Though we’ve questioned the longevity of the daily deals industry, we’re certainly receptive to alternative takes on the business model. Josh Brenner and Andrew Hersch are two entrepreneurs working to offer customers deals without negatively impacting the business owners who provide them.
With experience in product management at Intuit and online booking at OpenTable, the duo created bTreated, a members-only luxury deals site that allows you to book last-minute, half-price spa appointments in New York. While not revealing any numbers, the site’s membership has grown 400% over the past three months (the site launched in the fall of 2010). We sat down with them to see how they’re making the daily deal giants nervous.
The High Low: Why did you decide to create bTreated?
Josh Brenner: Andrew and I met in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While living in San Francisco after college, I tried booking a massage but couldn’t justify the cost for the one-hour treatment. After scouring the internet unsuccessfully to find a deal at one of the luxury spas I was familiar with, I started calling the business owners that I knew to see if they had any openings at the last minute. I convinced one of the spas to give me a discount in a time slot that they knew they weren’t able to fill. When I went into the spa to get my treatment, the owner said that if I could help them fill all of their last minute spots like that, I’d be their savior.
At the same time, Andrew was getting some great experience with the online booking space while working in marketing at OpenTable. He learned a lot about yield management before taking a job at a direct marketing company focusing on building client relationships. While he was learning a lot, Andrew was itching to start his own business. I’d get into work at Intuit, a small-business-oriented software company, to find an email from Andrew with the best deals that he could find every day. That’s how I knew he’d be the perfect partner. I told him about the idea and we haven’t looked back ever since!
THL: What’s the main difference between your site and the Groupon spin-offs?
JB: With bTreated, spas and salons offer discounts only on unfilled appointment times. From the owner’s perspective, businesses are not losing on prime slots that would have normally been filled with full-paying customers. From the consumer’s perspective, bTreated ensures the quality of spas and salons is very high — our partners include celebrity hotspots like The Spa at Trump-SoHo, Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at The Plaza, SkinCareLab, Christopher Crabaugh Beaute, Clarins Skin Spa, and many more.
Plus, the site allows you to book a specific appointment time with no expiration to worry about.
THL: How do you stand out from competitors like LifeBooker, which has a similar booking appointment model?
JB: Because bTreated focuses on “last-minute” offers, a spa is much more willing to be generous with their discounts — ours are up to 80% off. Additionally, bTreated is very selective about the spas and salons we work with, which is why we only currently have about 35 partners.
Initially, we wanted to work with spas and salons that were recognized by magazines like New York and Time Out or review sites like Yelp. Once identifying a potential partner, one of our concierges visits the business to evaluate the physical premises and sample the treatments. It’s all very subjective because some of the best luxury spas give poor service and there are some neighborhood favorites that people haven’t heard of. Since many spas are not chains or name brands, most of our clients look to us to let them know if it’s worth going to. Our live chat concierge is also a great resource when trying to decide between two spas or treatments.
THL: Why do you think spas choose to do service with bTreated instead of group buying sites?
JB: Our partners are very vocal and remind us daily why they are working with us instead of the hundreds of deal sites out there. First of all, bTreated spas have control over their deals. Because of the last-minute nature of the business, it’s important that they can control what treatments, times, and discounts they are offering. This has allowed the business owner to continually tweak his or her offers to appeal to more customers.
Secondly, bTreated has been able to partner with brands that would never put their reputation on the line by working with group buying sites. Most of these sites expose the deals to search engines, which leave details about reduced pricing that can haunt the business long after the deal is over. (Because there are new deals everyday and there is always unique content, the deal sites get a very high ranking in the search engines. Sometimes, a group buying site’s expired deal will rise above the business’s actual website.)
But because bTreated is a member’s only site, all of our deals are protected by the logged-in area. None of our deals are crawled by search engines.
THL: Tell us about the new Concierge Chat service.
JB: It’s a live chat with one of our two concierges, who can provide recommendations to our customers on which places or treatments they may enjoy. The chat is typically available 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. If the concierges are helping other customers, evaluating new spas, or at lunch, the chat window turns into an email form where customers can email questions and the concierges will respond as soon as they return or become available.
THL: What are your plans to expand, if any?
JB: For the past six months, we’ve been focused on helping New Yorkers find new spas and salons while getting the best deal at the last minute. The on-the-go lifestyle of New Yorkers is also very synergistic to our business. While we think bTreated will be great in every city and for more than just spas and salons, right now we’re focusing on reaching the rest of the seven million people in NYC that haven’t heard about us yet.