Back in the States!
We made it back to America, everybody. It was a harrowing experience being in an uncivilized country where they think gravy and cheese curds on french fries is a meal but, thankfully, we’ve crossed the border back to a country where we know that chili and shredded cheese on french fries is a meal. Civilization.
We landed on the western border of New York and there’s another manufacturer out here: Wave Float Tanks started up by Craig Silver. Unfortunately, he was busy in Chicago installing a new tank for another center, but we did get to visit Silver Essence Floating Spa, the float center he helped build with his wife.
After a brief stint in Western New York, we cut through Ohio and Michigan, giving us a taste of the Midwest. Midwesterners are known for their temperance, manners, and love of cheese. It doesn’t get more American than that.
We previously mentioned that population density is a huge factor for a successful float center – one thing that the Midwest lacks outside of its big cities. That doesn’t mean centers out here aren’t doing well. As a kind of balance, the cost of living is much lower, meaning that some of the overhead goes way down.
Population: ~1 million in the surrounding area
Number of float centers: 2
Known for: Birthplace of Buffalo wings, the Buffalo Bills, and “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” (I actually don’t know if that last one is true or not).
The Essentials of Floating
Number of tanks: 2
Years in operation: 6
Tactical Takeaway: Manufacturing means that your own float center is the guinea pig.
Other services: Infrared Sauna, massage, aromatherapy, reiki
Mary Silver started Silver Essence Floating Spa after she found an article from 2008 about a woman who cured her chronic back pain by floating once a week. Doing something so simple to heal her back seemed too good to be true. At the time, the closest center she could find was in Boston, so she and her mother went out to try it and fell in love. By 2010, she opened the doors to her own center.
Since launching Silver Essence, Mary has invited a host of alternative wellness practitioners into her space where they focus on offering the most relaxing services available in Western New York. They act more like a family than co-workers and strive to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. This isn’t just for their clients, but also for themselves.
The float rooms here were the early prototypes for Craig’s experiments in design and function and you can really see the influence for what would later become the Wave Float room. The roof of the float room dips down in the back, forming its signature shape. That extra pocket stores heated air to regulate the temperature inside the float room.
The float rooms in Silver Essence are all hand-tiled with porcelain tile and epoxy grout built literally into the room itself. Craig is now manufacturing fiberglass tanks for centers all over the country (they’re much easier to ship). We’ve seen a few in some of the centers we’ve visited already and the response has been great.
Going with the Flo…
Joe Fambo at Flo has done an awesome job bringing floating to Buffalo. Joe came out to the apprenticeship in Portland last year and was pretty far into the buildout process already. He attended the apprenticeship as a way to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. As it turns out, there was a lot he didn’t know that he didn’t know. He returned to Buffalo eager to incorporate his newfound knowledge into his space.
He ran into some major roadblocks prior to opening, too. Between problems with contractors and getting a business license with the city, his timeline and his buildout costs essentially doubled! After all his troubles, however, he was finally able to open last November.
Just before our visit, he received more unsettling news: the vacant building next door to him is being turned into a bar/nightclub, forcing him to go through more renovations to buff up his soundproofing.
Even with all the challenges he’s faced, Joe’s still digging it. His main focus is finding new ways to engage the community. Flo has started working with local artists to put up art installations in their center and they’re preparing for upcoming local street fairs as well. He’s pretty confident his booth is going to the best in Buffalo.
Things are finally settling down for Flo and business is starting to take off. Joe is already planning to expand into his basement to install 3 more float tanks, more than doubling his capacity! Fortunately, with the level of determination he’s already shown, he should have no problem.
Backtracking through New York…
Number of float centers: 1
Known for: Birthplace of Susan B. Anthony, Taye Diggs, and the Alphabet Killer
Joining Body & Mind
David Brickman was a concert violinist for years before he opened a float center, along with his wife Pattie. During our visit, they shared horror stories about playing in the orchestra and how stressful and competitive it can be. It kind of blew our minds to think that a business designed around artistic expression wouldn’t maintain some semblance of that beauty and dignity behind the scenes.
One day, he travelled out to Portland to visit some friends. On a whim, he decided to go to Float On to try out this crazy “sensory deprivation” thing that he’d heard about. That was October 30th, 2012. After returning, David became distracted. He couldn’t stop thinking about his float; it had been such an eye opening experience, it was impossible for him to go back to his day-to-day life.
A month or two after that first float, he called Float On and spoke to Graham, asking him what it entails to open a center. They talked for at least an hour and, after that first phone call, he told Graham that he was going to open his own center. In 2013, a year after his first float, David did exactly that and established Bodymind Float Center.
Bodymind has seen remarkable success since then. After all the trials and tribulations of putting people in their salty boxes, David is pleased to say 2016 is their year. He’s acquired the space next door to his and is building out 4 more float rooms for a total of 8 in the center. An expansion doubling their capacity might be enough for some, but David has put both feet on the gas and is opening another center in Syracuse as well!
