[Image: Denise Dubois]

For Denise Dubois, learning and growth are lifelong propositions. The owner and president of Complexions Spa for Beauty and Wellness, with locations in Albany and Saratoga, New York, started her business in 1987, three years after graduating from the Catherine Hinds Institute of Esthetics. As time went on, Dubois maintained a consistent pattern of positive re-evaluation and change that included facility expansions, increases in service offerings and, perhaps most notably, the ambitious decision to become Gold LEED-Certified. This goal was realized in 2008 when the rebuilt Albany spa became the first in the U.S. to achieve Gold LEED Certification for new construction.

But Dubois didn’t stop there. When medical spas began to blossom, she added “laser certified technician” and “certified dermatological skincare specialist” to her cosmetology and esthetics licenses, and served as a director of esthetics for a plastic surgery practice for six years. She’s also a CIDESCO international diplomat. Complexions received the Energy STAR Small Business and Congregations Award in 2008, was presented with a bronze plaque by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and has been consistently recognized as a consumer “best” in both regional and national publications.

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You might think that Dubois would be settling into “cruise control” mode by this point, but that’s clearly not the case. The drive behind her seemingly ceaseless, forward-leaning energy can be summed up in one word. “This is my passion,” she explains. “I’m an esthetician. Business coaches I’ve worked with throughout the years have told me to get out from behind the chair—and I probably should—but I absolutely still love to work with clients, some of whom have been with me since the beginning!”

On keeping up with industry changes: We started out as Complexions Professional Skin Care and the way we do our facials has evolved in line with advancements in products and tools. We’ve switched skincare companies a few times, plus having a med spa allows us to combine modalities to get optimal results. We treat the skin gently and persistently rather than aggressively.

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On the advice she’d like to offer other spa owners: Before you ask employees what their ‘why’ is, you have to understand your own. Ask yourself why you are in this business. That answer should be at the heart of every decision you make.

On staffing challenges: I love coaching and mentoring my team, and I have some employees who’ve been with me for over 20 years. But it can be challenging to find qualified help who is open to what the numbers are telling us. When your numbers aren’t strong you have to be open to determining why and then work on improving those skills. Service providers are usually passionate about nurturing, but there has to be a balance between passion, technical ability and business-building abilities. For client retention you have to not only hear the guests’ words but also understand them, and be able to recommend the appropriate routine. However, many service providers aren’t comfortable having that conversation because they feel they’re being salespeople—but what they’re really being is wellness coaches.

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On being eco-conscious: Getting LEED-Certified was quite an undertaking, but we did it because we felt it was only natural to provide wellness services in an environment that’s also good for people. I’ve never thought of our treatments as ‘pampering indulgences,’ and I hold on to the history of spas going back centuries: People went as part of their everyday health regimens. All our brands are environmentally friendly and made by mindful companies. Plus we partner with industry organizations that support this cause—we’re members of the Green Spa Network, for example.

On getting involved and giving back: I lost an uncle, to whom I was very close, to cancer, and as a result I became very active with the American Cancer Society. The ACS has a community support program called the HopeClub, where people undergoing cancer treatment or who are cancer survivors can go for comfort and information. We built a spa room inside the local HopeClub facility, where we offer complimentary services every quarter. We try to establish relationships with as many charities as we can.

On developing a leadership style: I’ve really worked hard at this over the years. I try to be a good listener and show my team we care about their growth. I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek, whose books include Why Leaders Eat Last (Portfolio, 2014). It references that old saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.’ It’s the same with a team: They have to want to listen and to follow, and as a leader you’re not going to accomplish that by being a dictator. When people say ‘no’ to you it’s usually because they don’t feel you’re being genuine, don’t believe in what you’re doing or they need more information. So it’s important to say to them, ‘Help me understand why,’ and then listen!

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