Finding floaters in T-dot…
Population: ~2.6 million
Number of float centers: 12 in the area
Known for: Home to Canada’s media outlets, its stock exchange, and its five largest banks.
We hosted our second Float Tour Workshop here in Toronto and stayed in town a bit longer than we normally do, allowing us to get acquainted with the city. The sprawling metropolis is an amalgamation of old world pioneering days and modern multiculturalism. It was founded in 1787, and some of the currently standing buildings pre-date even that. Ancient architecture stands next to contemporary monoliths, weaving a tapestry of antiquity and avant-garde in this fair city.
The most populous city in Canada, Toronto is the primary center for nearly every Canadian industry. It’s the heart of Canadian film & television, it has one of the largest IT sectors in North America, and the Toronto Stock Exchange is the financial hub of the Canadian economy. Toronto often draws parallels as the “Canadian New York,” but,
unlike New York, people here are more open to alternative wellness, yoga, and meditation. This cultural combination is a very helpful mentality for floating, and one that likely contributes to the boom we’ve seen here. We visited seven centers on Tour while in Toronto, the majority of those opening within the last two years, and that’s just over half of the ones we know about in the area. Far from feeling like they have to compete with each other, the Toronto float community is a passionate group of people who are excited to share floatation with the world.
You’ve Seen These Guys Before
We ended up staying just a few blocks away from Float Toronto while we were here so we got to spend some quality time with Sean Lavery and Jesse Ratner-Decle. These two are such cool guys and their commitment and creativity really shows through in the space they’ve built together. Immediately, upon stepping through the door, you’re welcomed into a cozy lounge with couches, bean bag chairs, and surreal artwork illuminated by salt lamps. It feels much more like a living room than any sort of spa.
Sean and Jesse have been passionate about floating since 2011, consulting with Graham and Ashkahn since then. While it was a long time in the making, they didn’t want to rush.They meticulously researched each detail for their center and, in the end, it all paid off, as the quality of their center proves.
Their philosophy is all about making sure as many people as possible float; they’re not overly concerned if that’s at Float Toronto or not. It may not seem like good business, but they define success by making the world a better place, not making a better bottom line. In the end, they are able to succeed in business because they make it about humans, wellness, and connection.
Float Toronto operates their entire center on Float Helm, and Jesse couldn’t stop singing the praises of helmbot – a simple AI that can be controlled remotely. He loves giving out free floats via text, and probably uses it more than anyone else on The Helm, including Float On.
Jesse and Sean were incredibly awesome and hosted a party for us on the last day of our Float Workshop, inviting every float center in the area along with everyone who made it out to our workshop. We packed into their townhouse, just blocks away from Float Toronto, and partied the night away. It was an amazing night! Thanks for being awesome, guys!
Nestled in Toronto’s Beautiful Downtown
Based out of Yorkville – one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Toronto – REST Nest offers a float experience catered to a more upscale clientele. They’re located right across the street from a city landmark, Station 312, Toronto’s longest running fire station. The historic building is beautiful, but operating next to a fire station meant they definitely had to go the extra mile for soundproofing.
Half of their float space currently operates as an art gallery, where they host art auctions and other community events. Their goal is to organically integrate floating into their local community. In our experience, artists take really well to floating, making the plunge into salty darkness with ease.
REST Nest has been around for two years now and is doing quite well. So well, in fact, that they’ve decided to build out another 3 float pods, effectively doubling their float capacity. A pretty good sign for things to come.
Toronto’s O.G. of Floating
Toronto Float Tanks
Number of tanks: 2
Years in operation: 31
Tactical Takeaway: If we learned anything from Nick, it’s “Buy your building. Don’t rent if you can help it.”
Other services: Acupuncture, Bodywork, Chiropractic,Counseling, Craniosacral, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Naturopathy, Psychotherapy, Radionics, Massage, Reiki, Psychology
Nick Ashfield has run Toronto Float Tanks as part of his Toronto Healing Arts Centre since 1985 (back then it was called Tranquility Floats). Nick started The Healing Arts Centre as just a chiropractic practice and, over time, he gradually built it out, providing more offices for other practitioners dedicated to alternative healing methods. While it started out small, it’s grown into a collective with over 50 partners.
