Salt Suite tries to shake up industry
Salt Suite has therapy rooms geared for kids, too, with salt filling in for sand.
Anyone who has ever escaped to the sea to breathe in the medicinal properties of salt air soon may have a less scenic, but closer to home, solution thanks to franchising.
In lieu of sitting in a beach chair soaking in the salt spray, asthmatics and sinus sufferers can lounge in leather recliners in salt-lined rooms as generators grind up the salt into microscopic dry particles and blow it into the air. If it’s a child being treated, he or she doesn’t have to give up making sand castles. Kids play in a giant sandbox filled with salt and sand toys
A number of individually owned salt-therapy businesses exist around the country, but Elliot and Jessica Helmer, owners of The Salt Suite based in Delray Beach, Florida, say they are the first to franchise the model.
Unlike the typical franchise start-up story, the Helmers didn’t open their first Salt Suite because they or a family member had respiratory problems. Both were college athletes and saw salt therapy along the lines of aromatherapy (which adds essential oils to massage treatments).
Jessica was working in sales for a large payroll company and Elliot was doing sales and estimating for an air conditioning company. “We weren’t satisfied in our jobs at the time,” Elliot Helmer says. “We also felt that if we both went into it (their new business) 100 percent, our odds of success would be higher.”
They had spotted a unit in Orlando, and noticed the number of people coming and going. When he did the research, Helmer discovered that while salt therapy has a low profile in the United States, it is popular in Eastern Europe and the U.K.
That low profile may be about to change. A number of therapy centers with names like Breathe Salt Rooms in New York City and the Salt Cave in Minneapolis are opening around the country. Salt therapy is being touted in blog ads as a prescription for clear skin as well as respiratory problems. Blocks of Himalayan pink salt, pillows filled with the salt and do-it-yourself respirators are popular items for sale on a number of websites, with promises to cure everything from headaches to sore muscles to breathing problems.
“Salt acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent that flushes out the sinuses and lungs,” Helmer says. “It’s a treatment that came from Poland in the 1800s when a doctor discovered salt miners didn’t have any respiratory issues.”
Conditions it’s known to help manage include asthma, allergies, sinusitis and emphysema. Sessions are 45 minutes. Customers relax while breathing in fine salt particles. “They’re ingesting a little salt,” Helmer admits, but it’s “less than the amount in a potato chip.”
The number of visits depends on the severity of the ailment. Allergies may only need a once a week session, while asthma might require daily visits. Each session runs around $35; monthly memberships are available for $99 for unlimited sessions. Asthma sufferers in particular are helped, he adds, because the cleansing quality of the salt reaches the lower lobes of the lungs.
“It opens the sinus cavities,” he explains. “You step out of the room, blow your nose, get a drink of water and then you’re on your way.” His clientele? “The Whole Foods crowd,” he says.
When the Helmers opened their first suite five years ago, they tapped into the endless resources of salt from the Dead Sea. While Dead Sea salt has a certain marketing cachet, they now use pharmaceutical-grade salt to eliminate the minerals that could cause reactions.
While some businesses stack blocks of pink Himalayan salt to create walls, the Helmers have a different technique. They throw wet salt on the walls by hand, giving them a rough stucco appearance. On the floor is a thick carpet of loose salt. A lamp made out of the pink salt blocks casts a rosy glow to the room.
Delray Beach was chosen for the first unit because it’s known for causing year-round allergies due to high pollen counts, Helmer says.
The couple opened a second location in 2014 and started offering franchises soon afterward when customers kept asking how to open a similar business. There are two franchises open with a third in the works.
As evidenced by their all-or-nothing launch of the business, they self-funded their franchise. “We did a lot of research, looked at Yelp reviews and liked seeing that it worked,” he says. The franchise fee is $25,000, with a 6 percent royalty.
In an industry dominated by independents, he says, “We’re trying to bring a level of professionalism to the business.”