By Narelle Coulter
In meetings with male CEOs Melanie Gleeson, the founder of Endota Spa, will sometimes cheekily ask them how many loads of washing they put on at home before attending the meeting.
The answer, unsurprisingly, is usually none.
“I ask that question not to be obnoxious but just to get them thinking ’oh, I didn’t do any’. I had to do all that and get here( to the meeting). “
Ms Gleeson used the point to illustrate the difference experiences of men and their female colleagues, most of who are torn between their paid work and their unpaid caring duties at home and not feeling they are “giving 100 per cent to either“.
Ms Gleeson, a married mother of two boys, was guest speaker at the fourth annual Casey Cardinia Region Women’s Business Lunch on Friday 10 August.
More than 350 women, and a sprinkling of men, listened to Ms Gleeson’s inspirational story of turning $5000 on a credit card into a business which today employs over 1000 people and turns over $60 million.
“When I started Endota in 2000 one of the main drivers was to create spaces or havens where people could come to have some time, especially women because we do so much,“ Ms Gleeson said.
“We really need to take time to stop and recalibrate because we cannot keep giving and giving and giving when we are not filled up ourselves.
“In that process of being mothers and wives and daughters, and it’s the same for the blokes in room, we sometimes forget who we are, what makes us happy and what is really important.“
Ms Gleeson said Endota was born “out of a love for making people feel better“.
“Long before I had Endota, somewhere in my subconscious I understood the power of healing and touch and energy transference and what that means.“
When Ms Gleeson embarked on her Endota journey the spa industry in Australia was “very small“ and little understood.
“There were only four or five spas in Australia at the time. I was working in one and I would notice that people would rush in and their shoulders would be up here,“ she said, drawing her shoulders up beside her ears.
“45 minutes after treatment this would happen,“ she said, slowly lowering her shoulders.
“There was a physical change as well as an emotional change that came from slowing down and taking some time. I wanted to be able to take that feeling to more people.“
Ms Gleeson and her then business partner were 26 with “ no idea of what it meant to open your own business“.
They attended as many networking events as they could and walked kilometres leaflet dropping trying spread word about their vision.
The permit for their first salon on the Mornington Peninsula was knocked back by the local council because objectors thought it was a brothel.
“Fast forward 18 years and wellness is big business,“ Ms Gleeson said.
“Endota is not a beauty business, it’s a wellness business. We slow people down, we give them care and time and that’s really really important.“
Endota as a business really took off when Ms Gleeson and her partner decided to franchise the concept and “thank goodness we did“.
Today there are 110 salons across Australia owned by individual business owners who are part of the Endota “network“.
“I’ve been able to work with amazing business owners, the majority of who are women, but who share our values and have invested heavily in the Endota brand,“ Ms Gleeson said.
“There is nothing better in your local community than when you have a local business owner who lives and works in the community and cares for that community. That is what has helped build the Endota brand to where we are today.“
She acknowledged some negative publicity Endota received during the recent federal government inquiry into the effectiveness of the Franchising Code. She welcomed the inquiry as a “good thing“ which had to happen.
She said franchising was like running a small business and “what you get out is what you put in“.
“The inquiry is a great thing. Every day it reminds everyone to do business the right way“.
She said shared values were central to franchising success as was consistency.
“The upsides of franchising as a business model have been amazing. A lot (of Endota franchisees) are multi-site owners. They nurture and care for their team. We also build pathways for our team so not only can therapists become managers, but they can go on to build their own spas.“
She outlined Endota’s growth plans including new product ranges for babies and menopausal women, wellness colleges in Canberra and Docklands and a wellness hotel in Byron Bay.
Ms Gleeson said she had learnt a lot about herself during her business journey. She described her stamina and resilience, how she enjoys change and surrounds herself with “amazing people“.
She said she had also learnt that vulnerability is not a weakness.
“I cry and meetings, I laugh at meetings and sometimes I get strange looks because of that. I think we are moving away from masculine values to get a better balance with feminine values. We are being more collaborative in our organisations, communicating better. We are starting to understand vulnerability is certainly not a weakness.“
A donation from the lunch was made to the Marnin Women’s Resource Centre in Western Australia.