DAVID KRECHEVSKY, The Republican-American of Waterbury
WATERBURY, Conn. — If Willy Wonka had concocted cosmetics instead of candy, he would have created Sundae Spa.
He didn’t. So Kimberly Swan did.
Swan, a Wolcott resident and former high school science teacher, has created a family day spa “where kids can come to make sweet treats while learning, looking good and having fun.” The candy man couldn’t have said it better.
When it opens Sept. 4, Sundae Spa, at 2457 East Main St., will offer traditional haircuts, manicures and pedicures for children, but with a twist. The kids will be able to make their own organic, skin-safe shampoos, soaps and Bath Scoops, which when dropped in water create colorful fizz or bubbles and come in a variety of “flavors” — from chocolate and vanilla to Fruit Loops. They can also make their own nail polish and lip balm, or dig into EscenTool Discovery soaps to find dinosaur “bones,” gems or charms, or make bottles of scented “slime” or soap crystal “sand art.” In the process, they’ll learn scientific principles like diffusion and osmosis, or discuss topics like geology and archaeology, without even realizing they’re doing it.
And when they’re done, they can make their own ice cream sundaes.
For Swan, the spa is the culmination of an idea sparked by a disappointing outing she took a few years ago with her seven daughters to a spa in Pennsylvania. That spa billed itself as family friendly, but really wasn’t. During the three-hour drive back home, she and her dejected daughters discussed what a true family spa should be. The vision of Sundae Spa emerged.
Achieving that vision in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, however, has taken a tremendous amount of research, determination and perseverance. It also required Swan to convince her husband, Ron — who with his father, Ron, owns Swan Electric in Wolcott — that they should gamble the family home on Sundae Spa’s success.
“I spent the last two years looking for investors,” Swan said last week as she worked with family to complete her shop’s brightly colored interior. “Everybody liked the idea, but nobody wanted to invest the money into a business that had never been done. So we decided to put the house on the line.”
Ginne-Ray Clay, director of the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, said Swan is more fortunate than many budding small business owners because she had the ability to refinance her mortgage to fund her business.
“Startups are very difficult to get money for,” Clay said. “The bankers I have spoken to say they need to have that history, need to have some numbers to go by. The projections don’t turn them on.”
Charlotte Cilley, an SBDC business development adviser who worked with Swan over the past two years, said fledgling businesses have poor track records.
“Startups have such a high failure rate that lenders are very reluctant to lend,” she said. “Kim is fortunate she’s in a position that she’s able to do that.”
Cilley worked with Swan to develop a business plan, something often overlooked by novice business owners, she said.
“It’s one thing to believe in your concept, but it’s another to spend time on developing the business plan,” she said. “Too often, I see people who will get others to write the plan for them. … Kim wrote her own plan. She developed it, and in doing so it helped her understand how she was going to make it a reality. She thought through every aspect of this business.”
Cilley said she developed a deep respect for Swan, because she didn’t flinch at the tough questions.
“She welcomes my challenges,” Cilley said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get questioned on something you want to believe in. But you have to give thought to these questions to give yourself a better chance to be successful.”
As a result, Cilley believes Sundae Spa can be the success Swan envisions.
“I believe that Kim has done the time and done the research and understands the market so well,” she said. “Her drive and confidence in this business, I think those have a lot to do with what looks to be a very successful grand opening for her.”
It helps that Kim isn’t the only Swan invested in this project. Her husband and father-in-law have done most of the construction at the shop, with help from Ron’s brother Scott. And given their roles in the birth of Sundae Spa, it’s no surprise the Swan daughters have roles in the shop as well.
According to mom, Kalie, 23, will assist in day-to-day operations; Tiffany, 22, is a licensed cosmetologist, while Marguerite, 19, and Rebecca, 17, are both also studying cosmetology. Brianna, 18, also will lend a hand.
Even the youngest children — Shania, 12, and Charlie, 11 — did their part, serving as test subjects for some of mom’s early Bath Scoop experiments.
“When I first started developing them, I was told to try cake colorings,” Swan said. “They colored the water, but they also turned my kids colors too. It got to the point where they wouldn’t take baths anymore.” She has since found a safe coloring agent that won’t stain tubs or kids.
As with her daughters, Sundae Spa is a labor of love for Swan. She spent more than a year creating the products and spa offerings, then launched a website last year. Now that she has her shop, she’s hired 12 people — including licensed cosmetologists and certified aestheticians — and has made it clear to them this is a family business.
“Nobody has ever brought everything together and made it a place for kids,” she said of the part-spa, part-classroom concept, which she hopes will eventually attract school field trips. “To bring the whole concept together and make it an experience for kids is new.”
Call that her Wonka vision.