Women in Business Q&A: Jeni Garrett, CEO and Founder, Woodhouse Day Spa

Jeni Garrett was only 21 years old when she opened the first Woodhouse Day Spa in Victoria, TX. Garrett developed an early affinity for business. Growing up on a ranch in southeastern Texas, she began buying and selling cattle when she was only 14 and while in high school sold clothing and jewelry at Dallas street markets.

Later, while pursuing her MBA and CPA certification, Garrett worked as a cost accountant for a national network of outpatient surgery centers and traveled across the country to implement a cost analysis program at its different facilities.

It was during these trips that Garrett learned the intricacies of duplicating processes within a service-based business while also maintaining consistencies within each center, a skill that would serve her well. An avid spa lover, Garrett believed she could use the same philosophy as the cornerstone for a successful business model in the disorganized and fragmented spa industry.

Garrett and her future husband - Derrick, an anesthesiologist - purchased a 1906 landmark home in Victoria, Texas, built by a railroad conductor whose last name was Woodhouse. Twenty-nine weeks later, on Sept. 29, 2001, the first Woodhouse Day Spa opened its doors.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up on a ranch in South Texas instilled in me the discipline and drive that it took to build a world-class luxury spa franchise. It took time to lay the ground-work for this luxury concept, as we take the time to do things right. I believe in servant leadership and the concept that 'leaders eat last'. This philosophy comes from my Christian upbringing and my passion for people. The Woodhouse makes a difference in the lives of every single guest that that walks through the door.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Woodhouse Day Spa?
I was a young 21-year-old when I founded The Woodhouse Day Spa brand, but I did have business experience that I applied to the model. While in college for my MBA, I was a cost accountant for a national chain of ambulatory surgery centers for which I developed a system of costing supplies and allocating overhead to each surgical case. This allowed them to see what type of cases where most profitable and therefore which type of specialty to recruit. I traveled throughout the country to train on this system and that experience gave me the confidence and knowledge that I applied to The Woodhouse Day Spa franchise. From the beginning, I have applied that same cost accounting to our treatment protocols at The Woodhouse to ensure efficiency and that while using the best products in the world, our services are affordable.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Woodhouse Day Spa?
There have been so many wonderful times though out the past decade. Each time I see the look on our Franchise Partners faces at the Grand Opening events, the incredible look of achievement and hope for the future, my heart melts. One particular event stands out in my mind as so special for me. Our annual franchise conventions are called Woodhouse Family Reunions. My dad is involved in the company after retiring from DuPont after 40 years. Our franchise family loves him. My dad battles esophageal cancer and it was a very tough year for us and at last year's reunion I announced that he was back and the family gave him a standing ovation. It was such an emotional moment that I'll never forget.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking to start their own business?
I believe that women today have so many options available for starting their own businesses, as long as they have a great product or service to sell. Be confident in your idea. Diligently plan and put it in a format that you can communicate it to the bank or whomever will assist with funding. Take steps towards it each day, even if you are currently working and cannot devote full-time to it. Small steps lead to large movements. Believe boldly and never, never, never give up.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women have the challenge of balancing children, work, wellness, and other priorities. The burden having to choose work over children on occasion is in my opinion the biggest issue.

How do you manage work-life balance?
I don't really separate the two- work and life. My kids come to work with me when they can and are with me now on a trip to Louisiana to source great vintage furniture for our spas. I don't believe that real balance can be accomplished and feel that women sometimes feel challenged to accomplish this unrealistic goal. My life is very unbalanced and I love it that way. I work very hard, play very hard and pray very hard- that's my recipe for 'balance'.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have many people that have guided me in my journey and I am blessed for it. I think that mentorship is incredibly important and I often work with other women who are interested in franchising their business. I also mentor young men and women in the youth ministry that my husband and I founded called One Retreat.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Condelezza Rice for her humility, her fierce discipline and strong convictions. She is an amazing leader with laser-like focus.

What do you want Woodhouse Day Spa to accomplish in the next year?
I am so proud of our amazing team. We currently have 40 spas opening and will open 20 more in the next 10 months and continue our phenomenal 20% comparative same store sales growth. We plan to continue that growth with 20-25 opening each year for the next 3 years, then moving to 30+ thereafter. We have 280 under contract to develop.