In many ways, it begins like any other spa business story: A young woman, afflicted for years with stubborn cystic acne, develops an interest in skin care. She attends beauty school, travels the world to learn about her craft, and eventually opens a business with not much more than some products, a bit of equipment, her own hands and a small space in which to use them.
As everyone knows, many such journeys stall out shortly after they begin. Others eventually fall victim to harsh economic downturns. But Veronica Barton-Schwartz, owner of Veronica Skin and Body Center in Southern California’s beach community of Malibu, has managed to beat the odds. Since her modest launch in 1981, Barton-Schwartz has transformed her business into a Malibu fixture, occupying 2,000 square feet of beachfront property, enlisting a staff of 14, and attracting some of the most discerning spa clients her side of the Mississippi. Barton-Schwartz’s day spa was even recently featured on TV’s syndicated entertainment news program Extra.
Her secret? There are several:
1) A laser-like and personal focus on skin health.
As a teen coming of age in the sun-worshipping 1960s, Barton-Schwartz was initially naïve as to the cause and effect of her acne. “We would just pile on the cocoa butter and mineral oil before we went out to get the best tan… who knew?!” she exclaims. Although the natural healing properties of sunlight and seawater helped reduce the breakouts, Barton-Schwartz experienced a relapse when her lifestyle changed. “Once I started having children, I didn't spend that much time surfing and out in the sun, and my skin got worse,” she says “After several dermatologist visits—and acne medication prescriptions—I knew this was not the answer.”
Barton-Schwartz found an alternative solution thanks to a French esthetician, who ultimately helped clear her skin via proper care and nutritional guidance. And as soon as her children were in school full-time, Barton-Schwartz went back to school herself, to get an esthetician’s license. “I took cosmetic chemistry and learned about how ingredients play a large part in skin health. I started helping friends and family with their skin problems, and finally opened a one-room skincare salon in Malibu. My children were still young, so I was open from nine to three so I could take them to school and pick them up.”
Barton-Schwartz didn’t advertise, and she didn’t have to. The residents of Malibu, still a small town in 1981, spread the word for her. After just one year in business, she couldn't keep up with the demand for facials, and had to hire fellow estheticians and provide additional treatment rooms. She knew at that point that her passion had turned into a business—but the word “spa” still hadn’t entered the picture.
“For me, ‘spa’ always meant where you go for therapeutic water treatments,” she explains. “I’d visited Terme di Montecatini in Italy and other spas in Europe that have thermal therapies, so the term meant something different from what it means today. At first I considered my business a skincare salon. Now after several years of being in business and adding body care services, yoga and tai chi, it has become Veronica Skin & Body Care Center.”
2) Proactive decision-making coupled with a nose for trends.
In 1987, Barton-Schwartz made a bold move. “I heard about a new building with a beautiful ocean view that was being constructed in Malibu,” she relates. “I knew who the architect was and, after seeing the plans, I knew the wellness center I had envisioned was about to happen.” Her timing came into the fore again when she added a medical spa area to meet the burgeoning demand for drastic results that surged in the mid-2000s.
“Staying on top of on new treatments, products and education has been important to keeping our business successful,” Barton-Schwartz acknowledges. Yet she never strays far from her core beliefs about total mind-body care. When yoga and tai chi became an important part of her life, she incorporated these disciplines into her business. “Adding yoga, tai chi and meditation completed the Veronica Malibu philosophy that to have healthy, glowing skin you have to treat the mind, body and spirit,” she says.
Like many business owners, Barton-Schwartz has found the economic conditions of the past several years to be the biggest challenge she has faced thus far. Here, yet again, a proactive approach has been key. “We’ve incorporated shorter treatment options and additional spa programs to help stimulate our spa business and counter the economic challenge,” she says.
3) An innate understanding of, and responsiveness to, clients’ needs.
Barton-Schwartz understands through personal experience that her clients’ desires to look and feel good needs to co-exist with their needs to be practical and responsible. “Our clientele has changed because people are taking better care of themselves. They are looking for ways to age gracefully and live a healthy lifestyle. With the economy as a catalyst, clients have become very aware of their priorities, and many of those who want to invest in beauty and wellness know that it requires a whole spectrum of healthy living, including skin care and exercise. They are beginning to understand that skin care isn't just a once-in-awhile pampering experience—it's a lifestyle choice. It's about overall wellness,” she explains. “So, we have increased the number of treatments to stay relevant to what our clients need, and that includes cosmeceuticals and shorter treatment options to accommodate their busy schedules.”
4) Indefatigable joy and passion for her mission.
Staff and clients of Veronica’s Skin and Body Center seem to have found a sustainable power source in Barton-Schwartz. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and the effects clearly start at the source—some of her employees have been with her for 25 years. “Building a successful team is the key to a spa’s success,” she says. Her leadership strategy is simple: “Inspire and motivate teamwork while supporting individual thinking.” The result is a highly functional, professional staff that thinks of itself as a family. Among their shared values is the business’s involvement with Operation Smile, an organization that sends plastic surgeons to third-world countries to treat children who suffer from facial deformities.
The truth is, Barton-Schwartz’s zeal for her work has only increased over the years. “My greatest reward is still helping people feel better about their skin issues,” says this DAYSPA Diamond Award winner. “Having had acne, I know how crippling it can be. Now I'm in my mid-sixties and I don't even want to do a facelift. With all the new technology, you can age gracefully without having to go under the knife. We're living in a wonderful time--skin care and the spa industry have never been so exciting!” —Linda Kossoff
Veronica Skin and Body Care
Size: 2,000 indoor square feet, plus outdoor areas for tea and beverages
Facility: 8 treatment rooms, yoga/tai chi studio, retail boutique
Staff: 4 estheticians, 1 acupuncturist, 2 endermologists, 4 yoga instructors, 1 tai chi master, receptionist, 1 medical associate
Products used/retailed: Clarisonic, Epicensial, Epicuren, Guinot, Jane Iredale, Revision Skincare, SkinCeuticals, Veronica Malibu SkinCare
Average service ticket: $120
Biggest revenue generators: Facials, LED treatments, Endermologie, acupuncture
Signature services: European Facial (60 min./$95), Red Carpet Facial (75 min./$300), Gold Stem Cell Facial (60 min./$300), Power Peel (40 min./$175), Endermologie (45 min./$100), Acupuncture Facelift (60 min./$95), Oxygen Facial (60 min./$200), LED Treatment (20 min./$125), Yoga/Tai Chi/Ballet Barre (60 min./prices vary)
Mission statement: "Skin care is a lifestyle choice and at Veronica’s, we believe everyone can have healthy, glowing skin if you treat the mind, body and spirit. From the ocean view to our highly trained staff, we use the most advanced treatments and only the highest quality products to make every visit a luxurious experience. We are committed to guiding our clients to recharge their inner spirits and overall well-being."