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Avani Day Spa and Yoga Studio in Hastings, Nebraska is not something people expect to find in a town of 25,000.
Started by Elizabeth (Liz) Israel-Hartmann and Chelsie Wilson in 2011, this oasis on the plains offers holistic therapies such as massage, reflexology, acupuncture, aromatherapy and body treatments.
Avani stands out among spas in central Nebraska by not only offering bodywork, but by also operating as the only yoga studio in Hastings. The vinyasa-based studio offers classes every day for the novice, casual or advanced yogi.
Owners Liz and Chelsie shared space prior to becoming business partners. They followed typical protocol for the massage therapy industry; renting out space to work and providing their own equipment, lotions, sheets and marketing. While that was the gold standard, it’s not something they thought functioned as well as it could.
"We would brainstorm and talk about what we had in mind for our careers and they were almost exactly the same—wanting to create a wellness center for the community," said Chelsie. "So we decided that since we had the same ideas and got along, why wouldn't we become a team, rather than becoming each other’s competition."
They shared a passion for yoga and took their first yoga certification course together. As Liz recalls, "The yoga classes were a catalyst to extend our initial idea to the extent that we did, adding a full yoga studio to the spa."
Taking the advice of a friend, Liz and Chelsie sought the assistance of the Community Economic Development Clinic through Creighton University School of Law to draft their LLC and additional partnership agreements at no charge. They also used the help of a small business loan to get their project rolling.
Their dreams became a reality in July 2011 when they began writing their business plan. They found the space they currently use, 601 West Second Street, and began renovation. They converted what was once a bank, and then a grocery store, into a spa.
With the help of family and friends, numerous hours of scraping, painting, framing, laying new flooring, and decorating, work was completed by November of that year.
"We honestly wouldn't have been able to open that quickly without our strong client-base," said Chelsie. "I think that's why the transition was so fast and so easy."
As yoga instructors and massage therapists, Liz and Chelsie express their goals to serve the community and to help others not only feel better physically, but also mentally and spiritually.
Clientele at Avani varies. Sore athletes, business professionals who sit behind desks all day,
railroad workers and farmers—all flock to the healing touch Avani offers.
Halli Partridge is a Registered Nurse at the Wound Center at Mary Lanning Healthcare. She first started seeing Chelsie in 2007 while she was a massage therapist for the hospital.
"I followed Chelsie to Avani," Hallie said. "I love the fact that we have alternative therapies available to us. I'm a big advocate for holistic medicine."
Halli is a breast cancer survivor of 16 years. She said she gets massages at Avani to help relieve stress and alleviate pain from previous surgeries.
As licensed massage therapists, spa specialists, and estheticians, the "Avani girls," as their clients often refer to them, are extremely skilled at relieving the day-to-day stresses that affect their clients.
It is for that reason the majority of clients come to Avani for massages and end up getting hooked on the other services they offer, whether it's a Blissful Pedicure, Luxurious Facial or routine yoga practice.
"The people that work at Avani are wonderful and receptive. They are willing to identify what clients need even if [clients] don't know it themselves," Hallie said.
Tight shoulders, constant headaches and sciatica are common ailments massage therapy can help relieve; however, the long-lasting effects become added benefits.
Mindfulness is a recurrent goal at the studio. By increasing mindfulness and body awareness, they are helping the community's business leaders gain success.
"One of my clients is a prominent business person who has specifically told me getting his massages every two weeks has helped him in his life," said Liz. "He is calmer, more health conscious and kinder to people, which has helped him become more successful both personally and professionally."
Holistic therapies like massage, reflexology and acupuncture and/or a mindful yoga practice have a great impact on lowering blood pressure, releasing tension and stress, and improving sleep and cardiovascular health. In today's hustle and bustle world, Liz says, it's important to slow down.
Chelsie said clients become more aware of their bodies when they take care of themselves on a regular basis.
"Clients now notice when things don't feel right, whether it's a sore muscle or the effect stress has on them. When you're calmer, less stress is going to project to other people. Your professional life, your family life, and other relationships are all different. Those relationships are impacted by what you project."
When starting their company, Liz and Chelsie were mindful of their potential employees. They created an environment that is somewhat novel in the spa industry.
Generally, massage therapists, stylists and estheticians are employed as independent contractors. They can make their own hours and create their vision of each client’s experience. Liz and Chelsie realized they wanted more control when it came to the customer experience.
“We wanted to be able to control the atmosphere of our spa,” said Liz. “Usually therapists work independently and we wanted to shift the expectation—create a unique experience for our clients.”
Kim Pérez, LMT and assistant manager, has worked in the industry for 10 years, and says the business model at Avani is completely different from anywhere she has practiced massage.
She was self-employed, but worked in a salon, where she rented a space to practice massage therapy. With that model, Kim, like most massage therapists, managed her own clientele, marketing supplies and materials.
"They really are different in how they take care of their therapists. The massage therapists and spa specialists are the center of the business," Kim said. "Liz and Chelsie take care of their employees. You don't see that very often at other large spas."
Kim came into Avani with a strong client base, but with the assistance Avani gives their employees—marketing, providing a receptionist, supplies and tools, continuing education assistance and support—her schedule is full on a daily basis.
Pursuing growth was always in the plan for Avani, becoming the holistic health center for the community is still their goal. Each year they see more and more expansion possibilities.
They've gone from three LMTs and a spa specialist to eight LMTs, two licensed estheticians, a spa specialist, an acupuncturist, four certified yoga instructors and three receptionists.
"At Avani we're always progressing, always striving to improve in our field so we can help our clients with preventative care, not just fixing problems as they arise," Kim said. "They've done a really good job adjusting to the growth. They've added rooms, treatments, massage therapists and estheticians. We're carrying Aveda products now. They've done a good job at being flexible and taking on new challenges. They see how we can better the community and ourselves."
Cristal Kull, LMT, has also experienced the industry change curated by Avani. She practiced on her own for 8 years before coming to Avani. She has been in the industry for nearly 10 years and has seen the benefit of joining the "Avani girls."
"What Avani does for massage therapists is such a benefit," Cristal said. "To have to reconstruct your schedule a little to have all the benefits you get when you're an employee is minimal. It's completely worth it when you break down the cost of how much time you are saving and how much money was spent on the little things, alone."
She continued to emphasize how important it is at Avani to take care of the client and the employee.
As the company enters its fourth year in business, Liz and Chelsie say they wish to continue to grow, but keep the "fun, family vibe" they've created for both their clients and employees.
As Avani grows, the day spa and yoga studio continues to change the expectation in the community and spa industry—shifting the perspective of bodywork and self-care in central Nebraska.
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