Surviving and Thriving on Main Street: Barrhaven’s exhālō Spa expands amid pandemic

Tanya Farlinger
Tanya Farlinger is the owner of exhālō Spa in Barrhaven. (Photo by Mark Holleron)
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Three years after opening exhālō Spa in the Chapman Mills Marketplace, Tanya Farlinger is looking to spread joy further afield through the power of touch – albeit with a mask, face shield and nitrile gloves.

After spending months planning a second exhālō location, Farlinger saw her business come to an immediate standstill after measures aimed at controlling COVID-19 forced her to temporarily close her Barrhaven location.

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With no customers, Farlinger briefly considered cancelling the expansion. But after finding new ways of connecting with clients online and adjusting her operations to safely reopen as public health guidelines permitted, she pushed ahead with fit-ups to her new 1,800-square-foot Kanata facility, which opened in August.

“It’s been a long spring and summer for local business owners,” Farlinger says. “To be in the midst of an expansion and get through it makes me proud of our team and what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Moving online

Farlinger opened exhālō Spa in 2017, carving a niche by offering halotherapy (dry salt therapy) and specialized esthetics treatments for cancer patients alongside organic spa and hair care services.

The business quickly grew to 25 certified aestheticians and licensed hairdressers, leading Farlinger to start planning her expansion in 2019.

COVID-19 quickly threw her plans into disarray. 

As the pandemic spread, the provincial government ordered spas and many other businesses across Ontario to close. The move came just before March break – typically Farlinger’s second-busiest time of the year.

If that wasn’t challenging enough, Farlinger also faced a difficult decision over whether to push ahead with her second spa location in Kanata. On the one hand, she didn’t know when her Barrhaven business would be allowed to reopen. But the closing date for purchasing the condo unit was quickly approaching.

“I had an immense amount of stress and worry on what was going on, and I had already invested in the commercial unit that was now an empty shell,” Farlinger recalls. “I had faith things would return to normalcy though, so I decided to keep going.”

At the same time, Farlinger took a new approach to reaching her Barrhaven clients. If her customers could no longer use her spa services, Farlinger figured she would bring the spa to them instead. She created an ecommerce function within her website to sell more than 100 locally made products, such as bath bombs, organic hand soaps and scented candles, as well as retail gift cards.

Farlinger also created and sold at-home care kits, which included herbal tea and chocolate that enable customers to create the ambiance of a spa for themselves at home. 

“People were happy to come in and socialize again, and to have that feel-good experience.”

Throughout April, Farlinger was “a one-woman show,” providing contactless curb-side pickups at her spa in the mornings and delivering products to customers in the afternoon three times a week.

But by May, Farlinger was able to recall some of her employees and could once again allow customers to shop in her store. She reached another milestone in mid-June when exhālō was allowed to resume its spa and hair services, but with some changes.

Farlinger says her employees now wear masks and face shields for every service, and $15,000 worth of Plexiglas barriers have been installed around the spa. All the velvet seats in the waiting room were replaced with easy-to-sanitize Adirondack chairs.

Her customers quickly returned.

“We were so busy with our nail and hair services that first week,” she says. “People were happy to come in and socialize again, and to have that feel-good experience,” she says.

By June, she secured a building permit and officially opened her second location on Aug. 19.

Farlinger hopes the Barrhaven and Kanata communities will continue supporting local businesses, especially during the bustling holiday season. If exhālō Spa continues experiencing its “explosive” organic growth, Farlinger says she is confident that a third location can be opened in the coming years.

Surviving and Thriving on Main Street is an editorial series profiling Ottawa businesses finding success through entrepreneurial creativity and innovation in the face of challenges and adversity.

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