As many of you know, this past summer I moved to North Carolina from Boston. With my relocation came the opportunity to join the Synergy Team of Synergy Spa and Aesthetics in Raleigh! Today I am sharing with you the story behind Synergy from the owner herself, Anna Churchill!
Ashli: “Anna, I would love to know first what inspired you to start Synergy Spa.“
Anna: “I always wanted to have my own business. I didn’t necessarily mind working for other people, when I was younger I thought that was how it was supposed to be- you work for someone else. I didn’t have anyone in my family who ever owned their own business or who was an entrepreneur. As I started working for larger skincare companies and skincare manufacturers that were start-ups, I was exposed to the idea of ‘this is what being an entrepreneur looks like’ and that was very intriguing to me. As I started getting a little bit older, and by “older” I mean 29 [laughter] and as I started becoming more successful in the roles I was in, I started thinking about starting something for myself.”
SKB: “That’s so wonderful. So, Synergy started in the ITB location, correct?”
AC: “We did. We opened in November of 2004 so it has been 13 years.”
SKB: “What did it start as originally?”
AC: “So, we were originally 5 treatment rooms as well as manicures and pedicures with a small front desk/retail area. We had 2400 square feet and I want to say we maybe had about 10 or 12 employees. When we designed the original space, even though it was small, one of the treatment rooms was designed to be a medical room where we would have a nurse or a doctor performing more high level treatments. At that time 13 years ago, the high-level treatments that were around were injectables. The laws were a little bit different in North Carolina than in Miami where I come from and so there was a little bit of a delay in adding that component to our spa initially. Also, since I was new to the area I didn’t have relationships with any doctors, but the main thing was that this was a more conservative area than where I had been living. Even though I was living in Florida when I was working for other companies I also had a lot of other markets in my territory and so I did a lot of traveling and training in other larger markets as well- New York, LA, Canada, Asia- so it wasn’t like I was only exposed to Florida. But South Florida where I lived was considered very progressive and very high-end and very cutting edge. When I came to Raleigh, the market was a lot more conservative and not as savvy. I feel like just now the market in North Carolina is where some med spas have been 10-15 years ago. So, we were really ahead of our time, and because of that, certain things that I envisioned implementing and doing took a while to catch on.
That being said, the main focus of our organization, at least from a branding standpoint was always to emphasize the fact that we were corrective skincare. So even before we were really “medical” and doing “medical services” I knew that we were going to continue to build on that concept and eventually move into high level medical services.”
SKB: “That’s incredible. And also all of the experience you have with skincare lines- most of them were medical grade skincare lines, right?’
AC: “Yes! I worked for a couple of different skincare companies. I was working as a Medical Aesthetician in South Florida- two locations- a group of Dermatologists. One location was in Miami Beach in South Beach and the other was in Aventura. We did a lot of medical aesthetics work and a lot of acne work. One of the companies that we carried was SkinCeuticals. At that time, SkinCeuticals was a fairly new company on the market. It was actually a breakaway from Cellex-C which was the first Vitamin C company on the market. Cellex-C was started by Dr. Mostafa Omar, and Dr. Sheldon Pinnell. Dr. Omar is actually the physician who owns and formulates Phyto-C which is the Vitamin C line that we carry today at Synergy.
Dr. Sheldon Pinnell was at the time the head of Dermatology at Duke University. They were given a grant through the National Institute of Health to research topical Vitamin-C use to reduce sunburn as well as pre-cancerous cells on the skin. They branched off from Cellex-C and started SkinCeuticals, and at the time when I was working for them Dr. Pinnell’s son was running the company and it was a very small operation. I was the second generation of salespeople to come in, so I wasn’t there when they first opened but I came on board shortly after. In the 2-3 years that I was with them, their company grew exponentially. A few years after I left they sold the company to La Roche-Posay which is the Pharma Division for L’Oreal. I was a part of the beginning of Cosmeceuticals being introduced into the marketplace and sort of creating its own niche away from everything being OTC (over the counter). This was the birth of Doctors working with Aesthetcians, and Doctors doing injectables. We still weren’t into the world of lasers yet and even Microdermabrasion was still relatively new.
SkinCeuticals hired me because I was one of their top salespeople selling product within the practices that I was working for. When the sales position became available they approached me and said, “You sell a lot of product in these practices- have you ever thought about being a field rep?” and I was like, “I don’t really even know what that is! Is that like being a pharmaceutical rep for cosmeceuticals?” So, I got that job and did that for a couple of years. I smashed my sales goals with them- when they asked me to sell half a million one year I sold $700K – and then I was recruited away to work for NeoStrata.
NeoStrata had been on the market for a very long time but it had sort of died. It wasn’t as popular, and to be honest it just wasn’t very sexy. They didn’t do anything with their branding or their packaging, but the thing with NeoStrata was that it was truly a scientific skincare company. The owners of that company- Drs. Van Scott and Dr. Yu- they are the ones that discovered the Glycolic molecule. They patented the Glycolic molecule and first it was a drug and then they were able to get it through the FDA formulated with a slightly lower percentage and a higher pH to make it available over the counter. When I was recruited for them as a sales rep and then as a trainer, they had just taken their company back from the Pharma company Glaxo. I ended up training Doctors and their providers on how to use the products, how to sell them and particularly how to use the chemical peels in a safe and efficacious manner. That’s what I ended up doing and through that I met a lot of Doctors who wanted me to help them with their practices and transition into more med spa which was about 16-17 years ago. I think nowadays Doctors realize that Aestheticians aren’t going to go away and that Cosmeceuticals are here to stay. I started getting some private clients and I did consulting for some accounts while I was working on my business plan and eventually I left NeoStrata too.
