IT'S a shadow of its former self, but new owners are breathing new life into what was once Western Canada's largest day spa chain -- Giselle's Professional Skin Care and Day Spa.
The husband-and-wife team of Diane Sidebottom and Cliff Roulston purchased Giselle's from former owner Daphne Petrakos in June 2011 after the Winnipeg-based chain ran into financial difficulties.
At the height of its operations in 2004, Giselle's had four day spas in the city. By mid-2005, it had added a School of Aesthetics on St. Mary's Road.
By the time Sidebottom and Roulston acquired it, the 28-year-old business was down to a single spa on Meadowood Drive. Sidebottom and Roulston acquired that operation and the rights to the company name, and also retained all 35 employees.
In the roughly 18 months since then, the two have gradually transformed Giselle's into a "green" health-and-beauty business focused on more environmentally friendly products and business practices.
"It's about clean, organic, natural, restorative, non-invasive treatments," Sidebottom said during a recent interview. That includes using things such as vegan hand, foot and nail products, and all-natural skin and body products.
Sidebottom agreed Giselle's isn't the only spa that claims to use "natural" or "organic" products. But because there are no standards for what can be in such products, she said there are many in use in the industry that still contain harmful chemicals.
Giselle's approach is to tell clients exactly what is in every product it uses or sells, and let them decide if that's what they want to use. While it's still early -- the company's shift away from products containing synthetic chemicals and preservatives only began about six months ago -- Sidebottom said the strategy seems to be working.
"The clients that were here are staying, and we're also getting new clients coming in who have heard about what we're doing," she said. "We're not 100 per cent green yet, but we are moving in that direction."
Spa Industry Association of Canada officials said because the salon and spa industry is unregulated and unlicensed, it's hard to get a handle on how many there are Canada or in Winnipeg.
"Anybody can put up 'spa' beside their name," said Diane Sparrow, whose family owns the Inn at the Forks and the Norwood Hotel, and who is the immediate past-president of the SIAC.
Sparrow and SIAC executive director Lori Robertson said the last recession was hard on the industry because spa treatments still tend to be viewed as a discretionary item. But they said the industry has been bouncing back in the last couple of years. Sparrow said the demand for spa treatments and services, particularly massages and facial treatments, has been growing.
"The public has become more educated about spa treatments... and for a growing number of people, it has become part of their lifestyle now," she said.
Sidebottom said although she and Roulston are exploring ways to expand Giselle's product and service offering and grow the business, there are no plans to open more outlets.
"If we perceive there is a need (to add more locations), we might look at that," Sidebottom said. "But I believe people will travel to a location if they believe in it..."
At first glance, she and Roulston might seem like an unlikely pair to be buying a skin care and day spa operation.
Sidebottom was a former real estate agent turned stay-at-home mom, and Roulston was the co-founder of the Westside Sales used car dealership in south Winnipeg.
"But I always had an interest in the skin care business," Sidebottom said. "That was the personal motivation behind it."