My Hand & Stone story began with my “no thank you” response to a cold email from an executive search firm on LinkedIn 7 years ago.
Prior to that LinkedIn email, I had spent 14 years in the fitness industry. That journey began after MBA school when I stumbled into the acquisition of a failing franchised health club. I terminated the franchise agreement and started my own concept fitness club focused on member engagement and retention (the idea being that engaged members don’t cancel). Just 5 years later, I was able to build a second location. After 10 total years, and a catastrophic financial crisis, I exited and moved to Baltimore MD to work in the wellness division of a large regional health care provider, and then the YMCA. While at the Y, in the late summer of 2014, I received the now infamous cold email on LinkedIn.
After hearing that I would be learning under founder and COO John Marco for 5-7 months prior to a planned private equity partnership that would have John retire to Florida… the opportunity was an offer I could not refuse. I was excited to learn the brand, mission, and vision from the founder himself while adding my own brand and influence and becoming a proper steward of the brand.
Thus, in the fall of 2014, I joined as Vice President (VP) of Operations when the chain was 179 spas (167 US/12 CN) with an Operations staff of just 4 direct reports. As of 9/1/2021, the Ops Team has grown to 20 direct and indirect reports with specialty divisions to support franchisees across all stages of business development. Early on, then CEO Todd Leff and I committed to scaling the Ops team with unit growth to provide top-level support, both in frequency and quality. That scale is correlated to the growth of the chain that has us with 523 spas and system-wide sales that increased over 320% in these last 7 years to project over $550M in 2021! In this time, I have moved to Senior Vice President, and then Chief of Stores in 2021. But more importantly, the team of 4 Regional Ops Managers that I started within 2014 has grown into a VP of Ops, an AVP, 3 Directors, and 14 Senior or Regional Ops Managers. Developing a team, watching them grow, and letting them fly is really what leadership is all about to me.
Now, just as this growth is not possible without the entirety of the Hand & Stone Corporate team, it TRULY is not possible without world-class franchisees. Given the sheer number of touchpoints the Operations Team has with franchisees puts us in the unique position of getting to know these folks at the most intimate levels as trusted business consultants. Franchising, in general, is one of the purest and genuine forms of partnership for the simple reality of royalties. The franchisor doesn’t make any money, if the franchisee doesn’t make any money… so our Z’s learn early on that our consultations come from a truthful place, meant only to help their business grow. To witness the team of Ops experts and franchisees, in true partnership, navigate the ups and downs of small business has been a true thrill for me these last 7 years.
Along those lines, it is impossible not to share the thrill of starting a new venture. That is why, to this day, one of my favorite things about my job is being able to present to and engage with new franchisees and their managers in the first 2 days of our week-long New Franchisee Training Class. I have been a small business owner myself, so I very much appreciate the new franchisee’s juxtaposed emotions of equal parts fear-of-the-unknown AND new venture excitement… and it is never, ever, lost on me. I spend about 7 hours over the first 2 days introducing them to the history and culture around the Hand & Stone brand, as well as core spa operations. The same culture that was emblazoned into me by founder John Marco when I spent the first 5 days of my employment with him in his Clearwater home and in local spas… true boots on the ground, with the man that started it all. Sure, a lot has changed in our protocols and scripts over the years, but I still try to teach our brand customer service and sales principles with the same passion and zeal that John ALWAYS did.