Sylvie-Chantale Duquette couldn’t stand much higher than five feet tall, but every inch of those five feet is bursting with energy. Her friendly greeting to every customer entering her spa is something McGill students have come to associate with the intimate atmosphere of SCC Spa Urbain. Despite catering to patrons from all walks of life, Duquette maintains that students are the core of her business.
A native Quebecer, Duquette always wanted to help people:
“I’ve always been in retail, so for me, opening up a spa was a huge change in my life. I knew that after 50 I would want to make a change, and really care for people. When I was younger, I used to always tell my mother that I wanted to go to Africa and help kids; and I think if I’d won [the lottery] that’s what I would have done. I didn’t win, so then I told myself, ‘What could I do that would mean I’m caring for people, but also [has] a bit of beauty and health in it?’ and I decided to open the spa.”
From there, things took off quickly. After a meeting with experienced friends in the beauty industry, Duquette resigned from her job, and set about renovating the space SCC Spa urbain currently occupies. The space, on 385 Sherbrooke, opened in Dec. 2011.
“We wanted to introduce ourselves to the area, and make sure that we were going to [cater specifically] to the customers around here, and a lot of them are students.” Duquette explains. “So we’ve been very mindful of not only choosing products for them, but making sure that this place is [somewhere] you feel comfortable.”
Duquette even gives some of her clients relationship advice.
“[Some of the girls] come in and they bring pictures [of guys] on their iPhones; and I get a vibe, and I tell them, ‘This guy only wants you for this,’ or ‘No, this guy is no good for you,’ and so far, I think I’ve made some good decisions for them.”
Besides offering match-making services, Duquette’s spa features daily student-oriented discounts. The week’s specials are updated on the spa’s Facebook page.
“Every Sunday night, I post promotions for the entire week; [but] at the end of the day I think it’s word-of-mouth,” Duquette says about the spa’s success. “[If] people come, enjoy it, and feel comfortable, they’ll come back; they’ll talk to a friend [about it]. I’ve noticed that since we’ve been doing that, more people have been coming.”
Another concern is ensuring the products SCC Spa urbain carries are environmentally friendly and affordable for students. Every product offered by the spa is either organic or free of animal by-products; such as its Jane Iredale makeup and skin care line, which is endorsed by David Suzuki. Aside from being green, Duquette maintains that they always work.
“I’m so at ease with [the products] we’ve chosen, that I tell people “Take it home. [If] you’re not happy, bring it back and [you’ll get your] money back.” And I do that with everyone, and no one has ever come back. But if that day should come, [I’ll] stand by my word.”
The atmosphere at SCC Spa Urbain is cozy, as the space consists of a reception/manicure area, and two private rooms. With increased business, the vibe can get a little hectic, but Duquette manages to keep up consistent individual attention with her customers.
“We have a lot of international students who just come and cry when they’re lonely, [and] some of them are calling me their mom away from home,” Duquette laughs. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to have children, so for me, a lot of the students are really the children that I wish I had had. I do care, you know? I want this place to be authentic; it’s not just about beauty, it’s about a healthy lifestyle. So if I can help promote that, and be a good mentor, well great. All of our staff is chosen for the same reason: because they care about people.”
Duquette works with McGill students on other private or charitable projects to help publicize the spa. One student, an aspiring artist, held an exhibit of her work at 385 Sherbrooke, and managed to sell 34 out of 37 pieces to a full house of 50 people.
“Also,” Duquette adds, “during the month of February, every time someone would book an appointment, we’d give a dollar to Borderless World Volunteers. Diana [Famintsyna], who’s on the [executive team], is a customer of ours….so I said ‘Whatever we can do at the spa, you let me know.’”
SCC Spa Urbain offers standard spa services, and caters to both men and women. With a welcoming environment, warm and professional staff, and affordable discounts, Duquette has developed something of a hidden gem in downtown Montreal. At the end of our interview, Duqeutte left me with this:
“I finished my bachelor’s so many years ago, but since I’ve opened this place I’ve learned so much from young people. I feel privileged that they share their stories with me. Every day I feel so excited to go to work, like ‘What am I going to learn today?’”
For more information, including hours of operation, visit www.sccspaurbain.com/ and like their Facebook page for weekly deals on products and services.