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Schlageter embraces the feminine
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Photo courtesy of RADIANCE MEDSPA
Radiance Medspa is a medical facility that looks and feels like a spa. Pictured here is its lobby.
BELLEAIR BLUFFS – Stephanie Schlageter never had a problem being “one of the boys.” As a kid, she always split off with her dad and brother. In college and her first careers, she was the only or one of very few women. Never did she expect that someday she would run a medspa business of all women that serves women. But then again, this type of business hasn’t even existed for very long.

Schlageter is the owner and founder of Radiance Medspa in Belleair Bluffs, which opened in 2006, and it has been one of the most rewarding things she has ever done.

The business

“It’s a medical facility that looks like a spa that offers non-surgical cosmetic medical treatments,” Schlageter said. “We have two MDs and we have four nurse practitioners.”

There are six treatment rooms, each dedicated to a different kind of procedure or equipment. A beeping from one room indicates that someone is getting laser hair removal done, but the same machine can also treat discolored skin. It can remove brown spots, red spots, broken blood vessels and any similar kind of blemish, Schlageter said. That is also the primary room for Botox and Juvederm injections. Botox is a muscle relaxant, and after years of squinting or smiling, people develop wrinkles in key areas. The Botox relaxes the corresponding muscles, helping those expression lines fade away, she said. Similarly, Juvederm is another injection but is a filler, which is commonly used to add volume to the skin.

“Mainly, but not all of what we do is anti-aging type of treatments, so wrinkles, spots, lines, things that change in the face and the body as we age,” Schlageter said.

In another room is the IPL laser, which means intense pulsed light.

“This is a fractional laser which is very popular because it can totally restore the surface of the skin,” Schlageter said. “It’s called a resurfacing laser and it literally gives the skin a whole new surface, so it is ideal for people with lines, wrinkles, even like acne scars, large pores, brown spots. Anything on the surface of the skin that people don’t like. And the laser literally takes away the old skin and you grow back brand new skin.”

Another room has a third laser called a SlimLipo laser, which does exactly as its title suggests.

“This one is performed by our physician, and it’s really a very cool latest-and-greatest way of removing fat from people’s bodies in a targeted way,” Schlageter said. “It’s not a weight loss procedure. A lot of people mistake liposuction in general being for weight loss. It’s not. It’s for people who are pretty much an ideal weight but have this stubborn little blob or love handles or maybe little saddlebags. You go into those small areas, and with this device, there’s this laser fiber. The device looks like a little piece of spaghetti, and we make a tiny little dot in the skin and go under the skin and melt the fat with the laser.”

After the fat is melted, it is suctioned out through the tiny incision. The procedure is done through a series of tiny incisions while the patient is fully awake, and it is a safe, simple way to target problem areas, she said. It also tightens the skin in the process, so people don’t have to worry about excess skin left over.

The final machine the medspa has is one called Thermage, which has a handpiece that is pulsed all over the face with intense energy, she said. This tightens skin, which can be great for loose jowls, heavy eyelids and similar issues.

“Thermage does a real nice job of tightening skin by heating it up so your collagen gets damaged and you grow back new collagen,” Schlageter said. “A lot of our procedures are regenerative.”

The non-surgical medical cosmetic industry is booming, but there is a lot of “garbage” out there, Schlageter said. Some people go into it to make a lot of money but only take a few weekend courses, she said.

“A very unfortunate dynamic that’s been going on for the last several years is people getting really bad outcomes, bad treatments, getting ripped off,” Schlageter said. “We have taken the stand that we offer 100 percent complementary consultations. We totally emphasize to people that if you want to come in here and spend an hour and ask questions and learn and leave, you are totally welcome. We hope to educate the community and the world about what’s good and what’s not good and what questions you should ask and just bring up their level of awareness so they can get safe treatments and not get ripped off. Or worse, get something that’s bad.”

Schlageter does all the consultations herself and usually hands the woman a mirror and ask her to explain what’s bothering her.

“It’s interesting because it’s often transitions in people’s lives that bring them in here,” Schlageter said. “Transitions meaning like a divorce or a relationship change. Often times losing a loved one, especially a parent, automatically brings up people’s mortality. Like, ‘Wow, I’m the next in line,’ and they start scrutinizing that they’re getting older.”

Other times people are interviewing for a new job and want to feel and look their best, especially if they feel they are competing against a lot of younger candidates, she said. Milestone birthdays also bring people in, like hitting 40, 50 or 60.

“The things we do in here, just making somebody feel better about the way they look, provides such a boost in self-confidence,” Schlageter said. “It’s really quite amazing. We hear stories all day long like, ‘I came in here and I went back into the world and I feel people treat me differently.’ And, ‘I think I walk in the room with a different attitude because I feel better about myself.’ And when you feel better about yourself, you act differently, and people treat you differently.”

