Where does Blanche Macdonald Esthetics Graduate and medi spa owner Michelle St Denis get her incredible work ethic? Don’t expect a straight answer.
“It’s definitely challenging,” she smiles when the topic of her ambitious schedule arises. “I’m really busy. But if I ever have nothing to do I get so bored!”
Moments where Michelle is at a loose end are few and far between. Having only arrived in Canada from her native Vietnam in 2008, after graduating from Blanche Macdonald’s Esthetics program Michelle created, opened and began running ST Medi Laser and Skincare in downtown Vancouver. Business has been booming ever since. So much so, Michelle’s spent much of the past year swapping her esthetician’s uniform for a hard hat as she’s overseen a major renovation, taking over the property next door and more than doubling her medi spa’s square footage and facilities.
“We were so busy we needed the extra room,” she explains. “Before the expansion sometimes clients couldn’t sit down while they were waiting. I told the building’s owners what I was looking for. They asked me to wait, because the Domino’s Pizza that was there wasn’t going to have its lease renewed. The owners knew I was a good tenant. We were given the keys a year ago and have been working on it ever since. This extra space means we can see more clients and buy newer, bigger machines for more treatments.”
Your skin is the first impression you make on the world, so when people can see and feel the improvements they’re really happy. This is a business where you’re actually providing joy and happiness.
Michelle has a natural flair for expansion. She’d taken a spa therapy course in Vietnam before arriving in Vancouver and spent her first two years here studying business management. She was working as a doctor’s assistant at a laser clinic in Burnaby when she had the realization that this could be the business opportunity she was searching for.
“That job brought me a lot of happiness because I was helping clients with their skin. I needed to re-qualify myself to continue working here. I knew that Blanche Macdonald was the most famous school for training estheticians. I looked into it and saw that the program had so much more than the basics. My course in Vietnam was a six-month part time program. At Blanche I was school every day for year, and there was a lot of practical hands-on work. Students were learning about business, makeup and the skin at the same level as dermatologists. My teachers were really good and I liked the science of skincare. I still keep my books, my notes and even my exams from school. I have four big binders of notes at home. When I need to refresh my memory I’ll get them out!”
Suitably inspired, Michelle knew that she wanted to start a business of her own before she’d even graduated.
“It took a whole year after graduation before we opened ST Medi Laser and Skincare. I was looking for the perfect location and working on my business plan to get funds from the bank. Every day I would be searching Vancouver for spaces and perfecting the business plan.”
Blanche Macdonald was the most famous school for training estheticians. I looked into it and saw that the program had so much more than the basics.
“We opened four and a half years ago. This space used to be a medical clinic so we changed everything. I started the business as a traditional spa, concentrating on those relaxing treatments, and over time we changed into a medi spa.”
“The decision to focus on more medical treatments came from our clients. I would say that my clients are often very well travelled. I’m lucky because I can speak four languages. That gives me more opportunity to connect with clients. When they’d come to see me they would discuss their concerns and also tell me when they saw or heard about some new treatments. That got me interested in the new technologies they were telling me about. Clients now are so smart. It’s almost like they know more than we do.”
In order to provide medical treatments, a medi spa needs to operate under the direct instruction of a doctor. For a can-do entrepreneurial spirit like Michelle, making connections comes easy.
“Any time you’re looking at buying a new laser or machine, the manufacturers host a seminar. There are a lot of doctors at these seminars, which makes it the perfect opportunity to network. A lot of family doctors want to do something new, so they’re looking for medi spas to partner with too. Now we work closely with two doctors, along with three full time estheticians – two who are grads from Blanche Macdonald – and one receptionist.”
You can’t beat the moment when the client says, ‘Oh my god, I love it so much!.
That team offers a wide range of medical grade treatments, but even with the technological innovations available to her clients, Michelle insists that the traditional values and techniques of esthetics is at the heart of ST’s success.
“When I worked for the clinic in Burnaby they had Laser Technicians who weren’t Estheticians on their team. I believe it’s a six-month program to become a Laser Technician. They only know how to work the machines. If the client has questions about their skin, the Technician can’t answer. But when you have an esthetics background you’re able to combine the knowledge about working with lasers with the expertise about skin and how it will react to the treatment. It’s a better experience for the client. They’re more comfortable knowing I have this expertise. I can answer their skincare questions. Now clients call me if one of their family members develops a rash or get sunburned on vacation. ‘Michelle, what should we do?’”
“We’re doing mostly medical treatments now, but I still provide facials and traditional treatments for clients. There’s often a lot of post-treatment care after a laser treatment so clients will come in for facials.”
Of course Michelle is justifiably pleased with the financial success of ST Medi Laser and Skincare, but she’s equally proud of the difference her team is making in clients’ lives.
“We always take photos before and after the treatments. The client can see the improvements—and so can we. You can’t beat the moment when the client says, ‘Oh my god, I love it so much!’ Sometimes they’ll bring their whole family to see us. Your skin is the first impression you make on the world, so when people can see and feel the improvements they’re really happy. This is a business where you’re actually providing joy and happiness.”
I love hiring people who have just graduated from Blanche. They have the great training and it’s good they don’t have lots of experience from other spas and clinics.
As part of her Spa’s expansion, Michelle is already on the look out for estheticians to join her team. The first item on any dream candidate’s résumés is a diploma from Blanche Macdonald.
“I love hiring people who have just graduated from Blanche,” promises Michelle. “They have the great training and it’s good they don’t have lots of experience from other spas and clinics. Often in the past when I have hired estheticians with a lot of previous experience they’ve already picked up their own habits. I love it when they don’t have these bad habits and we can train them in our techniques and methodologies.”
Even though her management and overseeing roles keep Michelle busy, the most important part of her job remains those joyful moments of personal connection with clients.
“It’s exciting because I’m doing something different every day. There’s always part of the business that needs my attention but I’ll never stop giving treatments. I’m the most qualified member of the team!”