he became my business partner. So I bought the business.”

For Paul, buying a second business, before he had even graduated from college, at a time when the economy had begun to contract – panic, even – might sound like a recipe for disaster. But spa folks are nothing if not adventurous. And, counter-intuitive though it may sound, taking a risk when everyone around you is afraid to can pay huge dividends. So long as you survive the storm. Salt of the Earth, and Paul, not only survived but also learned more crucial business lessons.

“My first trade show was ISPA Conference in November 2008. It was an amazing experience, and very clearly the top end of the industry. I decided I couldn’t come back until my product matched those surroundings. So I went home, started selling hard and thinking about how I could be the best in this industry. I settled on customization as my route. I spent three years creating and selling customized scents and salts, learning about design and packaging, and saving every penny I made from the business.”

The results speak for themselves. Salt of the Earth not only survived, but thanks to the economic conditions of the time Paul learned lessons that are often ignored by new entrepreneurs in better times – often fatally. Managing resources in a small business is not about being a skinflint, it’s about being frugal when market conditions demand frugality, and it’s about saving money when and where you can.

Thankfully Paul – and Salt of the Earth - made enough progress to return to ISPA Conference in 2011. “I was still on a small stall, but I felt like I belonged. To me, being an ISPA member and being part of this industry is a lifestyle choice. Just like being an entrepreneur.”

So who cares if the garage stories are true or not. It’s their spirit that counts.
 

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