Helping people regain their self-confidence is one of the greatest pleasures Schlageter gets from running this business.

From the land of boys

Though now Schlageter works with all women and serves a nearly exclusive female clientele, this is hardly the environment she was used to – even growing up. She has two sisters and a brother, and the kids always ended up splitting off into twos with each parent. Her sisters were always “mama’s girls,” and Schlageter was always a “daddy’s girl,” so it worked out well.

The trend continued as she got older. Her first job in high school was at a marina in Chicago, where she ended up working for 11 years.

“I was not only the only female, but after a few years, I was offered the job of harbormaster, so I ran the whole harbor,” Schlageter said. “I loved that job. It was like my second home. It was my first job in management and running a little business in a way.”

The crew was mostly men, and they were the old sailor type of guys. She didn’t mind. After all, at the same time, she also had a similar environment in school. Her undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, and she has a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, and then she worked for 10 years in the medical device industry – all of which were dominated by men.

“I went for my undergrad at Tufts University in Boston, and I was literally one of two females in my mechanical engineering program,” Schlageter said. “I think that’s changed a lot now because that was in ’86 through ’90, so it’s been a long time. But back then, especially at small schools, it was just not that common to see women getting engineering degrees.”

Her first post-collegiate job was in the orthopedic medical industry, which was about 99-percent men.

“I don’t actually think I ran into a single female surgeon the entire time,” Schlageter said. “There are female surgeons, I know, but I don’t think I remember working with a single female surgeon.”

Typically the only women Schlageter saw were in administrative positions, and she certainly was the only female engineer. She loved that job and held numerous positions over her years there, including starting as a research and development engineer, marketing director and field engineer.

“I saw the world with that company. Literally,” Schlageter said. “They flew me to Asia, Australia and Europe and all over the United States to develop new instruments.”

As research and development engineer she designed, tested and developed medical instruments. Then, since she tends to be more of a people person than many engineers, the company decided to send her out into the field to work side by side with surgeons to get feedback and have them test devices. Eventually she got an offer of another promotion to marketing director, which brought her to the company headquarters here in Pinellas County. In that role she was responsible for product development, identifying new devices to add to the pipeline and still working a lot with surgeons and developing business plans.

“I ran this whole division of the business, and this is the part I laugh about in hindsight because I actually thought I knew about how to run a business,” Schlageter said. “But when you’re working for a corporation and running a division of their business, it’s a totally different story. It’s not your company. Your house is not on the line. You really are answering to higher-ups who are really giving you a budget and deciding your overall direction.”

A bumpy start

After 10 years in that job, she was beginning to get a bit burned out and didn’t see a lot more opportunities for advancement. At that same time, around 2003 or 2004, her brother-in-law who is a physician asked her if she would open a medspa with him.

“I literally had never even heard of a medspa,” Schlageter said. “So I looked into it and became very intrigued. I definitely jumped a little bit on the American Dream.”

Schlageter had always wanted to own her own business, and she liked that this was a combination of medicine and business.

“So I left my comfortable, cushy corporate job with that guaranteed salary where I could go home and sleep at night to starting my own business,” Schlageter said. “It’s funny. I often tell people that if I knew what I was getting into – and I think this is true of a lot of startup businesses – that I don’t think half the people would do it if they really knew what it takes. But I was the clueless, naďve person who luckily did not know, so I jumped in wholeheartedly. And I would never trade it for anything. Now knowing what I know can come of it, it’s such a reward and such a pleasure.”

However, she got off to a scary start because initially the Radiance Medspas were supposed to be franchises, but she said that was set up by “a total crook.” In a short period of time, the person sold hundreds of franchise territories all over the United States, but just as they were opening or about to open, the person disappeared.

“Phones disconnected, just gone,” Schlageter said. “And it was clearly a case of very planned, calculated fraud. And so a lot of us who bought into that were either about to open, we were under construction, and there were different people in different phases, but some people it really hit hard. They lost everything. So, so terrible. For me, I was just opening. Like literally just opening my doors and the guy disappeared.”

Everything was a bit of a panic at first because like with most franchises, the man had promised to do a lot of the marketing, hiring and providing a lot of other kinds of support that Schlageter ended up having to do all by herself. Fortunately the economy had not yet crashed and the banks were still lending, so even though startup expenses ended being more than she had planned for, she was able to push through. That, and her unwillingness to get up.

“That’s my personality,” Schlageter said. “And I was in so deep that the only option if I gave up was probably to lose everything. My house was on the line and I had a child and a husband and I just thought, this is not an option.”

