It makes perfect sense that Katie Gilligan chose “Time for You” as the tagline for her business, Timeless Harmony Salon & Spa, in Newmarket. After all, her target customers are stressed out, middle-class working women in search of a little R&R and pampering.
Gilligan, an esthetician and reiki master, had long dreamed of hanging out her own shingle, but not until her children were older. For years she had managed spas, first at The Briars, and later at Hockley Valley Resort.
Then a particularly brutal winter—and the 75-minute drive each way to work—was the push she needed, she says, to set the wheels in motion. She started writing a plan for her business, got as far as five pages, and knew she needed to bounce her ideas off someone.
So she Googled “help with business—York Region” and the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC) popped up. “I wanted to meet with one of the consultants there before I spent a ton of effort on the plan and did it completely wrong,” she says, and made an appointment.
Gilligan had never written a business plan before, but knew she’d have to write one if she were to qualify for a business loan. Her first appointment with the YSBEC consultant lasted about 25 minutes. He was encouraging, but emphasized that she needed to know a lot more about of her potential customers.
So she set to work, carefully gathering detailed demographic data from websites that the consultant had suggested. Then she met with him three more times as she ploughed her way through the sections of the plan. As he would review it, she would revise it.
Gillian doesn’t deny that the whole research, writing and revising process wasn’t without stress, and even tears. “The consultant made sure that all of my I’s were dotted and my T’s crossed,” she says. He said, ‘Do the work now, and you’ll appreciate it later.’”
And he was right. About six months after her first meeting with the YSBEC consultant, Gillian was ready to take her business plan—which had ballooned to 45 pages—to her bank. “They approved it right away, which was awesome,” she says, adding, “If I had done the business plan on my own, I don’t know that I would have been successful.”
With funding secured and knowing what she could afford, she started scouting for a location with the help of a real estate agent and eventually found a spacious spot. “My husband and I walked into this place and when I saw the Grecian columns and archway, I was sold,” she says. “It felt perfect.” They madly renovated for two months and opened Timeless Harmony in September 2015.
The salon and spa offers everything from haircuts, facials and hot stone massages to chocolate detox treatments and algae body wraps. It also fundraises for the Women’s Centre of York Region and holds workshops on topics such as hygienic pedicures.
By developing a strong presence in the community and by regularly networking with other business owners, Gillian expects her customer base will only grow. Valentine’s Day sales were “astronomical,” she notes, and March sales surged as customers prepared to go on vacation. And while Gillian still turns to online coupons to attract customers, she plans to scale back on this kind of promotion as her regular clientele increases.
When asked what her advice to other new entrepreneurs would be, she says: “Take the time to do your homework because it will pay off. My business plan was the best thing I ever did.”
You can learn more about Timeless Harmony Salon & Spa and continue following this local York Region success story at timelessharmonyspa.ca.