However brief our visit, it’s heartwarming to see David doing so well, and, as much as we’d like to take a share of the credit, his success is all his own.
Population: ~2 million in the surrounding area
Number of float centers: 3
Known for: Leader in American manufacturing in the 20th century, the Rock and Roll hall of fame, and of course as the birthplace of Arsenio Hall
The Wellness Center in the Center of it All…
Number of tanks: 2
Years in operation: 4
Tactical Takeaway: Passion can take you far by yourself, and exponentially farther with help.
Other services: Acupuncture, Applied Kinesiology, Aroma/Steam Room, Biofeedback, Chiropractic Manipulation, CranioSacral Therapy, Deep Tissue Massage, Far Infrared Sauna, Foot Bath Detox, Homeopathic Remedies, Lymphatic Drainage, Myofascial Release, Neuro Emotional Technique, Polarity Therapy, Reiki, and a full blown health food cafe.
We called Optimal Wellness about an hour before we were going to be there and tried to explain who we were and what Float Tour is. This has been the standard for our Float Tour visits, and it is an approach that has sometimes resulted in a bit of confusion or even outright rejection. “Sounds great. Come on by,” was what we heard on the other end of the line this time. Awesome!
We got there just in time to briefly meet Dr. Keith Jordan – the owner and a multidisciplinary chiropractor who believes strongly in holistic therapy. Even in the short time that we got to spend with Dr. Keith, it became abundantly clear that he is an intensely passionate and loving person who puts others before himself. He excitedly gifted us some of the books he’s co-authored, as well as some inspirational CDs. Optimal Wellness is filled to the brim with holistic services of every shape and size… it’s also the first place we’ve been that has a cafe in their center.
Thank you again for the hospitality on our very brief stop! It was a remarkable experience.
Twin City Floating
Ann Arbor, MI
Number of float centers: 2
Known for: Home to the University of Michigan
Floating to Train Your Brain…
Number of tanks: 4
Years in operation: 2
Tactical Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to learn from the mistakes of yourself and others. So long as you do, you have nothing to regret.
Other services: Cryotherapy, Neuroptimal, oxygen bar, whole body vibration, ARX exercise, fit 3D scanner, Salt therapy
Neurofitness is officially our 100th stop on Float Tour (our initial goal for the trip)! David opened his first center in Detroit in 2007, centered around the Neuroptimal biofeedback machines to help people with their fitness programs. He gradually added more services and in 2014 included a float tank. Just earlier this year, he opened his second location in Ann Arbor, greatly expanding his float service to 4 tanks. David made it clear to distinguish that he doesn’t consider NeuroFitness a “float center” – it’s not called “FloatFitness” after all.
The Neuroptimal Brain Training that his company’s moniker comes from works by a non-invasive neurofeedback system. Basically, it has sensors that read your brainwaves to provide cues for you through music when your brainwaves go out of sync. The technology is intended to help mental clarity and focus. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it, but David’s passionate testimonial makes it seem like a welcome fit with floating.
Thank you, David. We wish you the best of luck in running your new center! And even after 100 centers visited we still have so much more to go!
Floating in the Bloom of Youth
Michael, the proprietor of Bloom Wellness, has been interested in floating for a long time. He started out running a micro float center with a single Samadhi tank in his dorm room at the University of Michigan years ago. He had aspirations to open his own brick and mortar center even back then, and his moment finally came when he negotiated a deal for a building with a family friend.
He built his own custom float rooms using the shell of existing float tanks, removing the tops and tiling the rooms from floor-to-ceiling (including the ceiling) with epoxy grout and porcelain tiles. Preparing for a worst case scenario, each room has industrial floor drains and showers right next to the open tanks, making sure that, even in a catastrophe, water can’t flood into the rest of the space. Everything is carefully and meticulously maintained, from the temperature of the room and water, to the filtration and sanitation levels. It can be risky building your own tanks but, thanks to his wealth of experience and research, Michael nailed it.
Only half of his building is a float center, however. The other half is a dedicated yoga studio. He likes the balance between the two and finds that this mixture brings in a diverse clientele. The studio offers a wide range of classes based on what they want to learn, not just yoga. The syllabus changes all the time to keep it fresh. (When we were there, they were teaching Sanskrit.)
Floating in the Capital
Number of float centers: 1
Known for: Capital of Michigan, site of a very unfortunate incident involving an elephant
Serial Entrepreneurs Running Float Centers
Delta Floats has been up and running for about 3 years now. They have custom built tanks that offer constant filtration, a function that’s unique to their tanks (to the best of our knowledge). Wendy and Derek are self-professed “serial entrepreneurs” and got into floating to help deal with Wendy’s chronic pain. She was immediately impressed by the results and decided to open up a center.
