Neata Auttapong Goutier moved to Canada in 2004 and within a year had opened her first spa. Neata shares how she started, and provides tips on running a family business.

Neata Auttapong Goutier moved to Canada in 2004 and within a year had opened her first spa. Neata shares how she started, and provides tips on running a family business.

Growing up in a small rural village in Northern Thailand, my sister Nisita and I spent most of our time helping our parents with their small business ventures. My father, Sao, sold fruit and vegetables in the local market along with his tapioca. My mother, Suay, had a modest noodle stand in front of our house. Instead of flashy displays, she increased the quality of her noodle dishes and the price. Soon, she had the most successful noodle stand in the village. It is from my parents that I learned what to do to be successful in business:

innovation and quality are the two most important things that I keep in mind, and also the two things you have the most control over.

Upon settling in Vancouver in 2004, I looked for opportunities to open my own business. I had spent many years working in high-end traditional spas in Bangkok, so started my career working in a couple of large Vancouver spas. After a couple of months, I decided to indulge my entrepreneurial spirit and open my own spa.

Through connections within the immigrant community, I met a woman who had opened a hair salon in North Vancouver many years prior who had a vacant room for rent. Enlisting the help of my husband to help renovate and decorate this little room, I realized after it was completed that this would be the first Thai Spa in Vancouver! Through hard work and the support of my husband and the local community, within eight months I found myself overbooked and needing an independent storefront to showcase my work.

The procession to establish my own spa became a reality in August of 2005. Looking back, it seems as though time flew by, but in reality there were many hurdles and obstacles that stood in the way of smooth operations. This included:

trial by error mistakes

training and maintaining staff

and ensuring the highest level of client care and treatment quality.

Seeing my little business grow and the reactions of our spa guests made it all worthwhile. I dedicated myself to establishing strict protocols and introducing them to my staff. Many of the stressful problems we had encountered in the past melted away.

I brought in family members to work in the spa, and set my sights on opening future locations

I brought in family members to work in the spa, and set my sights on opening future locations. Six years and three locations later, Sabai Thai Spa has established itself as a reliable, professional, and authentic spa business. My sister, Nisita Auttapong, is now the Spa Director for the new West Vancouver location. It is with great pride that I offer these lessons that we’ve learned over the years:

1. Accept the reality:

Assess everyone’s strengths and weaknesses in your business circle. Don’t put a spendthrift in charge of your finances or put someone in a customer service position if they’d be better off doing construction or maintenance. Assess your own strengths and weaknesses. You are often your own worst enemy, so make sure to keep a clear perspective about your own role in the business. You are a human being and not a machine. Forgive and truly forget past mistakes. They are part of the expense of doing business, not personal errors; in the big picture it simply does not matter. Holding grudges only builds animosity and lack of trust within the family circle. If you don’t accept that you have lessons to learn as well, you will not grow with your business.

2. Just go with it:

Even if everything that can possibly go wrong one day does, remember that you are going to wake up to a brand new day the next day. Treat every mistake as an opportunity to do a better job next time, and be flexible within your daily routine. If you start your day preparing for the worst but expecting the best, you will never be disappointed.

3. Take time away:

You will be more focused and keep your business passion alive when you have a fresh mind and body, so make sure to take rest and respite when you need it.

4. No micromanaging allowed:

Keep clear protocol for each job description and try not to step on each other’s toes. In each family, there is a different dynamic, so leave room to allow each other to ask for help when needed, and to deny help when it is offered if it is not needed.

5. Make it happen!

When an obstacle is encountered, gather the forces and make it happen. Through due diligence, a clear eye on the goal and true dedication, any hurdle can be overcome. Being open-minded and flexible as well as trusting each other are some of the greatest benefits of working with family.

Neata Auttapong Goutier, owner of Sabai Thai Spa, opened the first of her three locations within a year of moving to Vancouver. Neata’s husband (who is also co-owner), her sister and a cousin all work in her family business.


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