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« Inside Sona Medspas Part 2: Sona promises. | Main | The Beauty Brains: Answers about cosmetics. »

Inside Sona Medspas Part 1: Why I bought a Sona franchise.

Medical Spa MD series: Inside A Medical Spa Franchise: Part 1

These posts are written by former Sona Medspa owner Ron Berglund to provide an inside view of the way medical spa franchises recruit, train, and support their owners as well as detailing some of the problems with medspa franchises.

You may ask additional questions using the comments link at the bottom of the posts.

Part 1: Why I bought a Sona Medspa franchise?

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a friend of mine opened one of the original six Sona operations in a suburb of Minneapolis. This was during Sona's "pre-franchise" period. Sona owned and operated a couple corporate centers in the east (the headquarters was in Virginia Beach) and a number of individuals (all non-physicians) opened centers in various parts of the country. I believe the initial operations began in late 1999 and 2000. The original owners were called "affiliates" and operated under a licensing agreement. Sona required that they use the "Sona approved" Cynosure Apogee 9300 alexandrite lasers, and the operations were limited to strictly laser hair removal.
The founder is an individual named Dennis Jones.
My friend and his daughter operated their laser center in Edina, Minnesota as a Sona affiliate from the fall of 1999 through early 2003 when they "converted" to a franchise under Sona's new franchise offering which was rolled out late in 2002. I had taken up my friend's offer to have his staff remove some of the unwanted hair on my back some time prior to this.
Even though I knew my friend and his daughter were still pretty much just "breaking even" financially at this time, I was very intrigued by the operation, the lasers, and the fact that this seemed like pretty much a "ground floor" opportunity at the time (circa early 2002). I had been working as an employee in the spa industry for some period of time and I knew first hand about the dawning of the "medical spa" throughout the U.S. Having been "working for the man" most of my career, I was also looking for an opportunity to own my own business-- to finally take my own shot at achieving "the American dream". For these reasons, I casually mentioned to my friend that "the Twin Cities is a big place" and it would seem to make sense to operate more than one center in MSP to take advantage of shared advertising and other synergies. "When you are ready to open a center in St. Paul", I told my friend, "please give me a call."
Some months later, my telephone rang and my friend and I discussed the prospects of forming a partnership and opening a second Sona Center in one of St. Paul's premier suburbs. Sona was on the verge of switching from its original affiliate program to a franchise program, he said, and since he was one of the original six he claimed that he had been promised "special treatment". Whereas everyone else would have to pay over $400,000 to own a Sona franchise, my friend had been led to believe that he would be allowed to open additional centers on a "cost of merchandise" basis only. Needless to say, this sounded intriguing to me, so my partner and I decided to move forward with the opportunity. The first step was to get more information about Sona and the new Sona franchise program, so I scheduled an appointment and booked a flight to Virginia Beach in the early fall of 2002.
Ron Berglund

Reader Comments (10)

Wow. Someone's finally going to step up to the plate? I'll be watching this intently.

Ron, can you provide some more details of your situation at the time? $400,000 is a lot to come up with. Aren't there less expensive franchises? Was Sona just the most available?

Are you going to cover these questions in other posts? Don't want to be a pest.
12.9 | Unregistered CommenterDermGal
Ron and medicalspaMD,
Let me second DermGal's post above. It's hard to find any real information about these medical spa franchises that doesn't come from the franchises or their PR cronies. (Other than this site of course. I'm glad that medicalspaMD continutes to provide this kind of information.)

Looking forward to more. - Canada Doc
12.10 | Unregistered CommenterCanDoc

I attended a IFA event as a vendor in WY. I had a chance to see first hand Sona CEO (Heather Rose) in action. She was chasing and hanging all over some singer in the band. It was the talk of the event. We also know that they spent more time together. ( I guess she thought we were blind). I also know that she is a married woman. I was ashamed to be a woman in franchising during this event. She drank and danced the night away. How did she ever get on the board. No wonder Sona is tanking. What a poor example of leadership and ethics. I will think better before attending another event.

09.7 | Unregistered CommenterJt

Heather Rose, we all knew that before. It doesnt take her long either.

01.13 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

[This comment has been removed for violating our terms around personal attacks.]

03.27 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

I've heard of Sona before but my impression was that it was built along the lines of a day spa / hair salon. I find it vaguely disturbing that these businesses are marketing medical treatments to patients and then closing down. I'm not personally aware of a situation where a physician has just skipped town although I'm sure it's happened. Great site though. I'm appreciate the information here and will continue to read and learn.