Her biggest obstacle has been juggling her family life with her business. She understands that being a small business owner often means long hours, late nights, and little sleep, but so does being a mother. She has a young son and doesn’t want to miss out on time with him, so her float center is a distant second priority in her life. She knows that it’s an exciting time in the industry, and the entrepreneur in her wants to seize the opportunity, but she’s committed to doing so in small steps. She’s done this song and dance before – now she’d like to do something a little different.
Even though our visit was short, we had a really nice time with Wendy. It’s always great to meet people who have found that synthesis between normal life and float life. We know, from experience, just how consuming running a center can be, so we’re glad to find examples of people striking that balance.
Floating in the Riviera of the Midwest
St. Joseph, MI
Number of float centers: 1
Number of tanks: 1
Years in operation: 1
Tactical Takeaway: Find what works for you and do it. If that’s everything, then do everything.
Other services: Hydration Station, Infrared Sauna, red light therapy, cosmetic teeth whitening, k1 Vibration platform, massage chair, Lumiere facial, UV Tanning, botox, dermal fillers, sclerotherapy, BHRT hormone replacement, medical peels
Revive Self Spa has been around for about 14 years, providing a wide range of holistic and beauty services. They recently opened a second location earlier this year. They incorporated a float tank into this new center, an old Floatarium that they’ve refurbished and installed in a back room, far away from the bustle of the other practitioners.
While floating isn’t their primary focus, Revive likes being able to offer such a novel experience alongside their health and beauty packages. It’s a great opportunity to open floating to a group of people who might otherwise miss it altogether.
NSF International is a private regulatory body that provides third-party certification across a wide-range of products from nearly every industry: from aerospace to automotive, dietary supplements to pharma biotech. They are currently working on drafting a certification standard for float tanks guided by a committee composed of manufacturers, health department officials, and leaders in the industry. This has turned out to be a complicated process, since float tanks aren’t a single unit, but an amalgamation of parts that all function as a whole.
During our visit, we got to see their labs for testing pool sanitation systems and a thorough breakdown of their process (sorry guys, no pictures, NSF policy). They basically infect large pools of water with chemically resistant pathogens and see how long it takes the sanitation system to kill them to acceptable levels. We’ve interacted with the NSF for a long time, and Graham and Ashkahn have even had the chance to meet with Rich Martin – senior business development manager – on a one-on-one basis. He’s spoken at the Conference multiple times to explain the NSFs process in the hopes of keeping their process as transparent as possible.
This scientific duo are responsible for some of the earliest research done in the float industry: Tom Fine, Professor of Mental Health Counseling and Psychiatry at University of Toledo and John Turner, Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology. They started researching the effects of sensory deprivation in an old Samadhi tank in the basement of what was then called The Medical University of Ohio. As pioneers in the field, they were the first to study R.E.S.T. in a controlled environment.
Back in the 70s, Tom came upon John Lilly’s book, The Deep Self, and became fascinated by the ideas presented within it. He shared the book with John Turner, who also became enthralled. They were both eager to see if they could replicate the findings Lilly wrote about. Their lab used biofeedback machines to monitor bodily changes in subjects as they put them in the tanks. Their findings not only substantiated many of Lilly’s claims, but they were also able to actually produce measurable results, especially on the effects of cortisol – the main stress hormone in the body – during and after floatation.
Over the years, they have published several articles and books on R.E.S.T. and started finding other researchers utilizing float tanks in other studies. Tom is a frequent speaker at the Float Conference and led the research panel for 2015. As sensory deprivation became less common in the late 80s and early 90s, it became more difficult to secure funding for this type of research (already a daunting chore) and they were eventually forced to dismantle their R.E.S.T. research facility.
The basement hasn’t forgotten, though: even decades after the float tank has been removed and the float research passes into mere legend in the halls among the students, the old float room shows tell-tale signs of what once was. The swell at the base of the walls from salt expansion, the ceiling tiles warped by the humidity in the past – someone unfamiliar with these clues may not even notice, but for those of us who’ve seen the writing on the wall, it tells a story that won’t easily be forgotten.
Thank you, Tom and John! Your hospitality and enthusiasm – even after so many years – was invigorating. The industry as a whole owes you both a great debt.
That’s a little taste of the Midwest for you. Even though some of the earliest clinical research came out of Toledo, floating still seems like a cultural oddity out here.
From here we travel to The Windy City. Chicago is the location of the last American workshop on Float Tour (the only other one being in Calgary). Chicago is a different beast altogether; as home to SpaceTime Float Tanks, they have a dedicated following that has sustained them for decades, creating one of the strongest and oldest float communities in the U.S. today. Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve seen the ripple effect of SpaceTime throughout the industry.