Nick takes credit for innovating the 90-minute float way back in the ‘80s, and Toronto Float Tanks is the only place to find his patented “thump & float” – a float combined with a 20-minute session with a hand held massage machine. According to Nick, after coming out of a thump & float session, his clients are so relaxed that they need to be poured out of the float tank.
For a long time, Nick’s was the only float center in Toronto. The nearest other float centers were Ovarium in Montreal (a five hour drive) and SpaceTime Tanks in Chicago (an eight-hour drive for those willing to cross the border). He’s seen the industry rise and fall like the tides and has never witnessed it so strong. What’s exciting to him is not just the industry’s growth but how it’s continued to cultivate a culture of respect for others and mindfulness in the community.
We owe a very special thanks to Nick. He put us up and gave us a place to park The Minister Winchester while we were in town. If that wasn’t enough, he hosted our Toronto Workshop at The Toronto Healing Arts Centre too. Thank you, Nick. You made our Toronto visit a breeze!
Just a Quick Subway Stop Away…
Number of tanks: 4
Years in operation: 2
Tactical Takeaway: Sometimes a hurdle like insurance coverage just requires a creative solution.
Other services: Registered Massage, hydrotherapy
Shelly Stertz at H2O Float Spa started floating at Toronto Healing Arts Center many years ago and finally decided to open up her own center in 2014. She has two float pods, but when she decided to expand she built her own open float rooms. As Graham and Ashkahn know from experience, that can be one hell of an undertaking, so they were understandably impressed at how well she pulled it off.
She’s been a massage therapist for years, and it made sense for her to incorporate floating as an auxiliary service to her practice. It can be a bit confusing, though, because massage by a Registered Massage Therapist is covered by insurance in Toronto while floating is not. The biggest challenge this creates is in offering package deals – they have to create separate receipts that can be sent out to insurance for reimbursement, adding a layer of complexity to an offer intended to be convenient.
Tripping on down to Hamilton…
Number of tanks: 4
Years in operation: 1
Tactical Takeaway: Persistence and politeness are crucial in handling bureaucracy, especially for niche services like floating.
Other services: Just floating
Flowt K-W was started up by Mark and his son after they heard about a surfer who bought a school bus, converted it into a float tank, and drove it up and down the coast of British Columbia, floating and surfing. As the story goes, he opened his float bus to anyone interested in trying it, using it himself after hittin’ the surf. It’s been about two years since that alleged surfer went on that most righteous of rides, but Mark won’t soon forget it. The story captivated him, and is the direct inspiration for Flowt K-W.
(Editor’s Note: We’re unfortunately unable to confirm the tale of this salty surfer, but if anyone has any details about him, we’d love to hear from you).
Flowt K-W had been open for about 4 months at the time we visited, and it’s been a fantastic journey. Their only major hurdles have stemmed from miscommunications with their regulatory board (a Canadian equivalent to a Health Department).
Since they’re just outside of Toronto, they fall into a different regulatory area. Wanting to keep everything above board as much as possible, they reached out to their inspectors a year before their opening date to ask what they needed to do to open. The region was completely unfamiliar with floating and wasn’t sure how to regulate them, so they told them no action was needed “at this time.” As they got closer to their opening, they assumed everything was fine. Finally, at the 11th hour, they received a surprise inspection along with a list of all the regulations. The regulations themselves were far from the worst we’ve seen, but it added significant expenses to their build-out just before they opened.
This type of scenario is an unfortunate aspect of being a pioneer in an industry. At least Mark can enjoy that he’s blazing a trail for others to follow, setting the standard so that those who come after have an easier time of it. Sometimes, you just gotta ride the wave, man.
The Float Home of Jay-Z (sort of)
Number of tanks: 4
Years in operation: 1
Tactical Takeaway: Being thorough in your design can save you headaches later.
