As a 50-year-old distance runner, Vanessa Howe expected pain to be a part of her life.
But in 2014, Howe experienced back pain so severe it didn’t respond to physical therapy.
“I was on tramadol every day just to exist. It really affected working out and my overall ability to function,” Howe recalls.
Almost nine years passed. While visiting her son in Dallas, Howe learned about cryotherapy, a non-Food and Drug Administration regulated or approved form of anti-inflammatory pain management.
Cryo is part spa, part sci-fi: While gloves and socks keep your extremities warm in the cryo-chamber, your head stays exposed for comfort and safety. Meanwhile, the machine blasts your body with air measuring down to negative 225 degrees F for three minutes. After Howe’s first cryo session, she recalls how the pain relief made her tear up as she was leaving. She considers it a game-changer.
Howe had a strong feeling a cryotherapy spa would do well in Springfield. She already had 25-year long successful real estate career, and at nearly 60 years old, she wasn’t planning on starting a new venture – but she saw a need.
“I decided, I’m going to do this,” says Howe. “I learned everything I could about cryo, attended conferences, and consulted with experts. I put a business plan together and got ready to put myself out there.”
The biggest initial challenge was financing. The lack of an existing market and the steep cost of equipment – the whole-body cryo machine alone was around $90,000 – was a turn-off to lenders in the U.S. Small Business Administration space. They wanted more in collateral than Howe could provide.
Howe was undeterred. She asked her network and found one private investor willing to contribute the $150,000 she needed to launch – but it fell through.
“I didn’t get upset,” Howe says. “I had experienced cryotherapy firsthand, and I knew I could help other people, too. I had a vision, so I just never stopped.”
Howe ultimately secured three private investors, and along with her own capital was able to launch her independent business, BelowZero Cryo LLC, in November 2022.
Trailblazing for cryotherapy
With three employees and a selection of therapy options for clients, Howe opened the doors on East Republic Road in Fremont Corners.
“One of my biggest challenges was thinking I could do it all myself,” Howe says.
Though BelowZero CryoSpa has grown to a team of seven wellness consultants, including a general manager who keeps the business running while Howe is away, it took a year to align the team with Howe’s vision.
If she could do it again, Howe says she would have hired an accountant to help with bookkeeping at the start. While monthly overhead like the $2,260 rent and $660 in utilities were modest and on par with projections, there were other costs, like furniture replacement, appliance repair and payroll taxes, that were higher than anticipated.
BelowZero is sustained by members, who account for 80% of monthly revenue. The business generated $369,000 in revenue during its first 12 months.
“Our average client is 45-80 years old and has probably been active throughout their lifetime – and is beginning to feel those aches and pains,” says Howe.
One such client is Brett Reinhart, who starts his day off at the spa five days a week. He uses the infrared sauna, cryo-chamber, and says he swears by “the freeze squeeze,” referring to compression therapy.
“It really is something I want to maintain for my sanity. I love what it’s done for my overall happiness,” Reinhart says.
Another regular is Mark Pon, who primarily uses the infrared sauna to help boost his immune system and circulation, as well as detoxification and heart health benefits.
“I also use the cold plunge for recovery from higher-intensity workouts,” Pon says. “It makes me more resilient to physical and mental stress.”
Services include whole-body and localized cryo, compression therapy to treat specific muscle groups, infrared saunas for weight loss, cryo body contouring and cryo facials. Howe is also seeing a growing number of young athletes seeking cryo for recovery and a competitive edge.
Whole-body cryo is the most popular service, accounting for about 60% of bookings. A three-minute treatment is $25 per session, and it is booked in 15-minute intervals.
The infrared sauna at BelowZero is the next most popular offering, followed by the contour pod. “We’re averaging about 100 appointments a day at the spa right now,” says Howe. “We’re usually booked out.”
Howe speaks fondly of her client interactions.
“The biggest ‘aha!’ moment for me has been having people give me hugs and say thank you. Just to be able to help somebody feel better so quickly has been amazing.”
Howe encourages other dreamers to be persistent and recognize the opportunities available to them. In 2024, Howe plans to grow sales to $500,000.
Howe says, “My whole life, my mom was super driven and goal-oriented. I wish she could see this now – she’s the one who instilled this work ethic in me.
“It feels really good to reinvent yourself at 60.”
SBJ interviews the associate dean, vice chair and professor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy at Missouri State University.