Altvater’s big idea lands her on TV

CNBC takes look at salon, spa, fitness center

Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

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Staff photo by REID SILVERMAN
Darlene Altvater, center, listens to producer Joe Schreiber, not pictured, as Benjamin Finkel, left, sets up the microphone before doing her interview for CNBC’s ‘‘The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch.” Altvater is the owner of Creative Touch Salon, Spa and Fitness in Leonardtown’s Breton Marketplace.

Darlene Altvater had a big idea years ago that led to a dramatic twist in her life and professional career.

After her sister died in 2004, Altvater became inspired to leave her job with the U.S. Postal Service and set out to become an independent businesswoman.

‘‘I pretty much decided life is short, why not do something you’ve always wanted to do?” the Mechanicsville resident said of why she decided to eventually open Creative Touch Salon, Spa and Fitness in Leonardtown. ‘‘I just re-evaluated my life because I’m a people person, not a paper pusher. I didn’t hesitate.”

Altvater decided the risk was worth the pay cut and in a matter of months, she bought equipment, obtained necessary licenses, found a location, and opened the Leonardtown gym in 2005.

During the first year, Altvater surveyed about 40 customers who said they would like the gym to offer nail services. A few months later, Altvater got her nail technician license so she could. A couple of months after that, she hired her first hair stylist.

Even Altvater is sometimes surprised at the pace the company has continued to grow, to offering paraffin hand treatments, facials, massages, ionic foot baths, teeth whitening and ear candling. The business moved last year from its 1, 900-square-foot location to a 3,600-square-foot shop to accommodate.

‘‘Every three months I add something new. It’s moving even now in different directions,” she said.

But recruiting qualified and entrepreneurial cosmetologists is difficult in Southern Maryland and marketing effectively is a challenge – a problem Altvater doesn’t know how to solve.

On Aug. 25 she e-mailed ‘‘The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch,” a business advice show on CNBC to tell her story and see if she could have a shot at asking a panel of three well-known entrepreneurs and Deutsch, who built a multi-million dollar advertising and media business, her big question.

‘‘My business plan had changed to wanting to be a place where women could come to one place and receive all of their health and beauty amenities,” Altvater said.

Not even 12 hours later, Altvater received a call from a CNBC producer and last Wednesday, a news crew traveled to her home and tropical-themed business to profile her and her family. She’ll go for a satellite interview in Washington, D.C. with Deutsch in New York sometime next week for use on one of its daily 10 p.m. shows.

‘‘I was shocked,” she said of how receptive the show was to her story.

Altvater doesn’t know who her panel will be, but recent panelists include the CEO of Modell’s sporting goods stores and the founder of Cosmopolitan magazine.

‘‘Running the aspect of the business alone is a full-time job. I like the management and marketing part of it,” Altvater said, noting she’s looking forward to receiving expert tips to help her reach long-term goals.

‘‘I met my [short-term] goals a long time ago. When I see what I accomplished without any business degree or any professional help ... I did it all. My goal is, long term, to provide the quality of service that isn’t found in a lot of hair and nail salons, and that people have to go a long distance to receive in St. Mary’s County,” she said.

CNBC producers were not authorized to comment on why Altvater was selected to be on the show at press time Tuesday. The date the segment will be shown had not been finalized at press time.

Lorena Goeller of Leonardtown began seeing Altvater for nail services about a year and a half ago, when she was drawn by the focus on women and service she expected.

‘‘Up to that point, I just thought that it was just an exercise salon. I had seen it evolve from some basic beauty services, like hair and nails. I think she has more than a full-service agency. I give her a lot of credit for that. It’s an interesting concept. It certainly seems immaculate,” she said.

‘‘Her ideas ... it isn’t the average salon,” said Lucy Selvidge, who joined the company as a cosmetologist a year ago for the opportunity to perform various services, not just hair. ‘‘I’ve seen it go from mainly a gym to this really nice day spa. She’s open to new ideas. She started out with small idea and expanded it into so much in such a short period of time.”