That was in 2006. Now, eight years later, she is grateful that she can tell that story with a smile on her face. She has a wonderful team and a successful business that has continued to grow, even during the bad economy.

A warmer side of business

While there were all of the usual major adjustments and learning curves going from working at a corporation to owning one’s own business, one of the biggest changes was completely unexpected. She had never realized how different it is to work with all women than it is to work with all men.

“I opened this business and really what I was thinking at the time was, oh, it sounds like a cool medical business,” Schlageter said. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into, but I soon found myself in this pretty much all female environment. And I must say, it was rather shocking and uncomfortable for me at first. I remember thinking within the first year, oh my god, it’s so different working around women. They talk about their feelings and their families and their emotions, and in the worlds I’d lived in before, there weren’t people talking about their feelings.”

Her initial reaction was to think that too much time was being wasted, and she finally realized that this is what people must mean regarding talking around the water cooler.

“As a new business owner, I was under a lot of pressure and stress, and I was probably like oh my gosh, guys are so much easier. They just come to work and they go to work,” Schlageter said. “But there’s a lot more chit chat and sometimes more friction between women, which I wasn’t used to. But I honestly have to say that’s one of the things I would never give back. Now, eight years later, I’ve had the incredible experience of working among women, and it has been probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. It taught me to open up and to share with others and let them share with me.”

Before, Schlageter describes herself as more of a stoic, closed person. She thinks that partly was because she was not going to talk about “female things” in an environment of all men. Even though it made her uncomfortable at first, now she embraces the female environment.

“Now I think of that other environment as so unfriendly and not warm and so not connected,” Schlageter said. “This environment we have here in our team, it’s truly like family.”

Schlageter’s business philosophy is to put her employees first. If their needs are met, then they will be able to give clients the best possible care and attention.

“As the owner of the business, I look to my team first,” Schlageter said. “I’ve realized that when the needs of your team are met and they are really happy and have good energy flowing, that will flow through to your customers. So they are my first priority.”

She makes an effort to be a flexible employer and understands that some of her staff are in their baby rearing years. She has high-quality employees so is willing to adapt one’s job – the hours or position for instance – to work around their changing situation.

Another way she puts her staff – and therefore her customers – first is through dedicating a good amount of time and money to education, ensuring her team is always up-to-date on the current technologies and information.

“I am so not driven by money,” Schlageter said. “I guess that probably has really helped us achieve the type of business that we have. I think businesses driven by money would probably look at my PML (probable maximum loss) and say I probably shouldn’t spend as much money as I do on spoiling my staff. Like probably some of the conferences we go to and the training, I could probably cut that in half and we’d still be pretty well trained. But I do put a greater amount of our budget on stuff like that than your diehard moneymaking business person would, but to me, I have never lived my life based on money alone.”

That training has paid off, and Radiance Medspa has won several prestigious awards, including Business of the Year 2013 from the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Black Diamond Award. The latter is given out by the company that makes Botox and Juvederm and is given only to those in the top 1 percent of facilities in the country.

“That is only about 200 facilities in the country to do Botox and Juvederm, which is very meaningful to us because it just puts us in the top-most experienced facilities in the country,” Schlageter said.

She also works to get in tune with her staff by asking them what specifically motivates them. Everyone needs money, she said, but often it is not the best or only way to motivate employees. Some prefer recognition or by team-bonding events.

“I tell them I’m asking them really genuinely so I can reward them with things that are meaningful,” Schlageter said. “Like, do you want your manicures and pedicures to be done free for the next year? Or do you want tickets to the movies? Or is it paid time off that you’d really appreciate? Are you trying to buy a new car next year? I’d just really like to know what is meaningful because I can sit here and come up with what I think is going to be rewarding and motivating, but it’s probably different for everybody. And it’s usually where they are in their life, but only a few employees say money.”

Giving back

One of the other rewarding parts of Radiance is being able to give back to the community. At the end of 2013, she gave her employees an optional assignment to choose a charity they each were personally interested in. Now in 2014, through each employee, Radiance is supporting these charities in various ways.

“It could be through paid time off for the employee (to volunteer,) it could be volunteering, it could be holding a fundraising event,” Schlageter said. “We did one for the Homeless Emergency Project. It could be donating to the charity. Anything we can offer as a business.”

The charity Schlageter chose for herself is the Homeless Emergency Project. She has been a supporter of the organization for years and had taken her daughter, who’s now 12, to volunteer. Now her daughter is passionate about helping, too, so they volunteer as a family. In February, Radiance held a BOTOX and Bubbly fundraiser, which raised more than $5,000 for HEP. She has been blessed with a successful business, so she feels important to help those less fortunate.
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