Since moving to New York City a few years ago, I’ve been asked one question in particular, over and over again: “What is the best place for a gel mani in NYC?” My answer to that question has always been the same, ever since I stepped into the chic and welcoming self-care sanctuary that is Chillhouse®. The ultra-modern nail, face, and body studio is lined with pastel interiors and offers “ChillPill ℠” massages, relaxing facials, and of course, Instagram®-approved nail art. (There are even trendy CBD-infused lattes and other beverages available for sale at the front desk!)
Chillhouse is the brainchild of New York City native Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, who is the ultimate cool girl and a soon-to-be mom. Her creative direction and management has clearly resonated with choosy New Yorkers, as there are now two Chillhouse locations: one in a quaint spot on the Lower East Side and another on a bustling corner in SoHo. In just two short years since she first opened her doors, Ramirez-Fulton has basically mastered the art of building a successful spa business.
With Chillhouse being my to-go spa, I couldn’t wait to sit down with the 30-something founder. On a cool, breezy evening in January, Ramirez-Fulton and I met at the new, airy SoHo flagship and discussed all things chill, treatments, self-care, and success over a cup of (my favorite!) lavender “Chill Me Out Latte.” I quickly learned that she was born into the business: Her mother was an esthetician and owned a small spa in Queens, New York. “I was always surrounded by this sort of environment,” she shares. “It was a much smaller space [than Chillhouse], but she was and still is an esthetician — and she's always had her own business since I've been a little girl.”
Despite this, Ramirez-Fulton’s interest to build her own spa did not come until much later on. Before becoming a spa owner and self-care aficionado, she and her husband worked many years in the restaurant and bar industry. Impressively enough, Chillhouse was Ramirez-Fulton’s first foray into the spa space — the previous nine businesses the Ramirez-Fultons managed were all bars. Like many businesses, Chillhouse was born out of a personal need. It all started when Ramirez-Fulton and her husband were trying to get massages in the city and their options were split down the middle. “The options were either high-end or low-end, and we didn't love what our options were,” she recalls. This inspired them to find a way to create a space that appealed to them, from both a price point and a design approach. Lo and behold, there was not anything like Chillhouse in the market. “There still isn't,” Ramirez-Fulton notes. “We're very unique in that regard.”
As a super fan, I can attest to that. The environment is extremely unique — millennial budget-approved, with massages starting at just $48 dollars — and just what a busy New Yorker needs after a long day of work or after a weekend of head-pounding nightlife. Notably, the Chillhouse spas exude notes of Palo Santo & ChillTM (a custom Chillhouse candle), and of course, peak self-care vibes, which Ramirez-Fulton also gives off effortlessly (despite being a few months pregnant during our interview). “At the very core, self-care is really about finding those moments to take care of and prioritize yourself,” she says. In creating Chillhouse, her goal was to provide her customers with services and techniques to experience self-care in their own way.
Clearly, Ramirez-Fulton is onto something here — and many millennial New Yorkers (and other spa owners!) have noticed, as she’s continued to expand her empire and add new services, such as custom Dermalogica® facials and infrared saunas. She even mentioned they are looking into expanding and adding more locations. Keep reading as she shares more details about building a business, humbling advice for finding yourself, her favorite Chillhouse treatments, and how she sees the future of medical aesthetics treatments.
Spotlyte: Tell us how Chillhouse went from blueprints to the real-life self-care sanctuary it is today. Where did you learn how to build a business plan?
Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton: My husband's been my mentor/advisor. We've been together for over 10 years now, so we've gone through building a lot of businesses together. While I've had other mentors in the past — and I've learned a lot through them — this business is specifically built together from the ground up. Even if I were to ask my mom, it's a different ball game here in Manhattan than it is in Queens.
Spotlyte: What was the biggest learning experience in building your brand?
CRF: [Coming from the bar and restaurant scene into a spa environment], it was a very different kind of experience learning about how to break down your staff costs. Staff costs are one of the biggest expenses. Also, learning about the industry in general.
[You have to] learn how not to take things personally. It’s also about trying your best to fix the issues that are brought to you by clients, but also just learning in general how to communicate with your employees. Again, it’s a new industry for me, so it’s about making sure everybody's happy and feels they're in a culture where they're motivated.
Spotlyte: What inspired you to create a Chillhouse flagship in SoHo?
CRF: As great as the Lower East Side location is, there was too much going on inside for the square footage. We just weren't really seeing the brand portrayed the way we wanted within those walls anymore. We actually redesigned [the Lower East Side location] and turned it into face- and body-care only, delivering great services in private rooms. It wasn't an overnight realization of, "Oh, we just want to do this.” It was more that we had an opportunity to really expand on the brand. We fell in love and envisioned our dream space there right away. I was like, "This is the space."
Spotlyte: What’s your favorite room at Chillhouse SoHo?
