Spa guru Debbie Townes opens Home away from Home

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While some may claim there is an economic recession going on, the Home Spa in Carroll Gardens doesn’t seem to be feeling the pinch.

Owner Debbie Townes opened her second location, Home Spa Annex, on Jan. 17, at Court and Huntington streets. The new location beckons clients down Court Street with its Tiffany blue sign. Clients will appreciate the annex’s spacious waiting area replete with a cozy, homey fireplace, couch, chairs and exposed wood-beam ceiling. In the rear of the converted apartment are two candlelit, aromatic preparation rooms.

Townes says the biggest difference between the two locations is that her small Jack Russell terrier, Cookie, will continue to only greet the clients at her original location, on Court Street at Degraw Street.

The new spa is active just servicing the overflow clients of the first locale (and from new clients living in the apartment building directly across the street).

"Surviving off the crumbs of the mama spa," Townes is pleased with the new location, and attributes her Home Spa success to the community’s appreciation of the types of products they use ("not a lot of chemicals and the ones we do are non-toxic") and to a staff that’s dedicated to helping the client, "not chasing down the dollar."

Harry Paul, who collaborated with Townes in bringing Home Spa services to his Victorian bed and breakfast two years ago described Townes’ management style: "I would say that she expects people to almost be self-managed. You give an employee a position, you explain, and you expect them to take initiative and work as a team. We had several conversations about how we manage, and that was important to us as we began her partnership. She held true to that style.

"And when an employee’s down we believe someone else should step in to help because the bottom line is customer service and quality of product," said Paul.

Both the Home Spa, going into its fifth year, and the Home Spa Annex have different phone numbers and managers so clients can pick whichever location they prefer. The staff is interchangeable, so a client with a preferred aesthetician can request that person in either spa.

The annex has one massage room and one facial room, while the original Home Spa has four treatment rooms.

The product

Recommended winter treatments, available at both locations, such as the hot stone massage and nourishing facial, put the emphasis on low-tech, high-potency remedies. In a hot stone massage, the smooth, heated stones "iron out the tense muscles that have been contracting away from the cold weather," says Townes. "The stone massage melts the muscles like butter with a deep, nurturing heat," she adds.

When performing the Home Spa nourishing facial for dehydrated skin, Townes explains that her aestheticians will examine the client’s skin and, depending on their needs, may just apply heated, wet towels around the face - rather than the ubiquitous day spa steam machine - to relax pores before extractions.

"The steam machine can just make the pores wet, and not encourage the pores to relax as efficiently as the towels," explains Townes.

She eschews treatments such as glycolic peels, because although they are lucrative for a spa proprietor, "they turn skin to leather, taking away the top layers of skin, which you need, leaving the eye area wrinkly."

"We operate out of respect for the skin and body," she says.

Home Spa offers a menu of treatments for every skin type, and every skin color, for men, women and kids, too.

"Some of our best clients are teenagers," says Townes. "They have issues and we show them how to take care of their skin and breakouts. It can be painful and traumatic for them. Often their mothers request their appointments because they won’t listen to them, but they’ll listen to us."

The future

Townes’ brand is bearing yet more fruit. The Home Spa Shop, a retail store at Bergen and Smith streets, carries her Home Spa line of products and she is looking to open a third spa - and resort - in Costa Rica by the end of the year. At her Costa Rica spa, Townes says she’ll experiment with "big, old banana leaves instead of towels" in her facials and make use of the local fruits in her menu of facial and body treatments.

Townes insists she doesn’t have a business plan and didn’t plan to triple the number of spas she owns in one year. She says she is often stunned when friends come to her with new business opportunities like the space at 532 Court St. at Huntington Street.

"I don’t plan it," she says. "I just have incredible faith in the universe."

She notes that she is a Virgo "and I want things organized" but Townes doesn’t wear a watch and she frequently asks the staff what day it is. She says she "lives in the moment, like Cookie." She laughs often, going off into comic tangents, and is self deprecating, yet passionate about her business. She is also impossibly thin and has a perfect complexion (of course).

In addition to her burgeoning business, Townes, 39, is a single mom with a "latch-key dog Cookie" and a 16-year-old son who is currently studying abroad in Spain. (Townes said he is excited about his Spanish being put to work at her new spa this summer.)

In addition to her planned spa-resort in Costa Rica, Townes is dreaming of starting a Home Spa school in Brooklyn. She promises a holistic-based curriculum with small classes that will "empower" her students, calling it the "Andover of aesthetics."

Taking risks

However, not every Home Spa venture is a success story. Townes’ short-lived association with Paul’s Baisley House Bed and Breakfast at Hoyt and Union streets wrapped after just six months.

Paul opened his bed and breakfast to Home Spa treatments, and the two created specially priced packages.

"The combination of B&B and spa can be quite successful," Paul told GO Brooklyn. "In California they have quite a few, and in Europe there are many that operate under the same idea." Paul said that their collaboration ran out of steam after Townes ran into a staffing shortage when several of her employees had medical emergencies.

"The quality of her services is quite good," said Paul. "But she became short-staffed and she had to pull her therapists from here."

"Then came the summer, a slow time for spas in particular," said Paul. "Then in September 2001, with all the craziness that ensued, business stayed down, and [the partnership] just dissipated into nothingness. It was beyond one’s control.

"But all the people we did have here loved [the spa services]," said Paul, noting that expanding and growing a business means taking risks. He believes Townes’ annex location is a smart move.

"There are risks involved in business, and sometimes you have to choose to expend funds when times are down. You have to look futuristically to ensure that business will be successful when business returns. You have to take educated risks.

"For her [the annex] was a perfect space for a down economy," said Paul. "And they’re close enough so she can be around both. When you have a small business, you have to be a hands-on person."

But Townes says that even when she fails, she has the satisfaction of knowing she was doing the best job she could. She refuses to dwell on the pain of a defeat. With a laugh, she declares, "I just kick a bad idea to the curb and move on."

For more information about the Home Spa and Home Spa Annex see the Spa Directory.

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