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Buddha In Brazil

Buddha Spa founder Gustavo Albanesi is Brazil’s wellness segment leader whose innovative operations and signature offerings are breaking through borders.

By Fitness Business Insider

Gustavo Albanesi has spent most of his life in Sao Paulo. Though he studied in the States and has worked in countries all over the globe, Brazil’s spicy, colorful warmth has always called him home, and it is there that he has built a thriving wellness franchise that has become a leader in the industry. His brand and his innovative approach are bringing innovation, inspiration, and local flavor to spa owners and wellness entrepreneurs far and wide.

The eldest of five children, Gustavo recalls how wellness, and its many branches and modalities were a constant and significant presence in the Albanesi family throughout his young life. His mother is a homeopathic practitioner, his sister specializes in anti-aging and integrative medicine, and it was his father who originally had the idea for the Buddha Spa prototype, which they launched together in 2001.

Gustavo studied Law at the University of Sao Paulo, the largest university in Latin America, and went on to earn his master’s degree at Berkeley. He eventually landed in investment banking first in San Francisco and then with Credit Suisse in Brazil, leading IPOs, M&As, and roadshows.

It was during that time that Gustavo’s father decided to open a day spa – the first of its kind in Brazil.  

“Wellness had always been in my DNA, but I initially hadn’t thought about being an entrepreneur,” Gustavo recalls. “Then, when I found myself in contact with presidents and CEOs of large companies, I realized I wanted to be sitting in that chair. I wanted to be the guy who’s actually transforming lives and businesses, and making things happen, not only helping others to raise money.”

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Wellness Swell

Everywhere that Gustavo visited on his worldwide investment roadshows, he gathered information and inspiration for his father’s spa. “People didn’t use the word ‘wellness’ then, at least not in Brazil,” Gustavo says. “I brought back ideas about new services, new procedures, new styles, and decoration,” and the family’s business became a pioneer in the evolving industry. In 2008, he decided to leave his work in the financial market to focus primarily on Buddha Spa.

At the cross-section of business and wellness, Gustavo became passionate about developing not just his family’s enterprise but also those entering the segment in his area of the world. In 2010, he became president of the Brazilian Spa Association, a position which he still holds today. He participates in and speaks at international events and is involved in ground-up and top-down initiatives to grow the industry in Brazil.

By 2015, nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness had gained significant traction as an in-demand service and segment. The thriving Buddha Spa franchise had become one of if not the largest brand of its type in South America.

“Then came COVID,” says Gustavo. “It caused a temporary shutdown for around three months. I expected we would reopen to an increased consciousness around stress and societal wellness, but I couldn’t have expected that it would be so fast. We’re growing in revenues, in new locations, in number of services, and we started to speed up our process of expansion.”

Buddha Spa

Online and Innovative

The nascent wellness segment in Brazil called for ingenuity and Gustavo’s consistent exploration of new opportunities and trends drove Buddha Spa’s successful market penetration. “We are always launching new products and concepts, and trying to be innovative,” says Gustavo. Back in 2010, when Buddha Spa entered the e-commerce arena, they blazed a then-new trail in the country. They’ve since launched a proprietary line of products – essential oils, teas, and accessories, which currently account for 10% of corporate revenue and provide an additional stream for franchisees. Gift certificates and online retail represent about 30% of the company’s turnover.

More recently, Buddha Spa established a token system that “gives the holder many benefits and discounts at Buddha Spa,” Gustavo explains. “It’s a coin you can use to pay for services at a cheaper rate than you would if you purchase using a credit card or cash.” A Buddha Spa token incentivizes clients and even allows for some participation in the company’s governance. For example, token holders might weigh in on strategic decisions, like voting on uniform or logo changes.

“We tokenize every new service that we provide at Buddha Spa and distribute the equivalent number tokens: we give 40,000 massages a month and put out 40,000 tokens,” Gustavo says. “We’re also launching in the NFT marketplace, so a client can earn tokens for cash-back in the spa, and services in the real-world business will improve the health of their NFT.” Codes can be received from and applied at spa reception and in the virtual universe.

Gustavo maintains that leveraging the gamification trend helps generate loyalty and increases brand exposure as those paying for services in the spa are rewarded with benefits both for their IRL wallets and virtual avatars. Continually driving both virtual and in-person engagement, Buddha Spa is incentivizing customers, building loyalty, and increasing points of contact.  

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New on the Menu

Approximately 35% of Buddha Spa services are Shiatsu and Ayurvedic, 45% are based on relaxation therapies, and around 20% are aesthetic facial and body procedures. But Gustavo isn’t resting on his laurels. Innovation on the front line is just as important as it is in operations.

Buddha Spa recently added to their service menu with the launch of their signature Brazilian Massage. “Just as you have Swedish and Thai massage, we have created a massage with all aspects Brazil – influenced by the natural elements, music, movement, water, and animals that are traditional to the country,” says Gustavo. Developed and curated with a team of specialists, (including World Wellness Weekend founder Jean Guy de Gabriac), the unique and delightful Brazilian Massage recently launched in proprietary locations and the company plans to train outside therapists to make the treatment popular not only in its country of origin but globally.

Buddha Spa’s investment in training excellence is one of the company’s differentiators, according to Gustavo. Therapists must complete 45 days of training in Buddha Spa protocols, and they are supervised before taking on clients of their own. Staff are evaluated every six months and guided on their career paths as they progress from junior, through intermediate and senior positions. “Our therapists are evaluated on technique, client relationship and management, and undergo periodical retraining in our therapies. We also have a monthly online training for them and a social network on a Buddha Spa app that outlines career development tracks… We are focused on human development, not just professional development.”

Buddha Spa - Ibirapuera 1
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Global Growth

Buddha Spa boasts 64 locations across Brazil. Their sites range from 250 to 1000 square meters and contain between five and 15 treatment rooms., and can be found in shopping malls, hotels, condos, and stand-alone locations, with sites and services tailored to the local clientele. “Next year we’ll plan to expand first in Latin America and perhaps Western Europe, maybe to the US in the future,” says Gustavo.

Franchise partners are eagerly gravitating to Buddha Spa, particularly post-pandemic, where an initial investment of approximately $180,000 may yield a break-even in about six months. “In the last two years, 92% of our franchisees are earning money since the first month,” says Gustavo. “And they get a return on capital after 30 months.” Buddha Spa stands as a pioneering force to which other organizations look for branding, services, operations, and client engagement, and Gustavo is a resource for growth-motivated brands in the wellness and other industries through the Brazilian Franchise Association Commission. In addition to his franchise operations and products, Gustavo hopes to “trade in kindness and transparency” not just with staff and clientele but with fellow entrepreneurs and industry leaders. His abiding hope is that his leadership methodology and innovative drive will leave his clientele feeling nurtured and the industry transformed and strengthened.

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