04.21 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Ch

Any wonder about Heather Rose. The SAC center closed and left hundreds of clients without treatments. Ever sit through the sales presentation with Ms. Rose? All about christain/family ethics. Just a line crap and I really dont anyone who bought it unless you count the sheep. We were having prayer meetings in the office and then at 7 she and K would hit the bars. There is enough information on the net concerning Ms. Rose so that anyone should be aware of the problems encountered by the franchisees and clients not alone the personal isusses that have come out personal ethics. I was there from the start with Sona and thought it was a wonderful product with wonderful franchisees. I am not sure that the business model presented by Rose was a workable one. She did not have the background or experiance to operate the business and was placed in the position by her father. Pitt is a seasoned executive who will bring ethics to the company. I am not aware of any franchised business that she is involved with at this point and I know that she is no longer a board member or does not seem to be active anymore. I wish SONA the very best and hope that it can grow despite the damage done by Ms Rose and crew. Anyone still wear their little eagle pin? Anyone want my copies of Amos's "best sellers"?

09.24 | Unregistered CommenterKS

I am suing Sona in conciliation court tomorrow morning and was just prepping for court. In a nutshell this company is awful. I spent over a year fighting with the Edina location and the owner is a scumbag. I was at first polite and asked for a simple refund of 3k spent from 2004-2007 since it didn't work. I now just found the class action case info and well turns out not only did corporate know their products didn't work back in 2004 they also continued to sell it as permanent and still took peoples money at local franchise locations.

My case is based on the expert testimony from this settlement. It has everything, research showing both owner, franchises, and operators knew they were making false claims since 2004. Then also shows expert medical testimony they have no merit to claims of permanent hair removal. I wish it didn't come to this but now suing for my money and damages under state law. Once this is done the Star Tribune asked me to send them a letter and they want to do a story and also going to the state attorney general to see if she wants to pursue.

If the owner wasn't such a jerk I wouldn't be so mad. But he is and well I'm happy I'm getting my day in court. Again stunned they are still in business but they keep changing names since I'm sure I'm not the only unhappy customer that was ripped off!

09.24 | Unregistered CommenterKC

Not Sona Smooth!!!

I am also considering suing for damages due toa dermalfiller injected under the eyes and has led to a puffy pockets which needless tosay look unnatural and also ages me. I look worse than i did before which is ironic!!! The Sona Medspa in Grapevine has an awful owner that does not seem to respond to any negativity in his spa. He does not seem to want to get involved with customers who are trying to reach out to him for somehelp. They are quick to take your money and slow in terms of action therafter.
I have requested for a refund and also fore them totake out the juverderm under the eyes which they seem to have a problem with as taking it out costs extra. Refunmd isaquick process but i want them to take resposibitly and take the product out too nand ideally pay for a board certified plastic surgeon toin ject me properly.

01.23 | Unregistered Commenters.m

My father had a golfing buddy who sold franchises and I went along to caddy, consequently, I heard a lot about the franchise business. The goal is to MAKE MONEY any way they can. An ad in the paper brings out the "get rich quick" suckers (that is exactly what he called them as there are no legitimate "get rich quick schemes). Many people bought franchises with absolutely no idea of what they are getting in to, This makes it easy to sell a "turn key" operation. Clients put up their life savings and these guys are there to pick it up. They provide the cheapest machines at inflated prices. These machine break down in short order and the buyers have no idea as to how to fix them or reach a serviceman somewhere across the country. Salesmen rent an expensive suite in a very high class hotel for the day (NOT THE NIGHT TOO) just to impress the clients. The whole scam is a "hit and run" operation. This guy never sold anything to a person in his home town as they might see him on the street some day and he wanted to stay FAR AWY from any scene.

Clients were so unknowledgeable about business in general. They knew nothing about any licenses needed to open any business, insurance of various types from personal injury, fire, theft, or Social Security, withholding taxes. etc. They were "RIPE for picking" is the term he used. He would make sure they had a location so any machinery could be shipped there.
In many cases he sent everything to their home. It was pitiful to hear him talk about the individuals who were trying so hard to "make a go" of it. But that is what "con" men do.

Great franchises like Mc Donalds are expensive to start but there are many owners who own 10 or more locations. The goal is to MAKE MONEY. Good franchises are worth a lot, consequently, the companies charge more for them. If a franchise seems inexpensive that should be a clue to look harder before paying or signing any papers.

It is interesting to see a few franchises only included hair removal as a function of the laser and no medical procedures were allowed. Maybe they have a "little" conscience after all.

01.24 | Unregistered Commenterlefty2g

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