In the late 1990s, the Czech lands and Slovakia were home to many contradictions. The young market economy was enriching some entrepreneurs while others struggled. Per capita income was rising but pensioners and day laborers scraped by on inadequate incomes.
Czech emigrant Michal Beránek had returned home from West Germany and was working in the construction industry. The times appeared anything but propitious for importing and selling high-priced luxury goods, like, for instance, private spas, or whirlpool baths ranging in cost anywhere up to CZK 799,999.
Beránek was chatting one day with a friend and two of the friend’s former classmates, visitors from Canada. The conversation ranged freely over the growing and prospective prosperity of Central Europe, similarities of climate between Canada and the Czech Republic, and the business interests of the Canadian couple.
And the idea for a new Czech business was born. The Canadians exported whirlpool baths, private spas were particularly appropriate, they said, for places like Prague where the residents were traditionally active and the swimming pool season was short. Typically, swimming pools require substantial maintenance for several months a year of use. Spas demand little attention and are used year round, they noted.
“A spa is always ready to use and you can sit inside, chat or sip your favorite drink while the snow falls outside,” explained Beránek.
Daniela Fuxová of Prague, wife of a prominent advertising executive, supported the 1997 launch of Aquamarine Spa, the first Czech company to specialize in selling, installing and servicing private spas. “Our big job that first year was mainly communication and public relations, just getting people to understand what a spa is and why they should have one,” recalled Beránek, now the company’s managing director. “In the beginning people here didn’t know even what a spa is good for. They asked questions like, ‘Can I soak out the parlor curtains there?’”
Even so, he says, the company sold 20 spas in the first year. The spa business seemed like a natural for Fuxová. “When I traveled abroad,” she said, “I saw people in their productive years spending their free time together. They tended to emphasize active lifestyles, healthful relaxation.”
“In those days Czech people gave all their time to work just to catch up with those things that hadn’t been possible to do during our 55 years of socialism,” she said. That there was no market in 1997 for wellness products seemed to Fuxová a challenge not a hindrance.
She gathered and analyzed information and visited producer. For her first product, she chose Sundance spas, made by an international company based in the UK. She chose, she said, with the cold heart of a business executive and the warm aesthetics of a woman.
Sundance had the longest tradition, certificates of quality, patents and new technologies. But she also responded, as a woman, to their original designs and their colors, their looks.
Success has brought its own new set of challenges, Fuxová and Beránek said. There are now a dozen competitors in the market, many distributing spas as secondary lines with other merchandise.
The trend that fascinates Beránek now is the increasing sophistication and technical understanding of the market. Spas still are for socializing, for healthful relaxation and family togetherness, he said.
But, he said, customers arrive at Aquamarine’s showroom aware of the varieties of outline, color, lighting and nozzle placement that are available. Funny to mention, neither Beránek nor Fuxová has a spa at home just now. Beránek lives in a flat with insufficient space for one, he says, but he has access to the use of spas in the showroom. Fuxová says she donated the family spa to a friend, who works as a healer.
And, says Fuxová, she has renewed her research for the world’s best spa – taking into account beauty of lines, arrangement of nozzles, lights and colors, quality of construction. “It will go in soon,” she said. “Having had spas, now, we can’t live long without one.”
“Having had spas, now, we
can’t live long without one.”