Abi Wright, founder of Spabreaks.com, won the everywoman in Travel Entrepreneur award in November. She tells Abigail Healy about starting a business from scratch and why continuing to innovate is essential
Abi Wright, founder of Spabreaks.com, is a prime example of how good ideas, hard work and determination can take you a long way in life.
Back in November Wright scooped the everywoman in Travel Entrepreneur trophy at the inaugural awards held in London’s Canary Wharf. She explains that 15 days prior to the ceremony she collapsed while on the Tube and ended up having a disc removed from her back in hospital.
“I hobbled up to collect my award with a walking stick but I refused to stay in hospital any longer. I was thinking of the people who had encouraged me and I knew I had to be there.”
And it is such sheer determination that saw Wright start a business from scratch almost a decade ago.
“Next March it will be 10 years since I launched Spabreaks.com. I’m from a sleepy Devonshire town where I failed most of my exams and I was the first in my family to go to university. I wasn’t very academic and I had no idea about business,” she explains.
Wright went on to work as a marketing manager for the Peter Michael hotel group in Berkshire. She explains that they opened a spa and she worked with the third-party providers selling it.
“They [the providers] weren’t evolving their business model and didn’t reflect where spa was going. At the same time the likes of Groupon, Wowcher and Travelzoo were launching but these business models were based around selling it cheaply and quickly.”
It was at this stage that Wright spotted a “big niche” for creating a model that aligned with the wellness and wellbeing evolution that could “bring the essence of spa back”.
Years of planning ensued and three months after the birth of her first child, Wright launched the business along with a team consisting of herself and two work placement students.
“Now we send 6,500 people away to spas each week and we have just opened our second call centre in Brighton,” she says.
But running a successful business isn’t enough for Wright. “I want to address the major issues that the spa industry faces. I’m known as a disruptor as I won’t accept what spas say just because it’s what they have always done. For example, I would go into a spa on a Tuesday afternoon and see it was full of beautiful, wealthy women and I thought – what about the people who really need it? I want to challenge perceptions of spa being about beauty and to separate the two.”
Wright has worked with the UK spa industry to pioneer Recovery Retreats – a collection of spas and spa packages that openly welcome cancer recoverers, as well as those under the effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy – and improve spa access and facilities for the disabled.
She says it is one of the most rewarding things she has achieved. She asserts that another highlight of running Spabreaks.com is “being able to empower the people I work with”.
A third of Wright’s workforce has been with the business six to seven years and she says when she started to employ more staff she wanted to create a sales environment where people, and especially women, could achieve.
“I found so many woman had been told they wouldn’t excel in life and not to expect too much. None of the last 10 years could have happened without every person in the company,” she asserts.
Looking ahead, Wright says that she will “absolutely” continue to innovate.
“I have acquired three of my biggest competitors in the last few years and that’s because they didn’t make changes and adapt. Wellness is becoming so huge; the wellbeing of the workforce is going to be on the agenda of big corporates. We are now looking at retreats, mindfulness and meditation; we’ll be working with women in their forties; we’ll be looking at post-natal depression; and we’ll be developing our overseas portfolio so UK travellers can visit spas abroad.”
It is an impressive vision and one that seems very tangible given Wright’s success to date.
And her advice for other women with an idea who are keen to make something of it?
“Set up a routine that works for you, have self-belief and realise that it’s not bad to ask for help. I knew nothing about business when I started out, I still don’t know it all but I have a fantastic team who are able to channel my creativity.”