SpaSeekers owner Jason Goldberg speaks to Compelo reporter Dorothy Musariri on how the family business went from working out of his garage to building one of the the UK's top spa booking agencies with a £10m turnover and more than 75,000 bookings
Three decades ago, the idea of visiting a spa would have suggested a trip to an ancient Roman and Greek bath rather than of a day being pampered with massages and facials.
Back in the Eighties, the modern wellness retreat concept was known as a health farm and they were few and far between – with a fairly exclusive target market.
But that didn’t deter Jason Goldberg and his family from identifying the sector’s potential and they set the wheels in motion for SpaSeekers.com, an online booking platform that facilitated relaxation escapes for 75,000 people last year alone.
Director Jason, who was 17 when it was set up in July 1989, recalls how the business idea grew from his mum’s suggestion of going to a health farm.
“This was obviously years and years before the internet and there was no information on health farms, in terms of costs, locations and facilities,” he says.
“At that point, I wasn’t going to realise my dream of being a professional golfer.
“I was in a bit of limbo and we kind of found a gap in the market for people who wanted to go into health farms.
“In those days, they were for more affluent people and those who wanted to lose weight, and that was how it started.
“We went to visit all the health farms in the UK and they were only 12 at the time – but we learned from them.”
Starting from a corner in the garage
Originally known as Healthy Venues, the company operated as a free central reservations and unbiased advice service for UK health farms.
Far removed from the glamour of the locations they were connecting with guests, the Goldbergs ran the country’s first ever spa booking agency from the back of their garage.
Its mission was to make spa breaks more accessible to a mass audience, which it reached through advertising in selected magazines that tallied with the company’s demographic, including Good Housekeeping, Vogue, and Health and Fitness.
Jason originally owned the company with his parents Stan and Judy Goldberg but they are no longer involved, and he took over in November 2013.
During their partnership, it was an education on both sides of the age divide.
He says: “My dad had ideas but he wasn’t much of a people person. There were certainly some challenges along the way.
“My parents were a different age group and less willing to take risks.
“I had to do a lot of encouraging my parents the internet was going to stay.”
The company’s Nineties investment in print media coincided with the launch of The Beauty Therapist Bible, which became a successful national magazine containing spa-related job vacancies.
It was later sold to publishing company Professional Beauty so the company could put all its focus on the core business.
Joining the digital revolution
With the birth of the digital age in the mid-Nineties, Health Venues launched its website and re-branded to SpaSeekers.com in 2003.
The agency’s portfolio has grown to more than 500 spa venues nationwide, including award-winning venues, making it one of the UK’s biggest spa booking agencies with a turnover of almost £10m last year.
“From the original 12 we’ve got almost 500 spas with leading locations, with fantastic settings and a whole collection of day and night packages,” says Jason.
Since taking full ownership, Jason has also moved SpaSeekers into a £1.2m office in Coventry, which has more space for its 22 employees and leaves room for expansion.
The company, whose main goal is to be recognised as the UK’s number one booking agency for spa breaks, is currently working on continuing to grow its online exposure and presence.
As part of its digital strategy, SpaSeekers launched a “best price guaranteed” scheme.
It makes booking health spas easier by giving users the best deals available for the dates and locations they want – allowing them to book instantly, while saving money and time.
Jason says: “We are always trying to improve the booking process with everyone’s busy lives.
“Ideally, someone lands on our website and within a few clicks they can find exactly what they’re looking for.
“Again, we are just trying to evolve and align our business with user expectation.”
SpaSeekers aims to stay in front
While competition in the market rises with the popularity of the spa experience, Jason contends he isn’t worried because his company “got here first”.
“We are probably the leader in the UK,” he claims.
“A lot of our competitors are behind us as we were the first booking agency back in 1989.
“We’ve led the way with our website and we found our competitors copy us.
“We then make more of an effort to move on and do something more innovative just to keep on raising the bar”.
Its continued success and healthy market share can be measured by the fact SpaSeekers grew its turnover from £2.5m in 2014 to almost £10m in 2018.
Jason says: “We do have to maintain that growth and going forward we’ve got a long way to go with plenty to accomplish.
“I don’t think I have an end goal or end of journey point. We just have to keep growing the business and growing market shares – we are only touching the tip of the iceberg.”
This year is set to be another huge and notable one for Jason and his SpaSeekers team.
And although he’d like his booking agency to eventually go global, he isn’t in a hurry.
“There is room for expansion, but we have still got an awful lot to accomplish in the UK,” Jason adds.
“We are still very busy and we are still in a big period of growth.
“We don’t want to take our eye off the ball and we don’t want to start concentrating on Europe when there’s still much more to achieve in the UK.”