finance

How Melanie Gleeson turned $5000 on a credit card into a business turning over $60 million.

At a time when a new organic juice company seems to pop up almost daily, Endota Spas’ holistic approach to beauty and relaxation mightn’t seem that ground-breaking, let alone revolutionary.

But almost two decades ago, when then 26-year-old entrepreneur Melanie Gleeson decided to open one Endota Spa in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, her “wellbeing-focused” beauty business filled a big, gaping hole in the market – one that the Founder and CEO didn’t even realise she was about to close.

Seventeen years after quitting her job as a spa manager to embark on her own business, Gleeson has grown that single spa into 100 around the country, making it the biggest spa network in Australia.

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“It was less about a ‘gap in the market’ and more fuelled by my personal beliefs and what I loved,” Gleeson explained.

“While now the consciousness has changed and people are definitely more accepting of wellness as a movement, it had always been part of my existence so I was just doing more of what I loved and I just wanted people to feel good.”

The fact that Gleeson’s network of spas now turns over around $60 million is glaring proof that people are, in fact, feeling very good about what Endota Spas are providing.

Rewind 17 years and success wasn’t so set in stone for the 42-year-old entrepreneur.

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“When I left [to open my first Endota Spa], I had a credit card with about $5000 on it and I had a loan from my husband (who wasn’t my husband back then) and my parents helped out. My first ‘front desk’ was a Christmas present, an antique table which I’ve actually still got,” Gleeson recalls.

As a determined twenty-something, she felt she had nothing to lose and had the right mix of naivety and confidence that helps you dive in and take risks.

So what were the secret herbs and spices used by that young ambitious woman to help propel Endota to the point where its therapists now perform over 600,000 treatments every year?

Gleeson says it’s down to how approachable and personalised the treatments offered are. 

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“In the beginning there were a couple of spas in Australia, but they were super luxurious and almost intimidating to walk into, and so, part of creating Endota was to make it more accessible and friendly and welcoming so that anybody felt comfortable walking in. That has carried through in the spaces we create to the treatments we offer,” she explained.

“I was at our training school yesterday and I was asked a group of therapists why they got into the industry and their answers were the same as mine – to make people feel better. So you’ve definitely got a group of women (and men) who love to nurture others.”

Zoe Foster Blake’s best beauty advice for the time-poor woman. Post continues after audio.

The business now employs 1000 people. 90 per cent of them are women.

“Women are so good at juggling and we’re good at understanding the needs of people. The majority of our clients are women and so we share an affinity with them, our staff can give empathy and understand what’s required to make them feel good,” Gleeson explains.

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Juggling approximately 274 balls is something Gleeson, mother of two boys, could write a manual on, and her approach to the “how do you achieve work life balance?” question is refreshing:

“I hate the term work life balance. It doesn’t exist but I think balance exists. So for me it’s about working out what I need in every area of my life so that I’m happy and fulfilled. So I look at what I’m doing for myself, what I’m doing for my family, what I’m doing for my community and what I’m doing for my spirituality. So if I can hit, through various things, all of my happy points, that makes me feel more balanced,” she says.

“So that – and a big support crew [laughs].”

Gleeson speaks enthusiastically about the business’s product range (they currently offer the Endota Spa Organics, New Age and Colour ranges in store and online), but one can’t help but wonder what treatments a spa chain founder asks for when she desperately needs some ‘me time’.

“I’m loving our new New Age Light Therapy Facial, absolutely love it. And I can’t go past the Deep Recovery Massage.”

To read more from Edwina Carr Barraclough, you can follow her on Facebook here.

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