Leading with the Heart

Raleigh’s Blue Water Spa makes big-time giving look easy.

A family tradition: Owner Kile Law’s father-in-law formerly worked as an Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Driver.

After Kile Law, co-owner of Blue Water Spa in Raleigh, North Carolina, lost her mother in November of 2009, she knew she would need an outlet for her grief. “I just felt rotten,” says Law, “and I thought, ‘What can I do to make myself feel better?’” What she didn’t know was that her solution—launching a canned food drive to benefit the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle of North Carolina—would take her and the Blue Water team to new heights in their charitable work. Client donations poured in and, within a year, the Blue Water team had brought in 100,000 pounds of food. “It was successful beyond my wildest imagination,” Law says. And so Blue Water kept going, coming up with another 50,000 pounds of food for the Shuttle. On a charitable roll, the spa went on to other causes, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of nearby Wake County, for which they raised $100,000 in 2011.

Law is quick to credit her client base, which has consistently provided charitable donations since the spa first began lending aid to local non-profits—Blue Water currently supports upwards of a hundred of them—soon after it opened in 2003. However, some clever incentives have helped: “If the special is to get $30 off a laser service when you bring in 10 cans, we know some people who will go above and beyond,” Law says.

Faithful clients, committed employees, dogged dedication—what else makes a business this successful at giving? Law stresses the importance of feeling a connection and a passion for the cause. “Find something that has special meaning to you,” she advises. “Boys and Girls Club is very special to me, because it provides supervision and mentorship for young people between the time they’re out of school and their parents return in the evening. Those are the critical hours when children and teens can get into trouble. My brother and I were latchkey kids. Our mom was a single parent and teacher, so we had a lot of time on our own. As a young teen, my brother discovered drugs, and ended up on a path from which he was never able to turn back, and he died. I feel like if we had had a Boys and Girls Club, things could have been very different for him.”

DAYSPA: Blue Water Spa supports a long list of causes. How do you motivate staff to volunteer time and services to all these different groups?
There are so many rewarding things that go along with working in a spa. We’re improving clients’ lives and, additionally, we’re helping hungry children and people in need. So staff members frequently remind one another of the important work that we do. And we’re doing it every day. Plus we have clients who initially found us because we were affiliated with a particular charity or non-profit. It is very gratifying to get that response. Of course, some of our work doesn’t involve staffers, as when we donate gift certificates for a raffle or auction event.

Are you open to suggestions from clients as to what charities to benefit?
Our success is because of our clients, so if there is an organization that is close to a client’s heart we want to hear about it. So often we’ve heard really powerful stories from people with a personal experience that has affected their lives.

Let’s talk about the canned food drive. How did you manage to raise 100,000 pounds of food for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle of North Carolina?
We did it 10 cans at a time through generous donations from our clients. That’s what I’m proud of—we didn’t get a grant. We’re not a business with 3,000 employees that wrote a big check. We have 30 employees. And it was just a commitment, by staff and clients, to think about others. I wanted to raise awareness of the pervasive problem of hunger, and make people more cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of people who can use an extra hand. One extra can of food, or just a few, will make a difference.

How do you publicize these drives?
We tell our clients! And our clients tell their friends and then they tell their friends. Our staff is continually motivated, enthusiastic and generous as well, so they’re always letting people know about it. We also send out newsletters and put information on our website. We don’t have a marketing company working for us, but we are pretty well known as a company that gives. We have remarkable, loyal, giving clients. To be able to do this much is remarkable to me.

Do you think people come back because they know Blue Water gives to charity?
People choose their spa based on the level of service they get; I think there is no denying that. As much as people love what we do [for charities], they would not be coming back if our providers weren’t doing an exceptional job. Having said that, people are more inclined to reach into their wallet for themselves when they know that it also helps someone else. I think that helps justify spending.

What would you like to tell other spas about starting or stepping up charitable efforts?
You look at these numbers—100,000 pounds of food one year, $100,000 [for the Boys and Girls Club] the next year—we did this $10 at a time and 10 cans at a time. Any contribution is significant. The goal does not have to be huge; any contribution you can make is great, and then just see where it goes from there.


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