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Five Questions With: Kristen Gale, Founder & CEO, THE TEN SPOT

By Khera Alexander

Kristen Gale is the founder and CEO of THE TEN SPOT beauty bar and franchise. In 2006, after being fired from two unpaid internships Kristen opened her first beauty bar on Queen Street West in Toronto at the age of 24. With no previous experience but tons of passion, grit, and drive, Kristen has successfully run THE TEN SPOT for the past 17 years. 

With over 45 locations across Canada and the U.S., Kristen is now one of Canada’s top women entrepreneurs and THE TEN SPOT is Canada’s largest and fastest-growing multi-service beauty bar. In addition to her role as CEO, Kristen is also a leader, motivator, and speaker passionate about sharing her entrepreneurial journey, speaking about how to create and maintain a positive workplace culture, and empowering other women entrepreneurs.

After being fired from two unpaid internships, you decided to create your own opportunities and opened your first beauty bar, THE TEN SPOT. What inspired you to start THE TEN SPOT, and how did your early experiences shape its vision?

After getting fired — not once, but twice — by the ripe age of 24, I figured the universe was practically shoving me toward entrepreneurship. My dad was an entrepreneur, and he always said, “Kristen, you can do anything in life, as long as you make it into a business.” I was fired on a Friday, and I didn’t waste any time. I rang up my former coworker and friend and asked if he’d do a brainstorming session with me. 

He picked this quaint café on Queen Street West in Toronto to meet, which back then was not the hip strip it is today. I instantly fell in love with the vibe of the neighbourhood and thought, ‘This is it. This is where I belong.’ I envisioned opening my shop there, turning on my lights, and welcoming guests into a space that was all mine.

We then started to think of what I could put into my storefront, I thought back to my time in New York where I lived above a nail salon that was always buzzing, day and night. It hit me: What if I could create something right in the middle of the two industry extremes? The lower-end nail salons and the higher-end, expensive day spas. This would snag the best of both worlds: the top-notch service and cleanliness of the high-end spas and the laid-back, affordable, and casual atmosphere of the nail bars. Then, make it more fun and social — a new type of space for guests to get their monthly maintenance service, but also have it be an experience. So, that’s what I did. Within one week I had written my business plan, applied for a loan, found a space, signed a lease, and was working with a contractor. Four months later, we were open!

When you reflect on where you started and where you are now, what were the pivotal moments that shaped your entrepreneurial mindset?

The decision to franchise THE TEN SPOT. It wasn’t just about expansion; it was about creating a community of like-minded entrepreneurs who shared my vision. Each new location was a learning opportunity, pushing me to refine our operations and stay true to our brand and to give the same lifestyle, thrill, freedom, and untapped earning potential to other women. 

Our THE TEN SPOT beauty bars are all about making our guests feel like a ten so that they can live their lives at a ten (meaning, we want to be part of the reason guests live their best lives). For me, being an entrepreneur is a big part of me getting to live out my mantra, “Life at a Ten,” and through franchising, I get to enable others to do the same.

With 45+ locations across Canada and the US, what strategies did you implement to scale THE TEN SPOT while maintaining its essence and quality?

Scaling THE TEN SPOT while maintaining its essence and quality was all about embedding our unique ‘x.culture’ deeply into every aspect of the business. Our ‘x.culture’ is made up of us business owners living our purpose of making everyone feel like a ten along with our values, which are the behaviours we value that help us authentically live our purpose. This is at the core of who we are as a brand and what really sets us apart, both in terms of our guest experience and the experience we create for our staff. 

We believe that our employees — our 10spotters — are not just painting nails and removing hair; they are true experts at what they do (in fact, we call them Aesthetic Experts for this exact reason). We value their expertise and enable them to grow their careers getting to do what they love doing, which is making our guests feel put together and polished. Getting to contribute to communities in this way is what drives us. With each new beauty bar we open, we grow the beauty of our impact. 

On a more practical note, scaling up meant excellence in operations — setting up incredibly robust training systems and maintaining tight quality controls have been key. We developed detailed franchisee training programs to ensure every new location was as “clinically clean” and on-brand as the last. In franchising, it’s all about consistency — every guest should walk into any TEN SPOT and feel like they’re stepping into their local spot. Also, we keep the lines of communication wide open with all our franchise partners, which helps us maintain the essence of what made us popular in the first place.

