by Lianna Bass
Maria Cermatori has dedicated the last decade of her life to providing exceptional experiences to massage and wellness enthusiasts as Owner of Hand & Stone Spa in Spring Lake and Brick, New Jersey.
Maria is a phenomenal example of finding success through the art of perseverance and relentless hard work.
When she lost her job in 2005 after her company downsized, she and her husband Paul were approached by Hand & Stone Spa Founder John Marco. John opened the first Hand & Stone Spa in Toms River in 2005. He also happens to be Maria & Paul’s neighbor, and a close personal friend. Maria never truly considered opening her own business, let alone at age 50. However, with the unyielding support of her children and husband of 37 years Paul, she set forth on a remarkable new chapter of her life and hasn’t looked back since.
As the first Hand & Stone Spa franchisee, Maria had to work particularly hard to build her business. Though she had years of success in customer service – particularly as the Registrar of Capri Institute of Hair Design in Kenilworth and Brick – there was a large learning curve she had to overcome.
“It was baptism by fire,” she said.
However, her hard work and dedication paid off as the Spring Lake location quickly became a local hotspot for those in need of magnificent spa services. Maria acted as owner and manager of the spa until 2010. With the success of the Spring Lake Location, Maria opened a second spa in Brick in 2010. It was at that time, she hired a manager to head each spa. In 2014, Maria hired two assistant managers; expanding her management teams.
Her businesses are only closed for four Holidays each year (Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving), so Maria is constantly on the job. She employs approximately 100 employees at each location combined. Each spa is home to approximately 1,700 members and services over 400 appointments weekly.
“We did not expect it to grow as rapidly as it did,” she said.
The Hand & Stone business model revolves around the philosophy of providing excellent services at extremely affordable prices. All therapists are licensed and go through continuing education courses.
Maria also ensures that an optimum amount of appointments are available to patrons each and every day.
Maria takes great pleasure in learning why patrons come into the spa. The services offered at Hand & Stone provide an important emotional release for people, she said.
“There are some people who don’t have anyone that close to them in their lives,” Maria said. “The joy of human touch is such an important emotion to have. Clients come to our spa for services for a wide variety of reasons, it could be a celebration, a stressful event in their life, health issues, stress or just relaxation.”
Maria also thinks of her staff and clients as extended family.
“We know the majority of our clients personally and we strive for excellence in all aspects, from the time the client walks through the door through the time they leave,” she said.
Helping the Local Community
“We donate over a dozen gift cards every month to local community and charity events,” she said. “It’s important to support your community, whether it is a local school trying to raise money or a fundraiser for someone who is terminally ill. That’s very important to us.”
Personally, Maria has been a member of St. Justin’s Parish of Toms River for 32 years.
“My favorite charities are the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean counties, The Society of St. Vincent DePaul and St. Jude,” she said.
Currently, Maria’s businesses belong to five chambers of commerce: Jersey Shore Chamber of Commerce, Brick Chamber of Commerce, Spring Lake New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Point Pleasant Chamber of Commerce and the Point Pleasant Beach Chamber of Commerce.
She believes that her employees care about the business and their clients almost as much as she does.
“They have good work ethics, can adapt to change, follow through and are good listeners,” she said.
Maria also strives to treat everyone with respect and expects the best from her staff.
Over the years she has employed many college students at the desk as Spa Associates “Many of my part- time employees are college students, and I tell them, ‘this is a bridge job,’” she said. “I love to see the college students I have employed move on to bigger and better jobs.”
She defines success as a business owner as “being able to provide a business where employees can earn a steady income in a safe and comfortable environment.”
When it comes to giving advice to other women considering starting a business, she encourages them to be prepared “to work all the time – very long days.”
Her advice to business owners who are struggling is to “understand all aspects of the business before you can delegate tasks to others – inspect what you expect.”
Her main goals for this year are to continue the growth of her business and reach 2500 members in each of the two spas, expand both of them and increase the management team.
Maria believes she is extremely blessed to have such a giving and supportive family. In 2012, her husband Paul retired from a long career with Hewlett-Packard and began dedicating more of his time to the operations of the spa.
She will continue to enjoy her children and grandchildren and hopes to spend time traveling with her husband.