FSBDC Success Story – Lollipops Kids Spa – By: Jackie Aaron
Shannon Porter and her husband, Mark, walked into Julio Estremera’s office at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in April 2013 with a dream. One year later, that dream has become a profitable reality in the form of Lollipops Kids Spa, a Naples-based spa that caters to kids ages 3-13.
Porter’s idea to open a kids’ spa was sparked when she observed a similar concept while attending a birthday party with her daughter elsewhere in Florida. Excited by the concept, Porter did exhaustive research and discovered that kids’ spas were a new trend across the country; she also discovered that none existed in Southwest Florida. “I knew I had to jump on it sooner rather than later,” she says.
But where to begin? “The main reason I went to the SBDC was to get organized. I had this idea, but I was all over the place. I just did not know where to start,” says Porter. Through Googling, she discovered the SBDC and requested an appointment with a certified business analyst (CBA). Porter, her husband and Estremera met four days later on April 15, 2013.
“She wanted to put together a business plan, but needed guidance,” says Estremera, who has been a CBA at the SBDC for more than 14 years. To help Porter complete the business plan, he armed her with a business plan template, a business feasibility process outline, a sample business plan, and a budget worksheet. Estremera says his goal was to help Porter to organize her thoughts, identify the needs of her business and if financing was needed, and to determine if she qualified for financing.
“You can’t eat an elephant in one bite – it’s a little at a time,” says Porter. “Julio would say ‘fill this out and then come back and see me.’ ” She liked the homework-type assignments Estremera gave her because it made the start-up process more manageable and had a level of accountability, which worked well for her. Porter completed the business plan with Estremera’s guidance, and on Dec. 11, 2013, exactly eight months from requesting an appointment with the SBDC, Lollipops Kids Spa was open for business.
Lollipops offers traditional spa services to an untraditional clientele, namely those without a driver’s license. Young ladies are given a robe, spa sandals and a plastic champagne flute filled with pink lemonade as they await the most popular service for girls – manicures and pedicures. The boys tend to favor the haircuts, and still enjoy a refreshing lemonade. One of the most popular spa services is “Mommy & Me,” a package that offer manis and pedis for moms and daughters. And birthday parties are “huge,” adds Porter.
The decor inside is bright, fresh and youthful. Porter describes the build-out and design as a do-it-yourself job, accomplished on a tight budget. Her mom sewed the awning above the pedi station, her dad built the signature runway, and everyone painted – both furniture and walls. Painted script on the wall behind the mani/pedi table thoughtfully reminds clients: “Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle.”
Lollipops’ quick success certainly isn’t dulling Porter’s sparkle these days. “We’re well above monthly projections,” says Porter, adding that the monthly break-even goals were established with Estremera’s help and the financial exercises he had her work through. “We’ve been in the black since we opened,” she says, even after including salary for herself, and two full-time and two part-time employees. “I didn’t expect to make money in the first year,” says Porter.
Interest in Lollipops’ concept hasn’t just come from moms and grandparents in Southwest Florida. Porter says she’s received “several franchising requests,” but that there is a lot to be done before Lollipops gets to that point. She also hints at initial talks with a big corporation that may want to put the concept onsite, an opportunity that Porter went after with a phone call. “People are responding really well to the concept…thankfully, gratefully,” she says.
Porter says Estremera and the SBDC were instrumental to Lollipops’ success. In addition to the completion of the business plan, Porter credits Estremera with his guidance around licensing and permitting issues, what to look for in her lease agreement, and the proper filing of her business name. “It was through the unbelievable help and guidance of Julio Estremera and the SBDC at Florida Gulf Coast University [that we were able to open]. Every time we faced a challenge or a hurdle, the SBDC was there to guide us through the process,” she says. “It was a daunting and sometimes overwhelming experience to open our business, but one that has come with great satisfaction and reward.”