Helping Cancer Survivors as a Spa Franchisee

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Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email

Julie Bulatovic became a franchisee relatively recently: she opened up her first Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa location in 2012. However, she is already spearheading new programs for the franchise. Bulatovic launched Hand & Stone Massage's "Embrace the Touch" program, which provides specially designed oncology treatments for cancer survivors and their family or caretakers.

Here's what drew Bulatovic to franchising with a special focus on health.

Helping Cancer Survivors as a Spa Franchisee

Julie Bulatovic
Image credit: Julie Bulatovic

Name: Julie Bulatovic

Franchise owned: Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa multi-unit owner in Cherry Creek, Colo. and Westminster, Colo.

How long have you owned a franchise?

We bought into the Hand & Stone system in 2011 and opened the doors of our first location in 2012.

Related: An Artist Opens Up Her Own Paint-and-Sip Franchise

Why franchising?

I decided to go with a franchise because of the brand recognition, the support and the systems in place to help you succeed. I am very passionate about the health and wellness industry, but to break into that without the help of Hand & Stone it might have taken me another four or five years of research just to get going.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

Before Hand & Stone, I was in the real estate development/construction industry for about 20 years.  I did everything from leasing properties, assisting in designing office buildings and tenant suites, hiring architects, contractors and working with attorneys and lenders. As a part of my leasing services I helped recruit physicians to join the staff at hospitals and help with tenancy in buildings.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I was working with health professionals and I always knew I wanted to stay in this industry. When I spoke to the founder, John Marco, I immediately put Hand & Stone at the top of my research list. Everything he’s put together here from a culture standpoint is something you don’t see too often. Also, the massage and spa industry is growing rapidly and I had the opportunity to open in, at the time, a relatively new market for Hand & Stone which was good from a development standpoint.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

For the first unit, the investment is around $300,000 depending on the size of the space. This includes all build out, equipment, franchise fee, grand opening advertising, working capital, deposits.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

We used FranNet in Denver initially to get information on franchises available. We didn't know much about the franchise industry before we started and they were extremely helpful. After that, I called a lot of the franchisees in the system to get firsthand information on their experiences with the brand. We also toured many of the spas to get a feel for the brand.

Related: Why I Left My Fast-Food Operations Job to Open a Franchise of My Own

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

It is a very different experience going from an employee to an employer. It really forces you to look at the business a different way.  We have 70 employees between the two locations and I had no real conception of what that may look like before we started really growing. At the end of the day, you have to be in charge of a lot of people. It is very rewarding, but definitely comes with its challenges.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

I look at franchises as having many benefits from an operations and system standpoint, but you also have the time and dedication to work hard and grow your business. Even the best franchises don’t just magically grow themselves; there’s a lot of work personally and professionally to have success. You also must have a great location and have amazing staff.

What’s next for you and your business?

We were the first spa in the system to spearhead the “Embrace the Touch” initiative for Hand & Stone. This is a program with specially designed, complimentary oncology treatments for cancer survivors and their family or caretakers. The healing process is not always easy and is a very emotional time, so our goal is to take care of two caretakers and two survivors each month so that we can help as many people in the community as possible. We’re really looking to help empower patients and caregivers with their own healing process to improve their quality of life.

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