Former Rutgers football standout opens massage, facial spa in West Long Branch
Jim Guarnera, a former standout football player at Rutgers University, and his wife Cheryl have opened a Hand & Stone massage and facial spa in West Long Branch. (Rob Spahr/NJ.com)
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on July 23, 2013 at 8:23 AM, updated July 23, 2013 at 3:23 PM
WEST LONG BRANCH – In the mid-1990’s Jim Guarnera was a standout defensive lineman for the Rutgers University football team, a position filled with a fair amount of competitiveness and violence.
That is all in the past.
On June 24, Guarnera and his wife, Cheryl, opened a business on the other end of the violence spectrum – a Hand & Stone massage and facial spa in the Consumer Centre shopping plaza on Route 36.
“I’m so far removed having played competitive sports, my last day in football pads was in February of 1997,” said Guarnera, who signed as a free agents with the San Francisco 49ers in 1996 but missed the final cut. “And now that I’ve had kids, I’ve settled down a lot more and realized that my body can’t handle those things, even though my mind sometimes says that it can.”
The location is one of 111 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada for the Hamilton-based Hand & Stone, which has been growing steadily since the first location opened in Toms River in 2005.
A massage therapist prepares a room at the new Hand & Stone massage and facial spa in West Long Branch.Rob Spahr/NJ.com
Todd Leff, the chief executive officer of Hand & Stone, said the company’s service delivery model helps make it easier for customers to pamper themselves and eliminates the “unsettling” past practices of massage therapists having to make house calls or open their own homes to treat clients.
“We’re putting our locations in beautiful and very conventional shopping locations, like the one in West Long Branch. And our hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. makes it more convenient and creates more demand for our middle-market customers for this service,” Leff said. “What we provide is more convenient, more affordable and helps educate people on the health and wellness aspects of getting regular massage and skincare treatments.”
And Leff said that many of the people who are opening franchises have a similar trait – they’re couples.
“They’re exactly our prototypical franchisees,” Leff said of the Guarnera’s. “We want our franchise owners to be in the area, where they have influences and already know people, and already interact with the public at places like Little League games and other social events.”
For the Guarnera’s, who both work full time in the pharmaceutical industry, the new business venture was an opportunity to branch out.
“We started looking into franchising a few years ago. We have some friends who have fitness centers and I knew that I wanted to do something for myself eventually and to get to the point where I owned my own businesses,” said Jim Guarnera, adding a franchise made the most sense because the business model was already in place and they would get the support of the corporation.
“We actually looked at some of the fitness centers, but felt that maybe something a little bit smaller was more appropriate for us,” he said. “My wife was a member of the Hand & Stone down in Toms River and she said ‘What about massage.’ So we checked out a number of the massage franchises and Hand & Stone by far made the most sense to us. They were local, we loved their business plan, we loved the services that they offer and the membership plan is very convenient for people.”
Guarnera said that making the transition from pharmaceutical sales to owning a massage and facial spa was relatively easy.
“We’re still dealing with people who have a need and trying to fulfill that need, so it translates very nicely,” he said.
But what is not as easy for the Guarnera’s is juggling full-time jobs, a new business and four children under the age of 7.
“We spend a lot of hours awake,” joked Guarnera, who stops by the Hand & Stone on his way home from his day job. “We have some family help, my wife’s parents help out with the kids when they can. And we just do the best we can, but it’s not easy.”
The new Hand & Stone location fills one of the empty storefronts – formerly occupied by Huntington Learning Center – in Consumer Centre, which has anchor businesses such as Home Depot and Sports Authority, but has also lost multiple other occupants over the last few years.
“When we found the shopping center, the first thing we looked at the demographics of the surrounding town … and there were some really strong towns, as far as the type of people who might be massage and facial clients,” Guarnera said. “And we’re confident that as the economy gets a little bit better, we’re going to get more folks in this shopping center. It’s a busy shopping center, we just have to get them over on our side.”
And so far, so good.
“We have a great staff here, our massage therapists and estheticians are all getting really great reviews,” Guarnera said. “People are coming in, and we’re busy.”
*Introductory Offers valid for first visits. Not valid for gift cards. Services include 50 minute hands-on service and time allotted for dressing and consultation. Prices and services are subject to change and may vary by location. Offers may not be combined. Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spas are independently owned and operated franchise locations.