Leaders of Luxury at ikatan Spa
Being in business is challenging, particularly in the past few years. So it’s encouraging to see the trailblazers of tranquility at ikatan Spa still loving what they do after two decades of being warriors for the wellness industry. John Caruso discovers the inspiring success story behind these leaders of luxury.
Like all great business ideas, exploring and capitalising on a ‘hole in the market’ is the cornerstone to building a great business and brand. ikatan Spa at Doonan was Katrina Thorpe and Nicholas Pilditch’s design, creation and build – and twenty years on, the couple say they’re continuing to grow every day.
“I was working for a large hotel chain, and I could see that on the Sunshine Coast there was nothing around that matched the idea I had in my head for a boutique, service-oriented Day Spa themed around a tropical environment,” Katrina said. “At the same time, I met Nick who was working in the Middle East as an aeronautical engineer and over a period of about eighteen months we often talked about this idea.”
The iconic Spirit House Restaurant in Yandina provided even more inspiration for what the couple wanted to create.
“From a feel and design point-of-view, the Spirit House concept was what we had in mind for a Day Spa and I knew we could make it a successful destination business just like the restaurant which was remotely located,” she said. “Plus Nick and I both grew up in the country so we had a desire to set the business up in a rural location. One of Nick’s dreams was to have an Asian-style house and work more on landscape design and gardening so we shared a similar vision for the next chapter of our lives.”
It was during a reconnaissance of the Spirit House that Nick delivered both a business and a wedding proposal.
“He asked me if I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him and he said that he’d financially back my idea,” Katrina laughs. “I remember telling him that I’d just come out of an eighteen-year marriage and I wasn’t interested in doing that again. We discussed it further, both putting our cards on the table and I eventually said ‘yes’.
“To this day he often reminds me that I made that proposal very un-romantic however I knew one of the things he liked about me was that I was straight up and honest about how I felt.”
In the first five years of operation, ikatan Spa was nominated for Best Destination Spa Australia by the Australian Tourism Travel Awards. Exposure on Channel Nine’s Getaway followed and the producers from Seven’s The Great Southeast came knocking on their big Balinese doors soon after that.
“I create every treatment at the Day Spa and service is at the forefront of our brand,” Katrina said. “Because I’m a trained therapist I understand how they work. Happy therapists mean happy clients – and that means a happy boss and a good business, and that’s my formula for everything.”
ikatan Spa’s green credentials are also an important part of the brand.
“We’ve always been into nature and the environment,” Katrina said. “The whole property and business uses the principles of feng shui and we believe that if you have something unique then people will travel to experience it.”
No explanation is required these days, however two decades ago attitudes were very different and people simply didn’t understand what was on offer.
“People didn’t know what a Day Spa was,” Katrina said. “In fact Nick’s friends back in Saudi Arabia thought he was actually selling spa tubs!
“Starting out, we sat down and worked on a business plan and what we needed to grow the business and we still do this regularly. Nick is focused on the financial side of the business and he’s responsible for all the things that I don’t do,” she said.“I’m the creative one and he looks after the balance sheet and the extensive gardens on the property.”
The couple can’t believe how quickly the business grew – and has grown into, 20 years on.
“The vision was to recreate a Balinese village-style Day Spa, where you arrive in reception and then go to your private villa,” she said. “A place where everyone feels calm and relaxed, ‘leaving your world behind for ours’ – which was one of ikatan’s first marketing tag lines.”
The ‘big’ small business began with four staff members plus Nick, Katrina and her daughter running reception and now it takes a team of twenty.
“We still love what we do and the key for us is having a happy team in place which gives us the option to step away from the business at times,” she said.
“Since COVID we have had to be more ‘hands on’ again but we haven’t looked at that as a negative because we’ve evolved and changed things for the better, resulting in a few practices that have improved our business.
“We’re more paperless and doing more on-line and because we’re short-staffed like most businesses, I’m back doing treatments myself but it’s something I love doing and something I’m grateful for,” Katrina says.
Learning to ride the ups-and-downs is an important lesson for all businesses.
“The GFC was probably our hardest time, we didn’t know what was going to happen and in hindsight, it felt like there was more uncertainty compared to COVID,” Katrina reflects. “The GFC and the pandemic made many people reassess their health, lifestyle and mental wellbeing so that has been a positive for us as operators of a wellness Day Spa.
“Stressed people now care for themselves more and this has seen a growth in the Spa business. I feel there’s been a big shift in the way people think about our kind of business too; a Day Spa isn’t seen as indulgent or pampering anymore – wellness is a necessity.”
Congratulations to Katrina and Nick on achieving twenty years in business. Being able to build a business over times of uncertainty and still love what you are doing is a significant achievement.
We know that many clients have been coming to ikatan Spa since day one and the business has received global recognition and won numerous awards and accolades.
You are both generous with your time, knowledge and donations to local charities and Katrina has helped mentor and advise many businesses. Your ability to consistently deliver an exceptional experience for guests and staff is to be commended. Congratulations!
WANT MORE? Listen to the interview with Katrina on our podcast.