While I was working on my business plan, I knew that I was going to come to North Carolina- to Raleigh- I would read that it was the best place to live and the best place to start a business.
I got a call one day, asking if I would be interested in working for a company, Swissline by Dermalab out of Zurich, Switzerland that is very well known in Asia. I took the position as a contractor so that I could still work on my business. The position ended up getting bigger- the company wanted to come to the U.S. and so I re-wrote their training manuals, and I had to help them to formulate an adult acne line and I wrote all of their protocols and training manuals. They liked what I did so much that they asked me to be a consultant for them in their Asian market. So then, I went to Asia to help their clients expand their medical component and how to be more of an “American Med Spa”. So, I was going to these outlandish, huge ridiculous places in these really rural, odd parts of Asia where you are like, “How is there a resort here?” such as Cheng-Du in China. The spa was like 50,000 square feet where there would only be like 10 people there at a time! But I did seminars and lectures and I would do a class and there would be 75 people in it and the whole Asian press would be there and it was so bizarre to me!
Then the company asked me to do the same thing in Canada. So I spent about a year on and off and then decided I needed to come back and start my company. They asked me to move to Switzerland to formulate their products but for personal reasons I didn’t take it. So, I went ahead with working on opening this clinical skincare center. I made a lot of money in that year and so I was able to put it aside in the bank and that’s what I was able to live off of for the first 2 years when Synergy was first open. That job ended up being such a blessing even though it delayed my opening Synergy I was able to sustain myself for those first two years.
SKB: “That is so amazing. What incredible experience for you as an Aesthetician as well as a new business owner! So, how did things grow and progress for Synergy after you opened- you went from a small staff in one location to expanding the location you had, adding more staff, also opening a second location in North Raleigh. Also, when did you meet Dr. Collins along this timeline? (Dr. Collins is Synergy’s Plastic Surgeon)”
AC: “We knew we were ready to expand our first location 2 years before we were actually able to. We had to wait for one of the businesses next door to us to go out of business. So, we started looking for another location. Then, we had a personal life change when we met our daughter and decided to adopt her. Because of that, it put us doing a second location on hold. Our daughter was almost 12 and she was from Ukraine and we had to go there for several months and it was a big long process, and when she came back I needed to not work for a couple of months to the degree that I am used to working. That whole process was about 18 months long. During that time when we were focused on our daughter, the space next door at ITB became available, which was good timing because we were absolutely bursting at the seams. 5 years ago we doubled our space and it took us only 6 months to grow into that.
What brought the North Raleigh location about was when we met Dr. Collins. We talked for about 6 months and then we started working together and we decided we could really grow the med spa, and during that time he had a major shift with his staff in his practice and so I ended up taking over as his management company and really helping him get his practice in order. The more I was there and the more we worked together we decided it would be good if we did a location where we were in the same space- I could have more oversight and he could have more referrals. For North Raleigh’s location- the building approached me and asked if we wanted to open a location there. At first there were a few obstacles because there was a plastic surgeon already in the building, and the spa space that was available was small and dark. I had to convince Dr. Collins to move from Cary to Raleigh. We spent about 6 months renovating that space and it was a lot of work because the OR had a lot that needed to be done. In the meantime, a potential tenant didn’t work out for a space across from the OR and it was the original space that I wanted, so we opened the second spa there.”
SKB: “That’s so fantastic! Also I know that you have a lot of exciting things in store for Synergy this year especially with the corrective skincare side- things are growing!”
AC: “Yes! So, right now what we are working on is a name change for Collins Plastic Surgery, it will be called Synergy Plastic Surgery. We are going to be one company now which will allow for more integration as well as sharing all of our electronic records. We are also going to be creating a laser center as part of the Plastic Surgery Practice, expanding more recovery bays, a call center, expanding more in the plastic surgery practice. We are also looking at adding a training and consulting division for not only our staff but outside providers who are looking to come and learn from us on how to have better practices and make their businesses more successful. I’m really excited about this new division of the business because I feel it will really set us apart as industry leaders.”
SKB: “That is amazing! Things have really evolved and blossomed in a huge way!”
AC: “It’s only taken 13 years!” [Laughter from both]
SKB: “Thank you SO much for sharing your story and the story of Synergy and I know that everyone who knows and loves Synergy and those of us who work for you are very excited as to where we are headed in the coming years!”
With over 24 years of skincare experience, Anna Churchill began her career as a professional makeup artist and licensed aesthetician. She is a certified Para-medical aesthetician specializing in acne, aging skin, antioxidants, and alpha hydroxyl acids. Anna has traveled extensively to teach innovative skin care techniques to dermatologists, plastic surgeons, aestheticians and spa owners in Asia, Canada and the US. Anna has also been very active working in product formulation and training for some of the world’s top skin care companies, such as Swissline by Dermalab, NeoStrata and SkinCeuticals. She formulated her own line of products, Synergy Clinical Skin care, which focuses on hyperpigmentation, correction of aging, acne, and other conditions. She is an industry consultant and a regular contributor to various magazine publications. Anna often speaks at industry conferences, training business owners and providers on skin care and medical aesthetics. She also speaks on behalf of Sciton to physicians and owners, discussing best practices for enhancing results with their superior laser technology. Anna is very active in the non-profit community and is an avid supporter of our local performing arts organizations. She serves on the Executive Board for The North Carolina Theatre, and is an active supporter of Carolina Ballet, CAM Raleigh, Theatre Raleigh, among others.