Wright Mobile Spa has an enticing sales pitch: all the comforts of a spa brought directly to your door. Add a sprinkle of stardust in the form of founder Joanna Wright, who used to do pedicures for celebrities in the U.S., and the company became a go-to for corporates looking for employee-appreciation perks.

But suppliers like Wright get hit hard whenever big businesses retrench and look for budget cuts. The key to survival: staying smart and nimble enough to spot one door opening as another closes.

How it works: Toronto-based Wright Mobile Spa brings the entire spa experience — think rose petals, soothing music, aromatherapy candles and lavender-scented oils — to homes, offices and events around the GTA. It provides all the services you would expect from a spa, including manicures, pedicures, facials and massages. And if you ask nicely, owner Joanna Wright may also provide expert luggage-packing tips. “I can get everything — including a massage table — in a few suitcases and bags,” she says.

The backstory: Wright and her twin sister, Juanita Wright started out offering spa services to the spouses of high-profile politicians and socialites in Washington, D.C. in the mid-2000s. When Wright moved to Toronto in 2011, she leaned into the marketing cachet of her celebrity-pampering background as she created a mobile service for non-famous clientele. She catered mostly to the corporate crowd, providing spa events for their customers or as a deluxe reward for employees.

How the pandemic changed the game: COVID-19 “changed everything,” says Wright. With offices closed, in-person events cancelled, and companies in cost-cutting mode, her bread-and-butter corporate clients all but vanished in 2020. When the economy started to re-open and Wright’s phone began ringing again, she quickly noticed business was not back to normal. Her customer base had completely inverted; 80 percent of her bookings were coming from private individuals and only a handful from corporates. The demographic shift saw her retool her offerings. Now, to suit the private clientele, she is offering a full-service spa experience, taking manicures and pedicures from the corporate-event-friendly quick buff and polish to full 60-minute services, for example.

Tapping into a new trend: The wellness industry is booming. After two years in which people’s mental health has been battered, a recent McKinsey report found wellness topped the list of consumer priorities. The global market is now worth U.S.$1.5 trillion and personalization is a rising trend. Wright’s company was well positioned to benefit from these market shifts, but she also leaned into providing services for groups that cannot risk going to a regular spa. Around half her clients are now people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women, patients with cancer or elderly people. Having taken her business in this new direction, Wright says she is almost back at 80 percent capacity and is seeing between 15 and 20 new clients a month.

The future: With the Toronto business back on its feet, Wright plans to open a second mobile spa service in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2022.

Looking for support to help realize your business idea? Find connections with funders, mentors and advisors here.