Real Career Girls CEO Spotlight: Annbeth Eschbach, Exhale Spa
Find some invaluable wisdom on entrepreneurship and how to successfully juggle it all from Real Career Girl – Annbeth Eschbach, founder of Exhale Spa.
We spoke with lifestyle magnate Annbeth Eschbach, founder of Exhale Spa. After graduating from Northwestern University, Annbeth pursued a master’s degree in Business Administration from NYU’s Stern School of Business. In addition to her all-consuming post as CEO of Exhale, she has also served as President of the Board of Directors of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Here, you’ll find some invaluable wisdom from her on entrepreneurship and how to successfully juggle it all.
1. It seems your brand is rooted in the core belief of work / life balance. How important is this to a successful career, and how do you do it? Do you have any advice for women trying to achieve this equilibrium?
Work life balance is extremely personal and unique to each of us. For some, taking time off is stressful. For others, being reachable 24/7 is stressful. I believe it is critical to create the right structure and environment that will foster personal and organizational success. And to me, that means sorting out what the brand and Company needs to be successful, and structuring the organization, business practices, and culture to address those needs. It also means sorting out my personal and home life in a way that sets me up to do what I have to do.
In order for Exhale to thrive, we decided when we founded Exhale that we need people that are first and foremost talented and capable, but that is just the first cut. In order for someone to be a good cultural fit, they need to be engaged, passionate, soulful, a team player, and have a very high work ethic. If that set of attributes, and expectations would create stress for you, disrupt your personal balance, then you would be miserable at exhale and this is not a great fit.
For others, who thrive in a high energy, high work ethic, and high achievement culture, Exhale is a rewarding, fulfilling environment and career. Not sure I can provide advice for others. What works for me is I do not expect to have on-going equilibrium – there are just lots of moving parts and ups and down. I have four things to balance—and one is sure to be out of balance at any one time. I accept that, and it makes me calmer. I also constantly remind myself how grateful I am for the things that are in balance.
2. You’re your own boss. how do you collect feedback so you can constantly self-improve, even in a leadership position?
I report to a board and receive feedback from them from time to time. I am also pretty introspective and question my actions and decisions at every turn. But the major source of feedback comes from my senior team, and I am pretty comfortable that I know when I am failing or thriving or need some re-tooling. We truly live by a set of mantras, several of which rule our interactions, keep me humble and inspire me:
We are fully committed to the success of our company and each other.
We speak with integrity.
We operate only from positive energy.
We are passionate about expanding our expertise.
We are constantly evolving and embracing change.
3. What’s your favorite Exhale class?
Core fusion barre and Core fusion yoga
4. How do you unwind (when not working out)?
We go to Shelter Island on weekends, where we have a home in Dering Harbor. It is the most peaceful, low key, natural, and uplifting place in the world—the antidote to New York City.
5. Looking back, since founding the company in 2002, what has been your biggest challenge in building your business?
After opening our first 6 spa and fitness boutiques, in NYC, Boston, Dallas, and Chicago -the world changed and the winds shifted. Everyone in the industry was put to the test in the economic downturn, and it was that period when we learned that we had something pretty special. At a time when many spas were contracting, shutting, and the luxury spa sector was heavily hurt, Exhale was recruited heavily by developers of hospitality residential projects that needed the brand + programs to drive rev par, occupancy and sell residential product.
This allowed us to more than double the size of our company – funded entirely by developers. From 2007 to 2012 we opened 11 boutiques in partnership with developers that viewed Exhale NOT as an amenity but a central component because of the brands ability to positively influence the economics of the project and drive incremental business.
6. Biggest milestones?
1. After opening our third boutique in 2005, Exhale was named one of top ten brand stories in the market place by Fast Company alongside Apple, Kimpton and Southwest Airlines.
2. Being selected by American Express to open in their Centurion Club Lounges at DFW and MIA.
7. After your MBA, you worked in the fitness industry. what gaps did you see in the market that you thought Exhale would fill?
When we started Exhale the fitness and spa marketplace looked very different than it does today–the space was littered with beauty and pampering day spas, health clubs that offered “group fitness” and yoga studios. We believed then, that the fitness and spa world needed to move in another direction.
We passionately believed that what the world needed did not exist- A modern space in urban markets offering boutique fitness and spa, and a brand + experience that would deliver the kinds of powerful life changing results that are achieved at destination spas — without having to travel from home and disconnect from your daily life.
Exhale was the first concept to break away from the traditional spa and gym orientation to create a new paradigm –integrating mind body spa + boutique fitness class programs under one roof. Exhale was conceived as a lifestyle brand – not a luxury, never as an amenity, but an everyday experience.
Since inception, Exhale has grown from passion, vapor and vision to a leading well-being brand in a really hot industry with 27 operating boutiques in 11 markets, 2,000 associates, dozens of proprietary core fusion barre fitness class programs, and award winning spa therapies, and a growing following with an emotional energetic and social connection to the Exhale brand.
8. Do you find you have to constantly reevaluate your business model so it fits different markets? if so, how? for instance, i see you are expanding into places like the Caribbean, which likely have different clientele.
Exhale began as an urban experience …. but now that we have opened in resort and hotel properties, our guests follow us from NYC + Boston to T+C, Miami, and Santa Monica – and soon Bermuda – so Exhale has now become a destination as well as an urban everyday brand.
9. What have you learned on this journey that you wish a mentor would have told you when founding your own business?
1. Trust your instincts
2. Learn how to find your own mojo when your well is dry
3. Avoid insecure, competitive, toxic people
4. Play by the same rules you expect everyone in your organization to play by
5. Do not play by anyone else’s rules in your industry—play your OWN game.