Talking to...Esther Fieldgrass

It’s six o’clock on a balmy late spring evening and EF Medispa’s Kings Road clinic is slowly filling up. Chelsea yummy mummies and wealthy businesswomen filter in, immaculate dress and bouncing blow dries, for the west London luxury clinic chain’s Positive Ageing Symposium, for talks from a skincare expert, nutritionist, personal trainer, and an orthodontist, while supping prosecco and nibbling sushi. 

“For us,” explains EF Medispa’s founder and creative director Esther Fieldgrass, “it’s showing our clientele that if there is something that you need, we usually have a person you can go to.”

It’s initiatives such as this that have helped Fieldgrass secure the trust of the clients at her clinics in Chelsea, Kensington, and St John’s Wood, not to mention a 70% rebook rate. And in turn, it’s her success with clients, along with the clinic’s broad treatment portfolio and commitment to high standards, that led to a second consecutive Professional Beauty Award win earlier this year.

Running clinics wrapped in the comfortably affluent bubble of West London, catering to women who wouldn’t blink at the prospect of spending a four-figure sum on some self-preservation, it could be easy to dismiss Fieldgrass as out of touch with the challenges that face the average beauty business owner. But underestimate her at your peril. Behind the Hermès scarf is an astute businesswoman with her finger firmly on the pulse of the industry.
A new chapter
Business ticking over smoothly at the three clinics have given Fieldgrass a chance to turn her eye to other projects. Right now, that’s the forthcoming Santai Spa, a hotel spa that forms part of Resorts World, a £150m leisure development close to the NEC on the outskirts of Birmingham that will also include a casino, cinema, retail and restaurants.

“The chairman of Genting [the developer] flew over from Malaysia,” explains Fieldgrass of how she came to be involved. “He looked at the project, saw what they were doing with the spa and said, ‘No, this needs to be a medi-spa.’

“The UK chairman is actually a client of ours, so when the boss said that, he thought, ‘I know just the person’.”

The facility, slated to open in September, will include a nine-treatment room spa, a gym, 15m pool and a hair salon, a far cry from her city-centre clinics; however, this is a change she’s looking forward to.

“I’m integrating packages that I can’t do here,” she explains. “Things with water, for example, and we’ll have the salt cave and the sauna. I’ll do much more elongated packages that combine the spa and medi-spa elements, and I’ve got my nutritionist up there so I can look at diet programmes.”

Santai will still offer the traditional holistic spa treatments, which is not new territory for Fieldgrass. Her career, spanning more than 40 years, has included a stint living in Asia and training in a number of healing modalities, such as reiki.

Fieldgrass was brought on board at Santai in early April, for her business acumen as much as her expertise in treatments and skincare.

“Most spas in hotels do not make money. They’re put there as a draw, because people want to go somewhere that’s got a spa and a gym. I want to show people a way of turning it around so they can make money from their spas,” she says. But will Santai’s clients have wallets as bulging as the ones who frequent her clinics in London?

“We want to offer something more exclusive up there,” Fieldgrass says. “It will obviously be more moderate than London, but you’ve got some very wealthy areas up there, and that’s who we’ll be aiming for.”

Family name
The spa, which will have the full name of Santai Spa by EF Medispa, is one of Fieldgrass’s first franchises since she launched the concept last year, and she will be running it herself until reaching a point when Genting can manage the operations in-house.

There is another franchise in the pipeline in Bristol, which is scheduled to open by the end of the year. She is also in talks with the owners of a South Kensington hair salon about a pop-up EF Skinspa, the franchise brand for business owners wanting to focus purely on the hands-on treatments and skincare.

Franchising has been a tentative process, and Fieldgrass isn’t prepared to let just anyone open up under her brand name. “It’s about finding people who have the right mentality for it,” she says. Does she ever turn down people that approach her about opening a franchise? “Yes, lots.”

I t’s h ardly s urprising s he’s c autious. R eaching a nd maintaining the standards that have made EF Medispa a success both with her clients and her peers does not come cheap. Along with the meticulously selected product houses, there are some 15 non-surgical devices on offer at the clinics, and there is a rolling three-month training rota for staff.

“ In this industry, you’re only really as good as your team,” she says, explaining her rigorous training requirements, which include work with all the product houses and devices in the clinic, as well as workshops in areas such as customer service or team management. When we meet, the senior staff have recently been to a management-training seminar. “It’s really interesting to see how everybody responded to it,” she says, “and what we all learnt about our own personalities.”

The investment in her team has paid off though. Staff who do leave tend to come back within a few months, she explains, and she believes that an enthusiastic, well-trained team is key to the success of the EF brand.

“Sometimes the girls come up to me and say, ‘Esther, have you heard about this new machine?’ and I’ll go and check it out. We always look at what’s new. I think people get bored if they’re doing the same thing day in, day out. Bringing in newness is what they enjoy,” she says.

Staying ahead of the game has been an important part of her success. Treatments that are becoming increasingly mainstream now – individualised facials, intravenous drip treatments – have been on the EF menu for years. She describes her approach to selecting treatments as “always cutting edge”.

“You have to be as up to date as your clients,” she says. “Sometimes it surprises me how much research people do.” She won’t make rash decisions though. New treatments are trialled for a couple of months before she starts offering them to clients. “Usually I’m the main guinea pig,” she says. “I have been burnt before now, and I always think, ‘thank goodness it wasn’t a client’.”

In fact, the IV vitamin treatments will form the basis for her new London site, due to open this month in Canary Wharf. The Drip and Chill Lounge will offer vitamin infusion drips, as well as teeth whitening and injectables – “intelligent healthcare,” as she describes it – catering to the banking district’s work-hard, play-hard market.

As excited as she is about the new opening – a City location has been a long time coming – Fieldgrass is always focused on what’s next. “I think the next step for us is may be to do much more marketing on the fact that we do consulting,” she says, adding that she is frequently contacted by people who want to pick her brain. Whatever the next project might be, with Fieldgrass as the indomitable driving force, it’s likely to be a success.

Key dates
1972 Esther Fieldgrass opens her first hair and beauty salon

1983 Moves to Asia for 12 years, where she works in fashion and later trains in traditional healing therapies

2007 Opens first EF Medispa clinic in Kensington

2010 Opens Chelsea branch of EF Medispa on the Kings Road

2011 Opens third clinic on St John’s Wood High Street

2014 Wins her first Professional Beauty Award for Medi-spa of the Year, with the second coming a year later

2015 Opens fourth London site in Canary Wharf, and prepares to open a site in forthcoming Santai Spa in Resorts World