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Marilyn Monroe Spas backed by Disney alumni


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“You have brand recognition all over the world,” says Al Weiss, executive chairman of Marilyn Monroe Spas, about the late screen legend.

It’s the kind of place Marilyn Monroe would have patronized if she was still alive. The legendary actress, who still epitomizes sexuality and female vulnerability 52 years after her death, can still sell. And like Elvis, she’s done some of her best business deals post mortem.

Ironically, the people behind the latest franchise to evoke her image and name, Marilyn Monroe Spas, were trained at squeaky-clean Disney.

Niki Bryan, founder and CEO of Marilyn Monroe Spas, ran Walt Disney World’s spa division and introduced Ritz Carlton to the spa business, according to Executive Chairman Al Weiss.

Getting the call

Weiss had just retired as president of worldwide operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ $10-billion business, when a call from Bryan got him off the golf course and into the spa business. Weiss says his role is “visioning” to make sure there’s a pathway to where Bryan’s experienced team can take the business.

Much more than Minnie Mouse or Daisy Duck—or even the princesses—Marilyn Monroe’s image has a global draw that transcends generations. “You have brand recognition all over the world,” Weiss says, adding, “She’s the third-highest grossing celebrity not alive.” And no one can deny her glamour lends itself to the spa industry.

Weiss says he became convinced of  the business’s viability when he saw an international art exhibit of Andy Warhol’s work and the image that served as the “logo” for the show was the famous Marilyn Monroe with heavy-handed eye shadow.

“People remember this glamorous woman who will never grow old,” he says. And social media is introducing her to younger generations. The Marilyn Monroe Spas and her personal fan Facebook pages have more than 16 million likes (at press time) primarily from 15-45 year olds, Weiss says.

What would Marilyn wear

There are three versions of the spas. Corporate is franchising the Glamour Rooms, which specialize in make-up and hair, from sleek and straight to “Marilyn Me,” and Nail Lounges. The spas inside resorts—of which five are open—are currently a franchisor-only endeavor. “We haven’t developed a resort strategy yet,” Weiss says.

An additional profit center to the services is the branded beauty products, based on what fragrances and products “Marilyn would have used,” Weiss says. Pedicures run $30; manicures, $20. “We’re charging moderate prices for a resort-quality experience,” Weiss says.

The real estate of choice is lifestyle centers or malls, where Weiss says they are hearing from landlords that they’re raising the bar for other tenants.

The company has 10 locations, including five resorts, two Nail Lounges and three Glamour Rooms. They’re seeing interest from individual investors as well as multi-unit operators and area developers. Investors from South America, the Middle East and Asia have also approached them, Weiss says.

In keeping with its upscale appearance, Weiss says they offer technicians healthcare benefits, paid time off and a 401(k) program. They have their own training program as well.

Before they collect any royalties from franchisees, however, the franchisor has to pay significant coin to the actress’s estate.

Those hefty fees may have been one of the pitfalls of a chain out of Canada that tried to attract coffee and pastry lovers to Marilyn Monroe Cafés. The short-lived restaurant franchise, which used large pictures of Marilyn as décor, is being sued by the actress’s estate for unpaid royalties.

According to the legal online news source, Law360, the actress’s estate sued the chain for failure to pay licensing fees in full and minimum royalties of $250,000 per quarter.

Downside to sexy?

Licensing agreements aren’t the only problem with using the Marilyn Monroe name. A Saudi Arabian coffee shop named Marilyn Monroe was closed in 2013 after a social media campaign spurred a boycott of the restaurant for naming itself after a sex symbol, according to arabianbusiness.com. That could be a problem for future expansion of the spa brand, or an overstatement of the cause of the closure, as the news source alluded to in its article. Marilyn Monroe seems to inspire intrigue.

 

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