Born with an entrepreneurial spirit (at the tender age of 11, she spearheaded a short-lived day camp operation for young children), Tessler graduated from New York University’s Law School. After failing to convince some classmates to start a firm with her, she went to work as a tax attorney for a large firm in Chicago. But every morning before work, Tessler found herself repeatedly hitting the snooze button, dragging herself in at the last possible moment. Her unfulfilling career led to some profound realizations: Tessler didn’t want to work for someone else and, more importantly, she didn’t want to practice law. “I wanted to wake up and be excited for my day, ” Tessler says.
After a visit to Miraval in Tucson, Arizona, the disenchanted lawyer experienced a career-altering epiphany. “The people who worked at Miraval clearly loved what they were doing, and I thought there might be a way to take that spa concept and put it in an urban setting,” Tessler recalls. Never one to hesitate when it comes to a new venture, she began scouting local neighborhoods in downtown Chicago. Six years after Tessler graduated from NYU, Spa Space was born—but this aspiring entrepreneur still had a lot of self-educating ahead of her.
Having grown up with a dermatologist father, Tessler had always been well versed in skin care; however, she was in no way prepared to spearhead a skincare operation. So in launching her business, she wisely enlisted the help of a few good men.
First, she hired a real estate broker to help scout the perfect location, a small corner space just four blocks from her previous employer. “I had this idea of being in a loft in an up-and-coming area,” she reflects, “but my broker advised against it, and recommended the area we ended up in. It’s much more developed today than it was then.” In fact, the neighborhood has experienced a growth spurt over the past few years, and so has Spa Space: Through several renovations, it has been expanded by 2,500 square feet (to a current total of 7,500) to accommodate seven additional treatment rooms as well as a private party room that holds 12.
Tessler also called on her father to consult on various skincare practices, help train her new staff, and select the lines used and retailed. She sought to attract clients looking for a lunch-hour or quitting-time escape from the office buildings towering above the area where Spa Space would open. The idea was to focus on making customers feel good, with “tangential emphasis on making them look good,” says Tessler. As a tax attorney, she knew how to draw up a business plan. The trick was combining that skill with her father’s skincare wisdom and all she’d learned by feverishly researching spa business books and trade journals. (Dr. Martin E. Tessler continues to serve on Spa Space’s medical advisory board, along with a nutritionist and a plastic surgeon.)
Her final step involved the creation of Spa Space’s website. Tessler had the foresight to prioritize search engine optimization (SEO) practices from the start. She hired a company called Intercon Solutions to build the original site over about three months, testing along the way to ensure the best search-rank possible, knowing how much SEO had influenced her own consumer decisions. “We were lucky that we got online when we did,” Tessler says. “There wasn’t a lot of local spa competition back then, and most existing facilities didn’t have websites. Our site has been instrumental in attracting new clients.”
Thanks to the site’s early online strategy and its simple name, most “Chicago spa” Google searches take surfers straight to Spa Space. The site’s current iteration offers online booking, rotating monthly specials and preferred-client email sign-up, as well as detailed information about every treatment, the spa’s management philosophy and even nearby restaurant offerings.
On the less tech-savvy front, Spa Space’s block-long window space and location across the street from a major commuter train hub translate to lots of foot traffic, and the spa takes advantage of its display space with large signage and placards broadcasting its many awards.