Work-life integration and achieving a healthy work-life balance have become key priorities for many professionals. What strategies do you utilize that you would recommend for individuals looking to integrate their personal and professional lives effectively?

A while back, I felt the overwhelm of life. Despite having achieved all the traditional markers of success — a successful business, a house, a husband, and a wonderful, beautiful kid — I was anything but happy. I was totally lost. I felt unfulfilled, overwhelmed, frustrated, powerless, and disconnected from everyone, but most importantly, from myself. I felt like the bright, vibrant light I once had was totally gone, and I was now resigned to living the life I created that was making others and myself miserable.

Around this time, my business was taking off. Awards and recognition were rolling in, and our growth was impressive. I had gone from a small business owner with a single, one-off location, grown myself into a CEO and grown the company into an International Franchise brand. Through this steep learning curve, I got the company from operating in a reactive state (putting out fires), to a proactive stage (seeing where the fires could start), to finally, a strategic phase where we knew exactly what we wanted, why we wanted it, and how to get it.

It dawned on me that I also needed to be the CEO of my life. I needed to be strategic about my existence. I needed a vision of my future that I was excited about, a well-defined purpose that gave my existence — and my days — meaning. I also developed my core values (and put them on mugs and posters, no joke). These were the behaviours that I could live by and lean on when times got hard, the things that would keep me aligned to living that purpose and striving for that vision. I set actionable goals and plans, priorities, and daily, weekly, and monthly commitments that I could strive for that align with my ambitions for my life and my purpose.

By living with this intention and inspiration, I was filled with endless energy and enthusiasm for my “second life” that I was now absolutely in love with. I’m part way through bottling up all of the practical yet profound tools that I used to build a successful business and life and creating a full-scale program (with courses, coaching, and community) for other ambitious, high-potential women. This program will help enable them to be an unstoppable force as their most vibrant, inspired, driven, confident version of themselves, and have them totally committed and in control of getting everything they want out of life, for themselves and their families.

Can you share a particular setback you experienced as an entrepreneur? How were you able to overcome it?

A key challenge came during the early stages of franchising THE TEN SPOT. For context, it is very easy to become a franchisor. All you need to do is to hire a lawyer to draft a franchise agreement. I thought that instead of having managers in my stores, I’d just have owners because, of course, owners care more, so it would be essentially the same thing, only better. 

I did not realize or understand that I had inadvertently created a completely new business model than the one I was currently operating. I now had a new set of customers, which were my franchise partners, and the service that I was providing was guiding them through every stage of small business development, from finding real estate to construction to training to their grand opening and everything in between. The only challenge was that I hadn’t built out any of that guidance, and I had no employees to help support this new venture — everybody I employed worked in the bars.

I found myself in over my head with the urgent need for detailed training processes and a support system that could guide franchisees from the initial setup phase of real estate selection, construction, marketing, initial staff training and setting up their bars, to having our partners and their new staff feeling fully confident and in control of operating their very own locations. 

Thanks to those very patient first few franchise partners, this (very stressful) setback set the stage for our impressive operations now. 

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to break into the beauty and wellness industry? Are there any specific experiences or opportunities that you recommend seeking out?

First, know your niche. The beauty industry is vast, so find where your passion lies and what gap you can fill. Get hands-on experience; work in different roles within the industry to understand the ins and outs. And network, network, network — connections can lead to collaborations and opportunities you might never expect. Lastly, stay adaptable. Trends change, technologies evolve, and being flexible can help you stay ahead of the game.

What excites you about the future?

Our new Skin Program is really exciting for me. The pandemic shifted the importance of skincare and having professional skin services done regularly. Before then, facials were seen more as a luxury and something you did as a treat, likely on a special occasion or received as a gift.

Now, skin health is really at the forefront, and we are doing exactly what we did in our early days: creating a category of skin services that are at the intersection of fluff n’ stuff facials (like having someone else just wash your face well and give your face a nice massage) and the medi-spa, plastic surgery centre style of really intensive treatments that require downtime and a big spend. We are focusing on effective and accessible services that require no downtime and complement your regular skincare routine. We’ve launched dermaplaning, peels, and introduced professional tools inside our targeted and customizable skin service that get you great results and boost what you’re doing in between.