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Co Down woman Lisa McCrink on managing her award-winning spa and caring for a toddler

When Co Down woman Lisa McCrink lost a number of close relatives to cancer she took a break from her busy job in finance to re-evaluate her life. Now the owner of a bustling spa, she tells Helen Carson about her career change and how she manages it with caring for her toddler son

Successful business: Lisa McCrink inside her Zen Day Spa
in Newry
Successful business: Lisa McCrink inside her Zen Day Spa in Newry

Beauty business boss Lisa McCrink gave up her job in finance after losing close family members to cancer - and now the mum-of-one's life goal is to teach people to value their health.

The 39-year-old from Mayobridge, Co Down, was forced to re-evaluate her life when she took a career break from her bank public relations job four years ago after a series of devastating cancer diagnoses in her family circle.

"I lost several members of my family to cancer," she says. "It was a tough time. I stopped working at my job in the Bank of Ireland to care for my relatives. It gave me time to reflect on what it was I really wanted after 15 years working in finance."

The lifelong beauty junkie began enrolling at courses everywhere from the local college to Belfast, Dublin and Wexford, where she trained in beauty and wellness treatments such as Reiki and reflexology.

"I'd worked part-time in beauty when I was studying for a business degree at university," she says. "I'd always been interested in beauty and wellness, but then what was a hobby became a passion."

Now she runs award-winning Zen Day Spa in Newry with ambitious plans already in the pipeline for future expansion.

But life threw another curve ball at Lisa in the salon's early days. "When I first started Zen I found out I was pregnant and that was a juggling act," she says.

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Rather than panicking, she realised becoming a mum was the best reason to pursue business success.

"It pushed me forward to do more, be the best mum I could be and be a good working example," she explains.

And earlier this year she opened a new 3,500 sq ft spa with 10 treatment rooms, a yoga studio, skin clinic, relaxation areas and events suite, investing £500,000 to move to the new site.

She admits being a single mum to two-year-old Dylan-Joe while running a booming business is challenging and while she encourages the rest of us to prioritise our health, Lisa practises what she preaches.

"Dylan-Joe goes to creche during the week," she says. "I drop him off and pick him up every day and occasionally he pops in here for a visit too," she says.

"I have two babies - one is my work and the other is my wee man at home.

Lisa with son Dylan-Joe
Lisa with son Dylan-Joe

"It's important to balance my time between work and my son, making sure I've given both the right amount of attention and care. It has been all go since he was born."

Lisa takes time out from her hectic business commitments to go swimming and walking or to spend time with Dylan-Joe.

"When I'm at home in the evening, that's my quality time with my son. But once he goes to bed the laptop comes out and it's a chance to work on paperwork," she says.

"Several of the people at the spa are single parents too so we have a lot of empathy for each another.

"We all try to be as flexible as we can be and try to work around everyone else's needs."

She even donned a hard hat and project managed the four and a half month construction of the new state-of-the-art salon.

"It was really important for me to achieve my vision for the salon which is why I was there during this period," she says.

And her hard work paid off when Zen was selected by leading aesthetics company, Cardiff-based Advanced Esthetics Solutions (AES), to be the first clinic in Northern Ireland to offer a facial rejuvenation 'pyramid facelift' treatment, with Divine Pro technology.

The latest addition to the spa, the cutting-edge personalised Divine Pro technology, is considered by experts as an effective alternative to botox and fillers without invasive surgery and is used by celebrities including Denise Van Outen.

The skin treatment is designed to lift, smooth and firm the face, leaving the client looking and feeling more youthful.

Combining the technologies of VoluDerm, TriFractional RF and TriPollar with DMA (Dynamic Muscle Activation), it offers benefits including dermal volumising, skin resurfacing, tightening and rejuvenation, facial contouring and reducing scarring.

"I've always been intrigued by how treatments can make you feel better," says Lisa.

"And while I was caring for a family member I found out about a course at Belfast City Hospital which was geared specifically around people going through cancer."

