Inside Sona Medspas Part 5: Opening a laser clinc.

Medical Spa MD - Inside Sona Medspa series Part 5: Opening a Sona Clinic

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.

Read Part 1: Why I bought a Sona Franchise l Part 2: Sona Promises l Part 3: The Franchise Pitch l Part 4: Legal Structure & Revenue Sharing

Opening a Sona Laser Clinic


How did you hire? 

My partner and I hired our first employee several months before our build out was completed, so she had to be very patient. She was a "friend of a friend" and after a couple interviews we decided she would be an excellent choice for the key position of lead sales consultant. She had an extensive operational background based on her experience running a vererinary clinic for her former husband. She had also recently completed cosmetology/estheiology school, and she had an oputstanding personality. The only thing she lacked was actual sales experience, which concerned me a great deal. I hoped that her other qualities would make up for lack of actual sales background.
Shortly after hiring her we hired another "friend of a friend" for the extremely important "front desk" position. Once I had a good idea about our projected opening date based on the progress of our 2850 sq. out I was able to schedule our staff training visit to corporate headquarters in Virginia Beach which took place over a 10 day period in February, 2003. I ran several newspaper "help wanted" ads but was unable to hire a nurse to operate the laser in time for the nurse to accompany the rest of us to Virginia Beach. We had to hire a full time and part time nurse as soom as we got back and arrange for Sona to send a training nurse to Minnesota in late February to train them. We ran several ads in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and were successful in filling the positions but did not give ourselves adequate time to screen a sufficient number of candidates to allow us to find stellar employes for these extremely critical positions. 

What support did Sona provide? 

Sona provided support for our opening by providing fairly decent operations manuals and clinical manuals, providing OK staff training during our visit to Virginia Beach, and sending an experienced laser nurse to Minnesota to train our full time and part time nurses. Sona also sent several people to St. Paul to assist us with set up and installation of our equipment, furnishings and decor, as well as to participate in and "assist" with our "grand opening" which was held in early March, 2003. 

What was Sona good at?  

Once again, hind sight is 20/20. Therefore, as I reflect back on the content and delivery of the training and support Sona provided I am able to evaluate whether or not Sona actually delivered what they promised they would, as well as whether or not the guidance and training provided was beneficial or detrimental to the success of the operation. Perhaps more significant than any misleading claim or breached promise Sona made was the fact that it touted having a "proven business model" and a "formula for success" when this in fact proved NOT to be the case. Aesthetic lasers and the services available today have been cleared in the U.S. for these popular indications for less than a decade.  The medical spa pioneers of the early 2000s have barely had time to truly figure out how to properly market, sell, and deliver these services properly. Many entrepreneurs had the idea that opening a medspa would be similar to opening a Kinkos-- and as many of us have discovered nothing could be further from the truth.
Sona actually did a fairly decent job of helping to train my original staff on the critical components of laser hair removal sales and delivery in accordance with the Sona business model in effect in early 2003. That model has changed significantly since that time as the Sona management team has tried to react to a host of franchisee failures, complaints and litigation. Their help with set up-- even including hanging pictures on the walls and showing our nurses how to properly arrange storage cabinets-- was excellent. Their assistance with our "grand opening" was, however, worthless. And based on four years of experience trying to profitably operate a med spa I can certainly say that their promised guidance and support along the way was pathetic.

What did they say they would do that they did not do? 

Sona's extensive list of breached promises was previously detailed in an earlier section

Did I have a business plan? 

My partner had financials and an operating budget from his Minneapolis operation which we used as the basis for a "rough" business plan for the new St. Paul center. I was able to easily peg our monthly expenses for the critical elements of the operation including rent, Sona's "laser placement (revenue share) fee", insurance, postage, printing, utilities, credit card fees, etc.  Payroll expenses would be based on the number of employees needed to run the operation (which would-- of course-- increase as the number of clients needing treatments increased), and the amount spent each month for advertising was based on Sona's recommendation of a minimum of $15,000 per month up to $100,000 gross revenues and 15% of revenues thereafter. No matter how "scientific" you try to be with a business plan, however, you really have no idea how many of your advertising dollars are going to result in lead calls, for example. Estimated costs are pretty easy to come up with, but you need a crystal ball to determine what your anticipated income might be.  Three very significant things that impacted my operation long-term were the extremely SEASONAL nature of aesthetic services (in Minnesota, June through December can be hell), the low-margins actually experienced when all expenses are accounted for, and the tendency of advertising sources to diminish after a period of time.  For example, for our first year of operation the St. Paul Pioneer Press was a very effective and consistent advertising medium for us. However, after about 18 months the costs of leads and sales generated in our primary newspaper vs. the costs of the ads made it a questionable source to continue with. After a period of time, it seems that every resident of the St. Paul metro area  who actually reads the paper (and the younger market in increasingly NOT reading newspapers) had seen our ads multiple times. After a while, the ads seem to wear out their effectiveness. Radio ads-- on the other hand-- almost NEVER cost justified. Direct mail and quarterly newsletters would have probably been our best place to spend money. Unfortunately, Sona never emphasized these avenues so by the time we thought about it it was already to late!