CRF: I love the nail room a lot, because you get the corner view of the street — you can watch the cars go by and it's very airy. I also really love our sauna room. [Editor’s Note: This is also my favorite room!]
Spotlyte: Who is the ideal Chillhouse member?
CRF: We definitely skew female, because of nails, mostly. Ideal audience? I don't have one, but I'd say the sweet spot for us is usually anywhere from 22 to 40 — so basically, millennials. Young millennials, older millennials, and all the millennials in the middle. A millennial New Yorker that has her hand on the pulse of what's trending, what's not. They love to take care of themselves, and appreciate and value those moments for themselves.
Spotlyte: How do you practice self-care at home?
CRF: [I practice self-care at home] through skincare and by rubbing my belly for a long time with Kate McLeod's Mama Stone. I can't wait to get back to New York City, so I can take daily baths. I really need [baths] right now, but our bathroom doesn't have a tub down in Orlando, FL. [Editor’s Note: She is currently quarantined in Orlando, Fl. due to the Coronavirus pandemic].
Spotlyte: Do you think your spas will ever offer advanced treatments, such as lasers or peels?
CRF: We're never going to say “no” to doing anything. The whole concept behind Chillhouse is to offer services that are tried-and-true, so whatever tried-and-true service that we feel fits within what we're trying to accomplish, we're down to explore it. We just added heat, [an infrared sauna in January 2020]. That's really new to us. We're down to explore.
Spotlyte: How and who comes up with your nail designs at Chillhouse? They’re so cool.
CRF: My friend Eda Levenson — she goes by Lady Fancy Nails — did the original designs [for us]. Then, she did a revised design book about a year later. We edited it and saw what worked, what didn't. From there, we've done everything in-house.
Spotlyte: What do you believe is the key to success?
CRF: For me, it's all about happiness — not necessarily how much money's in the bank. The security of having someone you know you can trust and lean on is really important — having some sort of support system is very instrumental to success and happiness. I attribute my personal success to these relationships and my husband, and being in a healthy, committed relationship — and growing our family!
Spotlyte: What does your nighttime skincare routine look like right now?
CRF: It varies every night. I'm not super brand loyal, so I vacillate between a few products. Lately, I've been washing my face with multiple Erno Laszlo® products, and I’ve been going back and forth between the brand’s sleeping mask and Caudalie's® Vine[Activ]TM Detox Oil.
Spotlyte: What is your favorite facial tool that you believe is worth the splurge?
CRF: From a more financially-sound standpoint, a gua sha — a good old gua sha is a great tool. It's affordable. You can put it in your purse. You can travel with it.
Editor’s note If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before using a gua sha or rolling tool.
Spotlyte: Do you get any injectables?
CRF: I've gotten injectable wrinkle reducers, and I've gotten injectable fillers in my lips [in the past]. [My results are] so subtle.
Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you.
Spotlyte: What do you think the next trend in the aesthetics category will be?
CRF: I think you're going to start seeing a lot more [treatments]. Not to say that we're becoming vainer in that sense, right? I don't think so. I think we just want to make sure that we find inner happiness in our outer looks a little bit more.
Spotlyte: Is there any other in-office treatment you have been dying to try?
CRF: I've tried a lot of them. My mom does a lot of them, too. She has a fat freezing device at her spa.
Spotlyte: What is your favorite makeup set right now? Sets are all the rage!
CRF: I've been loving this Made for MamaTM Set by IliaTM. The colors are super complimentary to my skin tone and many others.
Editor’s note As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Spotlyte: What is the biggest nail trend we will be seeing this spring/summer?
CRF: People are going to start getting really playful around emojis, like the sparkly one. You're going to start seeing a little bit more kitschy, playful, fun, young, happy sorts of designs.
Spotlyte: We’d love to know what advice you’d give to your younger self on a few topics. First up: skincare.
CRF: I'm starting to finally see bags under my eyes every now and then. Start looking out for those wrinkles, too, because it's the one [thing] where I'm like, "Yeah, I see them in photos. Oh sh*t!”
Spotlyte: What advice would you give to your younger self about owning a business?
CRF: Don't be so hard on yourself. Leading by example is super important. Don't expect people to do things that you wouldn't do yourself. Otherwise, the respect of authority won't be there when the time comes.
Spotlyte: Finally, what advice would you give to your younger self about confidence?
CRF: Don't wait for other people to tell you how to go find it. Just look for it — find it within yourself. Start identifying the things that you think you're good at. I waited too long for people to tell me what I was good at, and I didn't really identify it on my own. At the end of the day, it worked out, I guess! Still, it took me a long time to find that inner confidence in order to do anything — because I didn't see it myself.
Oftentimes, as kids, we compare our strengths to other people's strengths, and we're like, "Well, they're obviously better." That was always my issue: “I'm not great at it, so I shouldn't do it.” That's not true. You can always work towards becoming the best — and you have to start somewhere! As long as you like something and you know you're good at it in some capacity, you can always refine it.
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