The course turned out to be the catalyst which led Lisa back to studying all she could about wellness and ultimately open the spa in Newry.

"It was a total change in the direction of my life to go from working in the corporate world to the beauty end," she admits.

Lisa points out the beauty business now covers wellness with specialised treatments to help busy people with little time for themselves."I want people to learn how to be proactive in terms of their wellness," she says.

She knows all too well the benefits of time out from a demanding career.

"When I was caring for my family I realised I didn't want to go back into the financial industry," she reveals.

Life balance: Lisa (right) with spa manager Catherine McCann and Katey McTavish from AES with the Divine Pro
Life balance: Lisa (right) with spa manager Catherine McCann and Katey McTavish from AES with the Divine Pro

"It wasn't until that happened that I thought about giving the beauty business a try. I never intended to set up my own business, I just want to learn something new and different."

Lisa's family did spot her entrepreneurial abilities early on.

"When I was growing up my parents always said that I would have my own business some day," she remembers. "I have the perfect balance because I have a business which helps people."

She believes the demands of a busy working life means all of us will have to become more proactive when it comes to looking after our health.

"We have to find alternative ways of looking after ourselves because of the increasing pressure on the health service," she says.

"We're working at such a fast pace now and we take a lot out of our bodies; whether it's sitting at a computer for hours every day or driving long journeys, both of which affect our posture, or just having a very industrious job.

"We all have to find ways to reduce stress in our lives because of the effect it has on our bodies."

All ages seek out treatments at Zen with clients aged from 17 to 72.

Lisa adds: "Men make up 24% of our clients. They tend to get trigger point and sports massage, facials or waxing."

Zen takes a holistic approach assessing each customer individually, then giving advice based on their needs and budget, with the 11 staff continually learning new treatments and techniques.

"One of my goals is to educate people about wellness, including how to look after your body by going to our yoga or Thai chi classes in addition to having regular massages, Reiki or reflexology," explains Lisa.

"Even looking after your skin, whether that's for anti-ageing or acne, is a great confidence boost. And the beauty of our treatments is they are great for those who don't want surgery or injectables."

The pyramid facial is a non-invasive treatment which stimulates the skin to produce a healing effect, tightening muscles and smoothing out the skin, reduces fine lines, increasing the volume with the skin's texture and muscle lining.

"The treatment is great for post weight-loss skin or generally plumping the skin and treating signs of skin ageing such a sagging jowels," says Lisa.

"We give a bespoke service to each person who comes here, and advise them on dietary and lifestyle changes they can make at home which can be beneficial alongside any treatments."

While Lisa is the business brain of the operation, she says finding her salon manager Catherine McCann (39), from Forkhill, who has 15 years of beauty industry experience, means the sky's the limit for Zen.

"Catherine and I are a dream team and my ambition is to grow the business, making the salon even bigger with even more treatments available."

Currently booked up for the foreseeable future, Lisa is aware of the challenges to border business in the light of potential Brexit changes.

"I will continue to develop my business," she says. "Business is always challenging and we don't know what is going to happen with Brexit - no-one does.

"It's an exciting time for us at Zen Day Spa as we embark on a new era, after buying new premises adjacent to where we have been operating from since 2016 and carrying out a building project which has trebled our size and dramatically increased the number of clients we can welcome."

She adds: "We have seen huge demand from people from the Newry area and much further away for our treatments and services which include the beauty, spa, advanced skincare, non-invasive aesthetics and wellness events.

"We want to be a leader in the spa fast-moving industry, so to be chosen to be the first salon in Northern Ireland to offer the advanced new results-driven Divine Pro treatment is fantastic for us and our clients."

And while Zen has picked up a host of industry awards and accreditations, Lisa's ethos remains the same.

She says: "The awards are a fabulous recognition to bring to the Northern Ireland business community and Newry area after just three years of operating.

"As an industry we need to be more human in our approach and Zen's approach towards clients is exceptionally compassionate.

"We can easily forget to be human in business, being so focused on the figures, but there needs to be a balance."

Zen Day Spa, River Street, Newry

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