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Young Ones to Watch: Jeremy Hassell, CEO and Founder of City Cave

Australian entrepreneur Jeremy Hassell talks about how his hard work helping other people find a new way to relax is now paying dividends for his customers, his franchisees and himself.

Floatation therapy is pretty simple, really.

You immerse yourself in a warm, soothing bath of relaxing epsom salts. Turn down the lights. Tune out the sights and sounds of the rest of the world. Float. Emerge an hour or so later refreshed, centered and ready to take on the world.

Now, much like yoga before it, what was once reserved for hippies and New Age gurus is now going mainstream. 

City Cave, a Brisbane, Australia-based chain offering floatation therapy, infrared saunas and massage, is part of the reason why. 

Co-founder Jerrmy Hassell talks to us about how a guy from the construction industry got involved with floatation therapy, and why franchising the concept has been the right route for the company.

1851Franchise: Tell us about City Cave. How do you explain it to potential customers?

Jeremy Hassell: At City Cave wellness centers, we treat and heal three key client groups: athletes, CEOs (who are completely exhausted and overworked) and hippies. We provide beautiful, tranquil spaces where people can enhance their health and wellbeing through services that focus on the mind and body. The treatments involve a combination of float therapy (using sensory deprivation to achieve deep relaxation), infrared saunas (detoxifying the body using heat and light) and massages (for ultimate relaxation and relieving tired muscles).

1851: How did you get interested in flotation tanks as a business?

Hassell: My business partner Tim Butters and I launched the business in 2016 in Brisbane. We had worked together in the construction industry and also jointly ran an importation business. We knew there was something else out there for us, though. One day someone told us about floatation therapy and we thought it sounded very left field, but cool. So we gave it a go and absolutely loved it. We walked out on to the street after our session and just looked at each other – it was our lightbulb business moment. Tim and I thought the concept was great, but felt the execution could be so much better. A lot of hard work followed, but in that moment City Cave was born.

1851: What's the greatest obstacle to overcome when talking about flotation tanks?

Hassell: The traditional float-therapy pod that we first trialed had a problem – when we explained to customers that they had to lie in a pitch-black capsule with the lid closed, a lot of our target audience were worried about being claustrophobic. Tim and I found it really bizarre that no one had addressed that issue, so we built these serene, open float rooms and they have been a huge success. We have been able to do couples floating, which is a great way to introduce men to float therapy. Our float rooms have given us a real point of difference in the market. 

1851: Do you have an elevator pitch to attract the interest of investors?

Hassell: We say that anyone and everyone can own and operate one of our wellness centres. It’s not like a gym franchise where it’s preferable to come from a gym background or to be a personal trainer. We’ve got school teachers, construction workers, administration people, other franchise owners, and even a fly-in, fly-out miner. We embrace everyone.

1851: How did you get into franchising?

Hassell: We initially opened a couple of centers and then, in 2018, decided to go down the franchising path because it’s such a great growth model. We have a passion for helping people and franchising allows us to help more people more quickly. Everybody is screaming from the rooftops that life is overly busy and over-stimulated. Float Therapy lets people get rid of the noise and the clutter.

1851: How many franchisees are there at the moment?

Hassell: We have 13 centers with four more to open by the end of 2020. Nineteen more currently looking for locations.

1851: What’s your growth plan?

Hassell: Tim and I are ambitious – our long-term goal is to have 150 City Caves in Australia, 40 in New Zealand, 1,500 in the U.S. and 200 in Europe. We know that’s achievable.

1851: What do you love about the franchising industry?

Hassell: We’re surrounded by this love and this family that we’ve created from all these trailblazing franchisees, most of whom started as our customers. It’s a really exciting and fun journey.

1851: What makes someone a good fit for the franchise industry?

Hassell: For us, our brand success has been built around four key values – collaboration, empathy, abundance and balance – and we think prospective franchisees need to embrace one or more of those traits if they are going to be successful with City Cave. They have to be the right fit. Tim and I want people to have the same ethos as us. 

1851: How do you feel about the industry's response to the coronavirus crisis? Have you learned anything about yourself or franchisees during this year?

Hassell: I think the franchising sector really proved why franchising is such a great business model. COVID-19 is a reminder that franchises need to stay positive and play to their strengths, even in times of crisis. We’ve pressed the accelerator on growth this year and we’ve realized that the harder we work, the clearer that the solutions become. 

We’ve also realized how crucial it is in uncertain times to keep having fun with our franchisees. So, during lockdowns, we initiated special team-building activities, including Zoom wine and cheese nights, as well as networking events to boost morale. When people are scared, leaders need to step up.

1851: What advice do you have for other young up-and-comers in the space?

Hassell: Franchise owners have to be prepared to make mistakes. No risk, no reward. Making mistakes have turned Tim and I into very self-reflective people. If we don’t know the answer to something we are very willing to ask and we don’t have over-sized egos and think that we know everything. I have no doubt this has been one of the keys to our success.