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Anna Fill Interviews

Susan Harmsworth MBE - ESPA

Susan Harmsworth MBE agreed to talk with me openly and frankly about ESPA, her career, her ambitions and ideas... Speaking for an hour, I could have easily spoken with her for several hours more... Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Sue herself has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years. She admits that she is a risk taker and this has contributed to her success.

1. Looking back... When you created ESPA, has the vision for the business turned out how you planned?

I was 48 when I created ESPA. It was my third business. I had been in a similar industry for about 20 years, having run a health farm in the UK and created a Day Spa in the USA. The vision is very much as I wanted but what I didn't anticipate or could predict was the size of the market and scope of the business. We are now in 60 countries.



2. The ESPA brand has worldwide recognition. Why do you believe ESPA has been so successful?

We believe that ESPA has been so successful because it is a concept that crosses cultures. We have also been careful to choose the the right partners to work with. We are also leaders in design and we choose quality market positions. As a company, we always respect the local culture and employ therapists that are locally based. If we open a new ESPA in China, for example, we bring in managers from the West to help and demonstrate our philosophy. All our therapists are very passionate about what they do and that passion is what motivates a repeat business.

ESPA is a family business. Both my sons are key to the success of ESPA. One of my sons is the Managing Director and the other, Brand Director. We never promise more than we can deliver and believe in integrity and more important still, reputation.


3. In a forever changing and challenging world, what have been the greatest challenges? And has the global economic crisis had an impact on the business?

Definitely! One of the challenges was getting emerging markets to understand 'luxury' and how to build to a luxury standard. We had to become aware of how the spas were built especially in emerging markets.In 2008 when the crisis began, our growth levelled off and we had around 30 projects put on hold. The recession hit everyone right across the board and the spa market, considered a luxury market, was hit.

We had to take a look at how we were operating and restructure. One of the first things we had to consider, especially with our therapists who are naturally caring beings, was to teach them about being commercially aware. Time versus money, for example and to pull out all the stops. Resorts on general were suffering, so we had to look at other ways of capturing clients by bringing in a new energy.


4. As more and more women become self-made and independent, have you seen a greater demand by women seeking to maintain their youth, and embracing wellness?

This differs in cultures but it is a market that is evolving and growing. I believe women are looking at 'how' they live their lives. They are living longer and want to be healthier, so the number one priority is prevention rather than cure. Women have shown a greater interest in detox treatments and having a personal programme adapted for their lifestyle, such as one we have, the ESPA Life Wellness Programme, which is a bespoke concept that brings together a team of professionals working to improve and enhance a better quality life. Women need this, especially as in today's world many are juggling a demanding career and family life.

After 10 years beauty programmes are back in the Spa and 20 - 30% of our market with women is facials. I agree that ageing issues are important but it is better to look at lifestyle as a whole. Although a beauty regime in place is beneficial for longterm health of the skin, I truly believe that stress management is the key to feeling good and looking good. At ESPA we look at educating our women about the types of treatments we offer and we always prefer the natural route.


5. Throughout your career, what have been the highlights?

Without a doubt, building an amazing team. There are 50 people at Head Office that have stayed with me for over 15 years. Building the factory where we produce our own cosmetics, researching and working with bio chemists to develop the best eco products possible.

In 2010 I was awarded an MBE for sevices to the Spa and Beauty Industry. Meeting the Queen of England was a proud moment for me, very humbling. I must be honest, when I first received the letter, I almost discarded it not believeing it was for real.

Through ESPA we educate 3,000 therapists a year and do 3 to 4 million treatments a year and this I find very rewarding.

6. Do you still have goals and what are your ambitions for ESPA?

ESPA is a passion for me but I also have a passion for being healthy. I really believe in our ESPA Life programme because of the focus being on 'prevention' which includes reducing stress levels. We are working more and more with the medical world fusing it with wellness for optimal benefits. We have seen that globally people have the same physical and psychological issues and one of my goals is to raise awareness of 'integrative medicine'.

7. As a successful business woman, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a new enterprise?

Without a doubt you have to have passion and self belief. I did a lecture for a Business school on entrepreneurship, the theme 'Is it born or made?'. Entrepreneurship is born. You have to have the vision. When you create a business, the hard work never stops. It can be a lonely existence, so you have to be determined and have the will to succeed.

I believe in nurturing people and empowerment, so you have to be prepared to be taught the rights and wrongs in doing business.

Take on the 'redliner' approach and assume nothing. Always, always ask for advice.


I rounded up the interview with this most inspirational woman by asking how she unwinds when she does get the opportunity to have time away from ESPA... she tells me that she enjoys spending time with her family and being in the company of her friends. And for that valuable 'me' time, Susan enjoys to dedicate quality time with a personal trainer to help with the relax process.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013    Section: Anna Fill Interviews    Author: Anna Fill
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