In our Feature series “A Conversation With…”, we sit down with a Saskatchewan entrepreneur talk about doing business in the province, its challenges and opportunities, and to get their thoughts on how to succeed in today’s business world. Writer Jenn Sharp spoke with Jess Tetu to learn about her business philosophy, why she’s committed to philanthropy and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
Saskatoon’s Jess Tetu has joined an elite group of young Canadian leaders.
In June, the entrepreneur, public speaker and philanthropist was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. Caldwell launched the award program in 1995 to celebrate Canadian innovators. Since then, Top 40 alumni have been instrumental in building the local economy and community. Tetu didn’t need a push though; she’s boosted Saskatchewan’s economy through her business and philanthropic efforts since she began her entrepreneurial journey over 10 years ago using an innovative and forward-thinking philosophy.
Tetu, 36, owns four locations of Just For You Day Spa and recently opened the Lia Reese Canada flagship store in Saskatoon. The proud Saskatchewanian has revolutionized spas’ traditional business model. She ensures her team has leadership and growth opportunities and inspires other owners to follow her example. Tetu has transformed her life’s challenging circumstances into an inspirational success story. It’s one she shares openly in motivating public speaking engagements throughout Western Canada. She also co-founded E306 Business Consulting to offer guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Tetu, who is married and has three children, donates and volunteers her time to about 40 charities. She recently started 471 Recovery Resources to provide resources and support for those struggling with addictions and their families. While Tetu has never been an addict, she’s been directly affected by it her entire life. In June, the inaugural New Beginnings Walk and Run for 471 was a sold-out success. It will expand to Lloydminster and Regina in 2019.
Tetu began building the Just For You (JFY) spa business in her early twenties. She moved from her hometown of Craik to Saskatoon at 15, got a job and rented her first apartment. After finishing high school, the then single mom began working in a spa and later purchased the business in 2007. She quickly began a rebranding and renovation process. “I did every job that was there to be able to make it profitable,” she says.
Those efforts more than tripled the business’s clientele and profits during JFY’s first year. Tetu launched Lia Reese Canada in 2011 and opened her second spa in 2012 in Regina. Four years later, a Lloydminster spa opened, followed by a second Saskatoon location in early 2018. Lia Reese began with a professionally developed paraben and cruelty-free skincare line. It has expanded into cosmetics and body care, all made in Canada. During that growth process, she started changing the industry’s status quo. “That meant giving promotions in the company within an industry that generally doesn’t offer growth,” says Tetu. As the businesses grew, she happily shared that success with employees.
“The larger I grew as a company, the more opportunity I was able to offer in my industry,” says Tetu.
JFY has became a Saskatchewan success story because of Tetu’s ethos: A personalized and professional experience that begins when clients enter the door. It’s a strategy other businesses could employ with great success. Tetu is quick to credit her team across the province: “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without their work and dedication.” Tetu and the 11 directors work as a team with the almost 120 employees. “It’s not a one-person job. There’s no way we could grow the way we do if we didn’t have that team effort,” she says.
Recognizing leaders is a trait of Tetu’s that has helped build JFY and Lia Reese. “I’m smart enough to know that when someone’s good at something, let them do it. One person trying to do 10 jobs does 10 jobs poorly,” she says. Static job descriptions don’t work for her. A true creative mind, Tetu surrounds herself with people who thrive on innovation.
Tetu named each product in Lia Reese’s cosmetic line after someone who has positively affected or inspired her. One collection is named after towns in Saskatchewan and Alberta. It’s a genius marketing move. Not only does it connect people with a story, it also gives them a sense of place and prairie pride.
Tetu doesn’t quite see it that way though. She says women like her aunts Valerie and Shannon (who have a lip gloss named for them), have been instrumental in her life. “These are the people who made me who I am,” says Tetu.
When she began public speaking four years ago, she shared little of her childhood (her father struggled with debilitating addictions). After his death, she decided to talk about it to help others in similar situations: “It was a very painful situation and I wanted to find the good in it. My father was the most loving, caring man…he just happened to struggle with addictions.”
The message she delivers everywhere from business events to high schools is powerful. “You decide what happens in your future,” Tetu says. “If you don’t like the way you’re living your life, then change it.” She says that if her life had been easier, she wouldn’t have been driven to succeed. “I believe it made me strong, kind and generous. It made me work hard and stand up for things I believed in – everything you need to be an entrepreneur.”
Tetu defines her success by her work’s impact on her community: founding 471 Recovery Resources is the most meaningful thing she’s ever done. “My goal is to help break the stigma associated with addictions. If I share my story, then maybe others will share theirs. Addictions are in our communities and are killing our children,” she says. She started 471 because if children are given education about addiction, it enables them to break the cycle. She puts most of her profits into Saskatchewan because she believes it’s her responsibility to give back to the people who have made her successful.
“The support that I’ve received across this province is unbelievable. There’s nowhere else I’d rather live,” says Tetu.
Tetu is not yet sure what will unfold from the Top 40 Under 40 distinction, but she can feel the momentum building. She calls it a “complete honour,” and adds she will use the platform to motivate others in a philanthropic direction. “I will take that honour and I will use it proudly. Frankly, I wouldn’t be here if others didn’t help my family. It’s my responsibility to give back. It’s come full circle.”
JESS TETU’S ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
ON GIVING UP:
“Expect to want to give up but don’t. When you have that moment, know that it’s normal and it will pass. You’re going to have hard times. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine.”
ON WORK AND REWARDS:
“It’s going to be more work then you have ever worked in your life but more rewarding then anything you’ve ever done. It’s a roller coaster and you have to be a certain type of person to handle it.”
ON ENTREPRENEURIAL QUALITIES:
“Entrepreneurs are not wired like other people. They can’t sit still. You need to be tenacious, brave, motivated, dedicated and driven. And be kind.”
“I’ve taught myself to look at similar experiences I’ve been through and how it turned out or what helped. I’m also not afraid to ask for help and advice.”
“You need to fail. Failing teaches you strength, resilience and how to perfect something.”
“Monday morning is my goal-setting time. I do short-term, middle-term and gigantic, long-term goals. Each level connects to the next. It’s bizarre how well it works when you hold yourself accountable.”
“When business is going well, don’t assume it’s going to last forever. Prepare. Be cautious. Learn your busy seasons and what makes you money, then average it out and budget.”
“Marketing during your first year is important. The longer it takes for people to know you exist, the longer it takes for them to come in your doors.