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Mall med spas offer Botox without the hassle

Herald-Tribune, By Maggie Clark, Published: Monday, May 16, 2016


Back in 2009, few people had extra money for cosmetic surgeries or other anti-aging luxuries. But Sarasota entrepreneur Bill Clarke saw an opportunity. In June of that year, he opened the first Venus Med Spa ™ in Westfield Southgate Mall and offered clients access to injectable neurotoxins, such as Botox and Dysport, in a convenient location for $89 to $600 per treatment.

Fast forward six years, and Venus Med Spa has grown to 10 locations in Florida and the Chicago area, including a second Sarasota location in the Mall at University Town Center. The company is part of a growing trend of lifestyle-oriented medical businesses known as medical spas, which offer the convenience of a day spa with some of the medical services traditionally reserved for a physician's office.

 

Medical spas are a third place, in between a medical office and a day spa. They specialize in mid-level services, such as facial injections to reverse the signs of aging, chemical peels, laser hair removal and other non-surgical treatments designed to perk up both the skin and self-confidence.

Unlike at a day spa, where most of the people performing treatments are massage therapists or estheticians, in a medical spa the employees performing treatments must be nurse practitioners, physician's assistants or medical doctors. The required credentials vary from state to state, with Florida among the most restrictive on who can administer the drugs and other treatments.

While the facilities are offering a medical service, they don't look like traditional doctor's offices. For clients — most medical spas refer to their customers as clients, rather than patients — medical spas are the best of both worlds: medical treatments from a professional in a relaxing and fun atmosphere.

The businesses began to emerge about 15 years ago, but took a large hit during the recession when people were cutting back on personal care services.

But as the economy was recovering, the injectables appealed to baby boomers putting off plastic surgery who still wanted to stay youthful looking. With customer rewards programs, discounts and walk-in service available in malls, Venus Med Spa and others offer a convenient alternative to the routine of making an appointment and going to a physician's office. And if a more serious condition arises, the staff at Venus Med Spa can refer their clients directly to their medical director, Dr. Joshua Kreithen, a plastic surgeon and partner with the Sarasota-based Holcomb and Kreithen Plastic Surgery and Med Spa.

Now, Clarke said, the treatments have become a staple for Venus' 41,000 clients across the country, including 7,000 in the Sarasota area.

“By all accounts, our clients say the treatments are more important than going shopping and buying purses and shoes,” Clarke said. “I ask them, 'What would you choose if you could only dye your hair or get Botox?' and they say, 'I'd go gray.'”

Hybrid business

When Botox first came on the scene as an anti-wrinkle treatment in the late 1990s, it was usually only available in a dermatologist or cosmetic surgery office.

Dr. Marguerite Barnett, a cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon, was among the doctors whose offices fielded increasing requests for Botox treatments. She began to see injectables and other medical anti-aging treatments as a way to infuse some cash into her then-Venice-based practice, which was struggling under the weight of reductions in reimbursements from Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors.

“I found it difficult to provide quality care to my patients because they kept cutting reimbursement, and I was thinking through my options and I decided I would add medical spa services,” Barnett said.

Opening the Sarasota-based Mandala Med Spa 13 years ago offered her the opportunity to set her own rates for services and to offer her patients a more holistic approach to anti-aging care.

“I realized I could do this beautiful face lift but if the patient isn't eating right, or they're smoking or stressed, the surgery wouldn't help much,” Barnett said. “The clients are coming to talk about wrinkles, but we're also talking to them about food and exercise.”

As the owner of perhaps the longest-operating medical spa in Sarasota, Barnett has seen the evolution of the business from one that was largely unregulated and filled with people looking to make a quick dollar to a more professional, regulated and safer industry.

“It's a difficult business, and there have been a bunch of med spas open and close — all the ones that were opened when I started are now out of business,” Barnett said. “It's not as easy as just providing the treatments. The clients are looking for an experience.”

Growth forecast

Analysts predict that the med-spa industry will generate $3.6 billion in revenue this year and grow at a rate of 18 percent per year, according to market projections from research firm Marketdata Enterprises.

Last year, 6.7 million Americans got a Botox injection and another 2.4 million received soft tissue fillers to fill out their faces, according to the annual report of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The number of minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, such as injections, laser treatments and chemical peels, was nearly 14 times higher than the number of more invasive cosmetic surgical procedures such as face lifts or breast augmentations.

As the popularity of the procedures increases and more pharmaceutical companies manufacture drugs used in these procedures, Clarke expects prices to eventually drop so women and men from all walks of life can make medical-spa procedures part of their regular beauty routine, just like dying their hair or getting their nails done.

“When I compare us with other industries, I like to think about the hair dye company Clairol,” Clarke said. “Their goal was to get 1 percent of Americans to dye their hair, and now that's history.”

“Right now, only about 2 percent of people have gotten these treatments, so the industry is in its infancy.”

Clarke said people already are no longer embarrassed to admit they get anti-aging treatments.

“It's not taboo anymore.”

Sarasota / Venus Med Spa at University Town Center

Sarasota / Venus Med Spa ™ at University Town Center

Amy Nguyen, right, a nurse practitioner with Venus Med Spa at the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota, gives a consultation to client Nicole Brandt of Ellenton about a Botox treatment.

Facts

What's the difference?

 

Day spa: A business providing services to improve health, beauty and relaxation through treatments such as hair styling, makeup, massages and facials.

Medical spa: A business in which a licensed medical provider administers a drug designed to promote health and beauty, typically to reduce the signs of aging. The treatments are minimally invasive and typically not permanent.

Medical office: A business in which one or more licensed medical doctors counsel and treat patients with cosmetic or significant health concerns. 

 

 

Sarasota / Venus Med Spa at University Town Center

Alina Belova greets clients at the Venus Med Spa at the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota County.

 

 

Sarasota / Venus Med Spa at University Town Center

Alina Belova, an employee and a client at Venus Med Spa at the Mall at University Town Center, receives a treatment from nurse practitioner Amy Nguyen. The Venus Legacy is supposed to tighten skin and sculpt areas of the body.

 
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