By Jacquie De Almeida
Some businesses come to be purely as a way to make money, while others grow out of an obvious need. For Saundra Shapiro, founding Compassionate Beauty was a labour of love—for Louise.
After Shapiro’s best friend of 45 years, Louise Granofsky, was diagnosed with recurrent cervical cancer, the two women spent the last year of her life together as she endured surgery and chemotherapy, and with it, the loss of normalcy.
The changes cancer brings are tremendous, leaving patients struggling not only with the physical effects, but the toll they take on the mind and spirit. Having witnessed that first-hand with Louise, Shapiro decided she would create a spa where women could maintain their body image while going through treatment.
Fully staffed by women with a high level of expertise in spa services, Compassionate Beauty opened the doors to its corporate store in Calgary in 2005, offering customers privacy and a space where they could feel safe and cared for, whether being fitted for a breast prosthesis, getting a massage or having their head shaved before starting chemotherapy. With soft music, dimmed lights and flickering candles, the ‘Loving Head Shave’ is done in a private room, ensuring the client’s comfort.
“I know what Louise wanted during her days in treatment—a wig, a facial, a massage by someone who was comfortable giving her one,” Shapiro explains. “When she lost her battle, I wanted to do something in her honour. I created a business around all the needs a woman would have going through cancer treatment or after being diagnosed.”
A business built on emotion
Although various businesses offer these kinds of spa services separately, Shapiro’s goal was to bring them all under one roof. Both the Calgary and Vancouver locations have eight people on staff: a receptionist, two wig fitters, a mastectomy specialist, a compression specialist, a cosmetic tattooist, an esthetician and a massage therapist.
“I wanted to create a place for women going through cancer that was totally female and offered a breadth of products they would need to get through treatment, including life without hair, life without eyebrows, life after breast surgery,” Shapiro says.
“My goal was to give women control over who got to know what they had gone through. The only way they get control is by giving them things like a wig that is good enough to fool everybody. They just want to go out there and look normal.”
Franchising is not new to Shapiro. Before founding Compassionate Beauty, she was owner and operator of the Beaners Fun Cut for Kids franchise system. It was during this time the first musings of what would become Compassionate Beauty developed. Giah, a client who had ovarian cancer, asked Shapiro to shave her head.
“This was my first aha moment about what I wanted to do after Beaners,” she says of the 12-unit business she sold in 2001. “Businesses built on emotion are the best ones. They come from someone who listened enough to learn the needs of people or a situation, as opposed to sitting down and deciding what kind of business to open.”
Although she had seen first-hand what cancer does to a person, Shapiro says there were some surprises when she first opened Compassionate Beauty—most of her clients had breast cancer and were younger than she thought they’d be. This only reinforced her resolve to create a space offering compassion, privacy and a healing touch. In fact, the company’s motto is, ‘Caring for one another, like a sister, best friend or mother.’
“Unfortunately, statistics show that cancer is not going away and people are being diagnosed earlier,” explains Shapiro, who was certified in mastectomy and wig fittings in 2004. “These are younger women that still have to maintain their image as a mom, a wife or a co-worker. They’ve gotten so much better in the hospital systems as far as taking them through the side effects of treatment, such as managing nausea and restoring a patient’s energy levels, so it’s really important that our image matches that. We don’t want people staying home because they’re bald. We want them picking up their kids from school and feeling like they’re on an even playing field.”