Other services: Large meditation room, oxygen bar, massage, osteopathy, physiopathy
Jay Ziebarth (or just Jay-Z), got started after coming out to Float On’s apprenticeship in Portland last year. Jay has been through a lot to open Zee Float and has had to work long hours at his other job to cover the buildout of this place. He’s making it work, though. It helps that his wife runs a yoga studio in the same complex, just upstairs from Zee Float.
Jay is also the creator of a cult Canadian adult cartoon show, Sons of Butcher, and a band of the same name. He’s also the creator, artist, and co-programmer to a plethora of online adventure games like The Ballad of Reemus (found at Newgrounds here.) Undoubtedly a man of many talents.
Zee Float is incredibly spacious, the largest room dedicated to meditation classes and the occasional community event. The soundproofing in his float rooms is so thorough that even when playing music in this room, people in the tanks aren’t interrupted. Jay didn’t want to take any chances with the buildout. The floors to his entire building are waterproof (not just the float rooms), each room has three floor drains, and every inch of his walls are covered in thick waterproof paneling, ensuring that future Jay has an easy time of it as his center grows.
And I Think to Myself,
What a Wonderful Float…
Mihai and Lidia came to Canada in 2003 from Romania and have spent their time here living by example, always keeping their values close to them. Mihai is incredibly passionate about environmental sustainability. Prior to opening Wonderfloat, he worked in construction installing solar panels and retrofitting houses to make them more energy efficient. He even worked on large, corporate projects building carbon neutral skyscrapers.
He started floating at H2O Float Spa as a way to manage chronic back pain from years of working in manual labor. The results were so incredible that he decided to look into getting a float tank for his home but, unfortunately, he could never find one that was just right. Finally, on a visit to his home in Romania with Lidia, they came across Float Spa tanks manufactured in Hungary. He was impressed by the design of the tank’s filtration system, which incorporates a detached reservoir that allows for 100% filtration in a single turnover (he’s also a huge fan of how energy efficient they are compared to other float tanks).
Mihai did most of the buildout of Wonderfloat himself, allowing him to put a lot of focus into sustainable buildout options. All of his lighting is LED and he even upcycled the crates from his float tanks and turned them into adjustable walls in his waiting rooms. He also found a waterproof flooring made of 100% recycled materials from a company that takes the floors and re-recycles them after they’re done. Mihai even signed a contract stating that they’d return the floors after they were finished with them.
Both he and Lidia were especially hospitable to us during our stay and we can’t thank them enough. It was really great getting to know the both of you!
We got to visit the makers of Muse Headband – a non-invasive wearable EEG that charts your brain activity. They even have an app incorporated that reads the data to track meditation progress. We sat down with Andrew and Laura – in Sales and Marketing respectively – and they shared some exciting ideas about how useful this could be in float centers. If you were at the Float Conference, you may have had the chance to try out this neat tech for yourself.
Obviously, letting customers practice meditation while they wait for an appointment could be a fun way to enhance a float, and, beyond that, it’s possible to track the data from these meditation sessions (if customers opt-in to this kind of program), allowing centers to collect a pool of data from floaters both before and after floats. In an industry that’s constantly trying to quantify the incredible results of floating – without sounding like snake oil salesmen – this could be a fantastic step in the right direction. It would certainly help evaluate the years of anecdotal evidence from float centers the world over.
Issue # 17…
That wraps up our first trip through Canada. Already, we’ve seen how different the industry can be in a country that is so similar to our own.
For example, one unique issue for Canadian float centers is finding the right time to buy float tanks from America or Europe based on currency exchange rates. When looking at the differences between the Canadian and U.S. Dollar or the Euro, even day to day, real-time conversion rates can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
These challenges don’t seem to deter the growth that the industry has been seeing, however. Two years ago, Toronto only had a handful of centers. Now it has nearly as many as San Francisco. Once they get some hockey players floating, I’m sure it’ll tip the scale even further.
Now, we head back into the U.S. We’ll start by crossing Niagara Falls and stop by a couple centers in Buffalo, continuing along the Great Lakes, and then up into Michigan. There’s a lot of land between here and there, and it’ll be our first impressions of the Midwestern float industry.
Until next time…