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Software firm is in shape to dominate spa and fitness industry

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Roger Sholanki, founder, Book4Time

After selling his second software company, self-described serial entrepreneur Roger Sholanki was on the prowl for yet another opportunity.

That's when a former colleague alerted him to the scheduling challenges of the burgeoning spa and fitness industry. He responded by launching his web-based software company, Book4Time, in 2004.

"Looking into it, I saw that hotel spa and fitness centres needed a system for scheduling rooms, resources and the appropriate therapists and trainers," Sholanki says.

Among fastest growing companies in Canada

Today, Book4Time serves some of the world's most prominent hotel, resort and independent spa chains in 30 countries. The Toronto-based company, a client of BDC Capital, has recorded 667% revenue growth during the last 5 years and ranks on the Profit 500 list of Canada's fastest-growing companies.

Sholanki says a key reason for the growth is the company's commitment to customer service. For example, all of Book4Time's clients have a dedicated account manager assigned to them, a single point of contact for every need.

"Our success relies on creating happy relationships, so we're careful to hire the right people to do that."

Software includes innovative marketing features

Sholanki has also added marketing features to differentiate his software from other appointment systems.

Clients can use Book4Time's system to search social media for people talking about spas, salons or massages, and reach out to them with promotions. The software also tracks local competition and woos potential customers with better deals, if available. It also conducts customer surveys, tracks business performance and even sells gift cards.

"Our first big break came in 2008 when a major North American cosmetics and spa chain signed a seven-figure deal that gave us the capital to expand," says Sholanki, whose software books over 500,000 appointments a month.

Paradoxically, for an online company, most of Book4Time's business comes from word-of-mouth referrals rather than over the Internet. "It's a close-knit industry and clients are our best salespeople," Sholanki says.

According to the Fijian-born Sholanki, too many entrepreneurs rely on gut feeling to determine the resources needed for growth. He takes a more hard-headed approach.

Careful cash-flow management

"When expanding, you can misspend a lot of money on hiring, marketing and advertising if you don't calculate your sales and return on investment properly," he says.

"We're always looking 12 months ahead and have moved from offering monthly to annual contracts. That gives you upfront cash for the full year. We also maintain a disaster fund equivalent to three or four months of operating expenses—just in case something happens."

"We know we're ready to grow further. Our partnership with BDC has freed up working capital for infrastructure development and lets us invest in new hires to meet contracts already signed with hotels."

An entrepreneur from the beginning

Sholanki has always had a knack for business. At the age of 13, he built soapbox racers and sold rides for a quarter to neighbourhood kids.

"I always loved cars and wanted to be an auto mechanic," he says, "but my mother persuaded me that IT had more opportunities."

Roger Sholanki's top 5 tips for entrepreneurs

  1. Make sure you differentiate your product or service in the market.
  2. Watch your finances carefully—every dollar spent should have a return on investment.
  3. Plan for a rainy day and keep a reserve equivalent to three or four months of expenses.
  4. Hire smart people and be a leader not a dictator. No one likes working for a control freak.
  5. Focus on client service—your clients should be your best salespeople.

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