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This partnership started with a couple of credit cards and a passion to succeed. Franchising led to rapid expansion and winning an award, now even snow-clad mountains don’t daunt their plans to climb higher. By Cameron Bayley.

Melanie Bourne is talking into her mobile, having one of those isn’t-it-funny-where-you-suddenly-find-yourself moments. "I’m in the storeroom, it’s snowing outside. I’m surrounded by luggage, and they’re trying to get equipment across to the spa."

Active ImageShe’s in the Victorian alpine town of Falls Creek for the opening of a new endota day spa franchise, located within the Huski retreat complex. Clearly there are a few logistical problems to solve before the red carpet is rolled out for the opening, but it seems nothing daunts her just-do-it approach to business.

Bourne founded endota spa with longtime friend Belinda Fraser in 2000. After graduating together from high school, Fraser studied economics and worked in real estate, while Bourne travelled and worked in makeup for film and television, before managing a spa in suburban Melbourne.

Meeting at a barbecue, they hatched the idea for a day spa. "We got two credit cards, and just started," says Bourne. But it wasn’t quite that easy. Even as recently as four years ago, Bourne says people still needed to be educated about what actually happens in a day spa, and the benefits involved. When she and Fraser applied for their first licence, 14 people registered objections with the local council thinking the business was going to be a brothel. "We still face things like that today with permits and councils," Bourne says. "With every business we open there are all the issues we went through four years ago."

The difference now, she says, is that challenges are less daunting. The reason for her location in the Huski storeroom is a prime example. "Our challenge for today is getting the treatment tables up the mountain, because we have to," she says. "At the start that might have stressed us out completely, but today we take it in our stride and do what we can to get the beds up here for the opening party tomorrow."

That sort of pragmatism is characteristic of Bourne’s approach to running the business. She admits that when she and Fraser started endota (an indigenous word meaning beautiful), they were often not taken seriously because they were both mid-twenties and female. Bourne rarely dwells on the setbacks, and her advice is simple: "Just keep going. Wake up; return the calls. Pushing, that’s all it is. Building relationships."

DIY Model

Active ImageThey were soon running four spas, with the long-term aim of running 25 company-owned premises. Before long, however, the plan changed slightly. "Because neither of us are beauty therapists or hands-on in the rooms, we found it quite difficult to keep the levels of consistency we wanted in the stores, so we decided to franchise," Bourne says. "We talked to solicitors, got some agreements made up and ended up where we are today."

To ensure they knew their own business inside out, they chose to write their own procedural manual, learning every aspect of the business. It took a year. "There were consultancy firms out there, we could have paid them to write our manual, but they could never write it like we wrote it, because we were in there doing the day-to-day."

There are now 15 endota spa franchises. With five more in the process of either permit applications or at the building stage, Bourne expects there will be 20 up and running by the end of the year. She credits a large part of the success of endota to their network of passionate staff. "At the moment we’ve got brilliant franchisees, which is why I think we’ve been able to grow."

Entrusting your business name to someone else is scary, Bourne says, but she and Fraser are happy with their selection process, which is validated by their network of endota spas taking off. "We give them the security they need, but at the end of the day it’s [their business], and they bloom and blossom with confidence."

She concedes being in business can make demands on you, but working alongside Fraser has never been a challenge. "People say don’t go into business with your friends, but that is completely not the case with us," Bourne says. "We have different skills but I think the most important thing is that we work as hard as each other." They occasionally have differences of opinion, especially during their ritual morning walk, but everything is resolved in the best interests of the business. "We have the highest expectations of ourselves, we get mad at ourselves more than each other."

Bourne and Fraser continue to seek advice from as many people as possible. She cites Tom Potter from Eagle Boys pizza, Di Williams from Fernwood Gym, and Janine Allis from Boost Juice as some of the inspirational franchisors they’ve encountered along the way. "To start with, we were looking for the person who would say, ‘this is the way you do it’. But as you grow and learn more, you realise there isn’t that one person." Their favourite tactic when meeting a successful business person is to ask for their top five tips. These almost always include persistence, passion, forging strong relationships and having good capital behind you, says Bourne.

Winning last year’s Franchisor Of The Year at the PricewaterhouseCoopers Excellence in Franchising Awards means others are now seeking words of wisdom from Bourne and Fraser, and they’ve already been asked to give a few talks. Modest and pragmatic again, Bourne says, "There’s nothing great about us, we just get up and do it. And when people see us they think, if those two can do it …"

There’s a loud bang as someone enters the storeroom, and it’s time to go. There’s still plenty to do but Bourne is excited. "We’ll kick back tonight, and we’ll be so proud. The pictures will be up, the signs will be up, the stock will be on the shelf. The sense of accomplishment is results-based; you can see it happen before your eyes."

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