When they opened The Cove Spa in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 2012, husband-and-wife team Krupesh and Vikee Patel would never have anticipated owning a further seven sites before the decade was out. Yet, together they have built a portfolio of eight locations across Hertforshire, Buckinghamshire and London via acquisitions of existing salons and spas. Four now sit under The Cove Spa brand and a further four under Lavender & Stone Beauty Rooms, which they bought last year.
Alongside their extensive treatment offering and product houses, Vikee, who has 17 years of beauty therapy experience under her belt, puts the success of The Cove Spa down to the team’s attentive customer service. “The philosophy we’ve had from day one is to exceed customers’ expectations; we need to go one step further,” she says. “It’s part of our culture and we always try to think about how to go the extra mile for our clients.” The attention to customer experience, coupled with an arsenal of established product houses including Aromatherapy Associates and Environ, has since attracted a strong client base.
After the success of their first site, they decided it was time to grow the business. “In our first year, we thought that this was something we could expand on and it was actually the feedback we were getting from customers that gave us the idea to look at opening others,” says Patel.
The following year, they acquired their second spa in Hitchin, a much larger site, and in 2014 branched into London with their Chiswick spa (formerly the Chiswick Health and Wellness Spa). “We have strategically repositioned that business into a wellbeing centre where we run The Cove Spa on one floor, which has seven treatment areas, and then the floor above we have turned into a wellness clinic where we have various practitioners, including a chiropractor, acupuncturist, nutritionist and psychotherapist,” says Patel.
But it didn’t stop there. While bringing up two children and juggling their three sites, they acquired their fourth spa in North Finchley in 2016. Then, just two years later, an opportunity arose to add to their portfolio with an offer to acquire Lavender & Stone Beauty Rooms’ four sites from founder Anna Nickless, who wanted to sell in order to set up a salon business consultancy (AB Beauty Consultancy, which launched in late 2019).
A new frontier
Vikee and Krupesh had previously spotted one of the Lavender & Stone salons back in 2013. “I was driving through the high street and a new sign had gone up on the local beauty salon, which is now Lavender & Stone,” says Patel. “When you’re in this industry, you’re always looking out for other salons and we said: ‘Oh my gosh, it’s just been sold, how did we not hear about that? It would be great to have a beauty salon in our own neighbourhood’. And it just so happens that we are now the owners of the salon.”
Lavender & Stone has a great client base, a great reputation in the market and a great product. We’ve had to stand back, observe and educate ourselves
With four Cove Spa sites already under their belt, the couple began thinking about how to approach this new business. “Where we had previously purchased individual and independently run units, we’d been given the opportunity to rebrand them and open the doors to a much wider clientele,” says Patel. “Lavender & Stone is established in its own right, so we didn’t want to take that approach.
They’ve got a great client base, a great reputation in the market and a great product. We’ve had to stand back, observe and educate ourselves.”
Even though the salons were in a similar location, the duo saw this as an opportunity to target different clients in the area. “Two out of the four were very close to ours, but they had different product houses, including Medik8, and a slightly different approach to their target customer,” says Patel.
While The Cove Spa offers a serene ambience for spa rituals alongside advanced skincare and body treatments, Lavender & Stone has a chatty, bustling atmosphere and also offers an aesthetic clinic alongside its beauty menu. “We thought this was brilliant, because we have an offering that suits client A or client B between the two brands,” says Patel.
Challenges and opportunities
With the acquisition doubling their portfolio overnight, the process wasn’t plain sailing. The initial conversation to acquire Lavender & Stone began in 2018, but it took nearly a year for the deal to be completed. “We couldn’t inform anybody throughout the process, so it was a secret that Krupesh and I were involved in,” says Patel.
“We had to do a lot of market insight and research, but we couldn’t rely on our existing team to help, as we didn’t want the news to come out in case it didn’t happen.”
Between the two of them, they followed their usual process before acquiring a new business, including putting a business plan together and considering location, customer demographic and where the key opportunities were.
One of the challenges was scarcity of staff, which has been a widespread problem across the industry. “There are fewer therapists being educated but there are more beauty salons and spas opening, so everyone is scrambling for the same team members,” says Patel.
However, they saw this as an opportunity to recruit junior members of staff and have been developing working relationships with local beauty colleges. “With four branches and four more around the corner, we thought it was time to open doors,” says Patel. Consequently, they now offer Level 3 beauty therapy students a two-week work experience opportunity and grow talent from within. “It’s a bit silly if you preach the importance of hands-on experience but then don’t open the doors to recruitment into your own business, so we’re conscious of that and we now have a platform whereby we’ll bring those team members in, and then nurture them into senior therapists,” says Patel.
They have also been able to support the development of senior members of staff. “Krupesh and I are very passionate about our business and while there are only the two of us, we’ve been able to give the individual units more managerial support,” says Patel. For example, they recently promoted area manager Vicki Rhodes to oversee all eight sites under a new head of operations role. To support her, they promoted two branch managers to become junior managers across the portfolio, then appointed two new branch managers.
“It’s been a case of trying to develop and nurture our team and really help progression internally, rather than hiring externally; it’s more rewarding for our team members,” says Patel.
While the Patels are contemplating the idea of merging the two businesses, they first want to invest some time into Lavender & Stone to get to know the differences. After acquiring eight sites in just eight years, the next 12-18 months will be a consolidation period, where they will consider how the sites can operate together best. “I think 2020 is going to be a massive year,” says Patel. “But we want to get this right for our customers and get these branches working to their optimal potential before we consider pushing forward even more.” PB
Krupesh and Vikee Patel purchase their first site, The Cove Spa, St Albans, and begin seeking other branches
They acquire and rebrand their second branch in Hitchin
Add their third branch to the portfolio in Chiswick, which has a wellbeing centre with a range of holistic therapies
Open a fourth site in North Finchley
Acquire Lavender & Stone’s four sites across Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and restructure the team across all eight sites