Ania Kastashchuk is owner and program manager for Fresh Start Health Retreat Centers, Vancouver Island, Canada. Ania is originally from Belarus, a small country between Poland and Russia. At only 30 years old, Ania is a rising star in the wellness and business community and has been nominated as a semi-finalist in the Top Mompreneurs 2010 in Calgary, Alberta. Mompreneurs are mothers who own the majority of shares and make the key decisions in their companies.
Ania, you are owner and program manager for a successful health retreat program in Canada. You are a rising star in the field and a mentor to many in a relatively short time. How long have you been in Canada and what is your health education background?
I came to Canada eight years ago, in 2002, and studied for my Diploma in Natural Health and Nutrition from Fit For Life Sciences Institute and College of Natural Health. However, most of my health knowledge came from the university called “Fresh Start” – our retreat center-where for five years I studied with each client and learned things you cannot find in textbooks. We had over 650 clients at over 125 retreats in five years, and I learned from each individual.
Tell us briefly what Fresh Start retreats are all about, what service it is you provide?
Fresh Start offers what we call Health Restoration Retreats – 5, 10 and 14-Day residential programs designed to help people seriously improve their health. Our programs are nutrition based and results oriented. Many people with digestive disorders, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health conditions have benefited from them.
Our focus is ‘advanced whole body cleansing and digestive health.’ We use the highest quality all natural and mostly organic ingredients. The key elements are fresh squeezed juices and ‘live’ foods, specialty drinks and formulas, hydrotherapy sessions and exercise. Additionally, guests enhance their results through a number of health spa treatments, including massage, colonics and acupuncture.
You recently moved Fresh Start Health Retreat Center from Alberta, over a thousand miles away, to the west coast of Vancouver Island at an established wellness resort on the ocean. When did you make the move and how did the relocation go?
We just relocated this summer and are getting ready for our first retreat. We moved our entire family and business and set-up our new program and office in less than two months. I hired all the new staff and service providers. We now have 18 extra spa services available all through local experts.
Why do you think a geographical move of this nature is beneficial to your business?
When the children of my new office assistant saw the place for the first time they said, ‘Looking at this view, we think our mother should pay you for being here, not the other way around.’ You cannot imagine how close the ocean is, until you get here and see it with your own eyes. The healing salty air, eagles living on tops of the mature trees right above our heads, deer eating peas from our garden, plus the homey atmosphere and beautiful design of the building made more than one guest say: “Wow!”
What challenges have you faced in the new location and how are you ensuring that business is seamless?
The greatest challenge is not to look out the window, when I have to concentrate on work… Just joking! For me, personally, the greatest challenge is to manage business and family at the same time. I have to make sure I make time for important people in my life, care for my spouse and watch my kids grow. I cannot neglect my health either. In this type of business, people closely watch whether you walk the talk.
On my desk, there is a 202-page business plan with numerous attachments. We actively prepared for this move for the last 12 months. We have five years of experience, many ready procedures and processes in place, and know what works and what doesn’t. Mainly, we’ve got the greatest treasure – a dedicated and professional team, who make things happen and move.
Are you leveraging the geographic move to increase customers?
Many of the previous clients are thrilled. They say it is their dream destination. Moving to the Island was definitely the best possible choice we could make. We are attracting new clients because of it.
How are you getting the word out?
We are getting the word out with public relations, media stories, social media, e-newsletters and select advertising. Partnering with Mompreneurs and Travel to Wellness magazines for contests and inviting media to experience the retreat are just a few of the creative partnerships we are implementing. Much of our IT and publicity talent works virtually from across the globe, so we do not have to accommodate everyone here.
Has this overall strategy been working and if so how? Are you seeing increased leads?
It is working very well. We see an increase in leads, especially from the Vancouver Island and Vancouver area. It is very early days and as our outreach develops so will our reach. We are new here and it takes time.
What suggestions might you offer other professional service providers contemplating moving their businesses?
First, you need to know what it will look like; to write not a basic business plan, but a “business encyclopedia” with details about your future suppliers, operations and organizational charts.
Second, you need to be or work with a master in marketing and sales. My husband Vasili, who is the other half of the team, is great at this.
Third, you need to use public relations, local and international media, outreach and create a strong social media presence.
Fourth, make sure there is talent in place for your service where you are going. The area that I was excited about the most in our move was that there are many health professionals on the Island, such as naturopathic doctors, massage therapists and yoga teachers. We have the privilege of having great professionals working with us.
Fifth, actively network in the new community. These people will be your suppliers, employees, customers, referrals and possible investors.
The other significant change you implemented was to rename your company. Why did you decide to rename your company?
As people we evolve constantly, and so do businesses with their owners. Abundant Life Wellness Centre, the previous company name, was founded as a Christian mission. Though many people benefited from our programs, we wanted to create more neutral ground, where guests from all walks of life would feel at home. Many of our clients told us, ‘Guys, you are offering so much more than we could perceive before we took the program. Please let people know who you are and what you do in a way they can feel part of it.’ So we needed to present ourselves to the market in a different way. Fresh Start has no religious bias. It is for all people.
The name Fresh Start was inspired by the in-take forms, where these words are one of the most common phrases people use when describing their purpose for coming to the retreat. The name is vibrant and energetic and reflects so well who we are: a place where a health and life changing experience happens.
Now that you have completed the re-branding process, do you have any lessons learned that you could share?
The change of the name meant the change of our company destiny.
If you are planning to make a company name change, consult your accountant first, because it often involves sale of the old company to the new company.
Take your time to decide whom your ideal customers are and exactly what image you would like to portray.
Further, you need to create a list of every task you need to update: from your voice mail, computer stationery, to corporate credit cards and entire documentation. Start this at least nine months prior to rebranding.
Calculate and prepare the budget: it is a very costly process.
What impact has the economy had on your business?
So far we have not noticed any negative impact. Quite the opposite: Last year we had more American clients than in previous years, probably because our Canadian prices are more affordable to American people; and we offer a unique service not available elsewhere.
How do you differentiate your services from the larger exotic spas and retreats?
Outstanding personalized client service and focus on health are our two distinctive features. Potential clients all enjoy a verbal personalized assessment from the Program Consultant during initial consultation, for example. We are not competing with large exotic spas. People come to us primarily for well-being. The phrase we commonly hear on the phone is: “I am so happy I found you. I researched so many spas and see that you are one of the few that is very serious about health. And your testimonials prove it.”
So what is next for Ania Kastashchuk?
I am getting ready for our first client sessions and polishing up every little detail: getting supplies, planning team orientation and organizing operations in a new place. In-between I work on updating marketing materials and networking.
We welcome the business community to take time for a Fresh Start. Executive burnout is a leading cause of corporate destabilization. In order to be the best for your company, you must be the best for yourself. I look forward to meeting some of your readers very soon at Fresh Start.
Good luck Ania for the Top Mompreneurs 2010!
To read more about Ania Kastashchuk click here.
Pamela Irving is a communications consultant providing public and media relations to ethical businesses and organizations. To learn more about Pamela Irving click here.