Current Occupation: Owner, Archer Bodyworks
Family: Two school-aged daughters
Education: B.A. in Human Services from SUNY Plattsburgh; licensed massage therapist
Look no further than Dena Archer and Archer Bodyworks for a success story about small business growth in Plattsburgh. After graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh with a degree in Human Services, Archer realized that she wanted a career shift that would allow her to still help people, but more on her own terms as an entrepreneur. She found her occupational passion in massage therapy and began her practice serving clients out of her home. In 2004 she took her first big leap and opened a solo practice in Plattsburgh, where her client base and reputation began to blossom. Archer Bodyworks moved to the next level by adding additional therapist employees for the first time in 2011 when they moved to a larger location.
The business and clientele continued to grow, and Archer kept her eye on opportunities to expand even further. After careful calculation, number crunching, and months of soul searching, she purchased the former Photo Pub property near the corner of South Catherine and Broad Streets, just blocks from downtown. Renovations were completed and the newly designed spa served its first clients in April of 2015. Since then, Archer has seen her hard work and risk taking pay off. In 2015, her business grew 10 percent, and in 2016 that growth rate doubled. “I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but I can see now that I did the right thing,” she reflected.
Shortly after the hectic Valentine’s Day season at the spa passed, Archer sat down with Strictly Business to share some of her insights with us.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
DA: Buying this building and renovating it. I had been looking at this building and talking about this project for four years before I decided to buy it. The building really sang to me. I thought, “This is what I want to do. I have this vision, and I want to grow my busi- ness.” When we started, the whole downstairs floor was one open room. We had to design all the rooms, with plumbing, electrical, bathrooms, showers, saunas. There were contractors and workers here for six weeks straight, almost around the clock. I look at it now and I still can’t believe how well it all came out.
SB: What were some of the hurdles you overcame?
DA: I needed a loan to get started. The first two banks told me no. Then someone told me to ask Champlain National Bank because they are local and might be able to do more to help me. My Dad would always say, “No matter how many people tell you no, all you need is one person to tell you yes.” Basically, you need a “don’t give up” kind of attitude.
SB: It must have been hard to take on such a significant risk by yourself. What helped you make the final decision to expand?
DA: I’m a single mom and I knew I could not afford to fail. I was talking about this to a professional contact and she looked up at me and asked, ‘When have you ever failed at anything?’ That was a huge moment for me and it was the one thing I needed to hear. I realized that she was right. I had run the numbers for this project ten times, backward and forward and I knew it could work. Of course, there were still a lot variables and lots of what-ifs that could be disastrous, but it was worth it in the end.
SB: What is one thing no one would guess about you?
DA: When I lived in Manhattan, I decided to do a vision quest. It is a Native American rite of passage. With a guide somewhere nearby, I went out in the woods to be alone for three days and three nights with nothing but a tarp, my journal, three gallons of water, and an expedition weight sleeping bag. Living in Manhattan, you can eas- ily get consumed with stuff. Then there I was, out there in the woods with nothing. You hear every leaf that is falling off the trees and all the birds. It really brought me in touch with the earth. For a long time after I got back, I felt centered and whole in a way that I can’t really explain. It was a really good experience and something I hope my girls will do someday.
SB: What advice do you have for someone starting their career as an entrepreneur?
DA: I think it is important to seek out advice from people who are successful, but be sure they are positive people. When I was looking to hire employees, there were so many people discouraging me about growing that part of my business. People tell you how hard it is to have employees, and how expensive it is. It is expensive, but it is so worth it!
It is also important to be tenacious; don’t give up. If you are excited about something and you are passionate about it, you can make anything happen. It just takes some time.
SB: What did you gain from adding employees to your business?
DA: You learn from everybody that you have around you, and it is nice to have camaraderie. I also think there is a safety in it. You’d never guess how physically exhausting it is to give five massages in a day. Having a staff of three massage therapists and an esthetician has allowed me to expand my business at a time when I can’t physically do as much as I did 20 years ago. It prolongs my lifespan in this business.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
DA: I don’t think I would have waited as long to expand and have people working with me. I worked for 18 years by myself. That is way too long. I did not realize at the time how lonely that was. It is so much nicer having other people around.
SB: If you could have dinner with any well-known person, who would it be?
DA: Dr. Maya Angelou. I was in college when I first heard her poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” I went on to read everything she’s written. What a colorful life and a wonderful story about overcoming odds and making your wounds become your gifts. I actually got to meet her in Las Vegas when she was a speaker at an event I attended. I saw her sitting at her table and I knew I had to take that opportunity to go up to talk to her. I thanked her for her inspirational words and writing all those books. Growing up, I was the only person of color at my school. That was painful, and she was inspirational.
SB: You have traveled a lot. What one trip stands out as the most significant?
DA: It would be Thailand. It is gorgeous there! I went to study Thai massage, and I ended up spending three days in Bangkok, two weeks in Chang Mai and a week in the Thai islands. People are so kind there. They are always thinking about the evolution of their spirituality. They see this lifetime as kind of as stepping stone, and whatever issues you don’t solve in this lifetime you bring back with you to the next.
SB: What inspires you?
DA: I find adventure travel inspiring. I really want to go to Machu Picchu, cross the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and hike in the Azores. There are a lot of travels on my checklist, but I can’t do them right now with kids still in school and my business. I am taking my daughter to Haiti this summer. There are still 400,000 people there who are homeless, and we are going to build a house for someone. I think it is important for her to see how things are in other parts of the world.
I feel more alive when I am getting on a plane to go somewhere that I’ve never been. You are just more open and receptive and you see things differently. Travel makes you realize the great things about this country, and also the places where we are missing the point. There is just something about it—once it is in your blood you just need to go, and always have something planned next to look forward to.