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Show Highlights

It’s possible that everyone in the float industry intuitively knows that it’s a different sort of business, but what are the tangible ways in which it’s different? As Ashkahn says at the start of the episode, every question in this podcast is kind of a long form answer to this question.

Graham and Ashkahn tackle this problem together, and answer everything from the practical to the philosophical, ranging from lack of expertise in the industry, to the sense of camaraderie that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else.

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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)

Graham: Alright, welcome, welcome. Hey everybody, that’s Ashkahn over there.

Ashkahn: That’s right.

Graham: And I’m Graham, and boy, do we have a question, and that question is “how is the float biz different than opening in any other business?”

Ashkahn: Yeah, so okay.

Graham: First of all, biz is actually just an abbreviation for business.

Ashkahn: Yeah, that’s the first thing you should know.

Graham: Yeah, if you didn’t understand that, then the question could be confusing.

Ashkahn: Yeah, I feel like everything we say all the time is the long form answer to that question, so maybe you’re looking for a more abbreviated version.

Graham: I almost feel like it would be easier to say what’s the same. It might be a shorter list.

Ashkahn: So what’s different about float tanks?

Graham: Your construction cost per square foot is way higher than a lot of other businesses, first of all.

Ashkahn: Yeah, so there’s definitely a lot of construction stuff. There’s a lot specifics of construction.

Graham: Which we won’t get into.

Ashkahn: Which we don’t need to get into, but I think the general thing that’s interesting about construction is the lack of external expertise. If you were to be building one of so many other things in the world you could find someone who is a construction expert, or a company that you could just hire to do your construction.

Graham: If you’re doing swimming pools or if you’re-

Ashkahn: Yeah, movie theaters or whatever it is, or a manufacturing plant. There’s all sorts of expertise out there, companies that do that. There’s not really a float construction company you can hire. You have to hire someone and then train that person on how float tank construction works, which is not always the most enjoyable thing in the world. A lot of times contractors and stuff are very resistant to you telling them things that are specific about float tanks that they need to be careful of.

Graham: It’s going to be the story in a lot of different areas, too. It’s kind of the same for talking to your health department needing to explain what the heck you’re doing at every step of the way, going through the planning department is just … You’ll get really used to it and having to convince people that float tanks are totally reasonable and not scary at all. Yeah, that’s different than if you’re opening a restaurant, which people, when you say you’re opening a restaurant they understand what you mean and what’s going into that and what’s required.

Ashkahn: I had a really good one. It was going to be a really good point but-

Graham: Okay, I have something on the positive side for what’s different. I think almost as a result of it being such a weird process in a lot of other ways and having a harder time than some businesses that are going to open, there’s a lot of comradery within the float industry.

Ashkahn: Oh yeah, for sure.

Graham: We hear this all the time from people who are entering the scene and sometimes later in life and have been through two or sometimes three other industries with full-on careers in them, and almost everyone just says there’s something kind of magical and special about the float industry. People are nice to each other and they help each other out.

Ashkahn: Well, people are doing it because they want people to float. That’s people’s main motivation for opening a float center. They love floating, they want to share floating with other people.

Graham: Yeah and just the sense of community, and again, almost going above and beyond to help your “competitors” is not really seen in a lot of other areas and, in fact, you see the exact opposite. Things are fraught with disagreements and small attempts at sabotage and trying to undercut prices. The fact that you don’t have to put up with a lot of that just bullshit from the float industry is really nice.

Ashkahn: Yeah, so that’s definitely super cool. I remember what I was going to say, now, which is back towards the negative side. No, I mean it can be exciting, too. I think one thing that’s unique about the float industry is there’s just a lot of questions out there that we don’t have the answers to yet. There’s knowledge that hasn’t been figured out. We’re a new industry, we’re figuring things out. We’re continuously on the edge of human knowledge. There’s certain questions that no one has done the research to figure out the answer quite yet, which sometimes can be frustrating when you’re trying to figure something out.

Often times it’s really exciting, too. You get to be like, cool. You get to watch it develop over the years. Over the years, we’ve had some questions that didn’t have answers before that got answered. We’re kind of like explorers out there pushing something further than anyone has gone before. That’s part of being in a new industry when you get into the float tank world. It’s something that whether your like it or not, you’re going to have to accept as part of being in this world.

Graham: Yep. Whereas in a lot of businesses, there’s the saying “this job would be great if it weren’t for the customers”, and in the float world, it seems to be the exact opposite. Almost everyone that we talk to, their favorite part of the job is the customers and getting to hang with them and getting to impact people’s lives. The fact that the people you’re serving are not only benefiting from what you do, but often, you just get to see them at their best. They’re coming in here and they’re really excited to try out something new or excited to go float or they’ve just floated and they’re super relaxed and really mellow and kind of blissed out. It’s a great section of humanity and a great slice of people’s own lives that you get to witness. The fact that interacting with your customers is a great joy rather than a burden, I think, is different than a lot of other industries.

Ashkahn: Yeah and I think the other thing that’s cool about the float industry and-

Graham: You got a positive thing to say over there?

Ashkahn: I got another positive. I got a positive thing to say over here. This is not only true of the float industry, but we sell something really interesting. We’re not selling pants, we’re not selling nuts and bolts. There’s so many things in the world that I think people are a lot less excited about in general than float tanks. There’s very few people who, when someone asks you what do you do for a living, you’re just in your head, like, “Boy, are you about to be in for a ride.” It’s awesome. It’s really cool to be doing something that’s so exciting and that people are really excited about and that upon people hearing about it, immediately, is something that’s of interest and often, something that people want to experience.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Back on the negative side, too. There are very few other jobs or careers that, I think, you absolutely just need to have someone holding your hand through starting up. We do consulting, obviously, through Float Tank Solutions, but there’s other people, there’s other centers out there that do consulting and working with someone whose been through the process before is almost mandatory. There’s so many little details, this is not an industry where you can get started by yourself and make due with what you’ve read online and piecemeal together and assume that things are going to go well. There’s just too much that you, personally, are going to learn over those first three years that you need someone whose been through that, whose guiding you and making sure you don’t mess things up early on.

It’s true of things like being in the medical profession and different things were you’re required to have certifications to get started. But because you’re not required to it’s a shock, I think, for some people entering the industry just how much domain-specific knowledge is necessary going into water sanitation and construction, especially, just all these different aspects where you need to be expert-level and obviously aren’t when you’re just getting started so, yeah. As far as things that surprise people for differences between this and even something like opening a restaurant or something like that, I think that’s a big one.

Ashkahn: It’s going to sound obvious for a second, but another one that I think is unique to the float industry is the amount of Epsom salt we put into water, which obviously –

Graham: Go away, get out of here.

Ashkahn: Hear me out here. At some point I was like, okay, I wonder if there’s any other industry that uses this saturated Epsom salt solution because if they do maybe they have tools, maybe they’re used to dealing with it, maybe they have different devices that work correctly with it, and I tried to find something and I really couldn’t. It doesn’t seem, as far as I was able to find, I couldn’t find any other industry out there that is mixing this much Epsom salt into water for any purpose. Actually, just yesterday I was trying to look up a graph of Epsom salt saturation points and I was like, huh, let me just do a quick internet search and I searched the on the internet. The first 30 results were all just float tank stuff. Everything was just some sort of float tank website trying to answer that question in some way. So really, as far as I can tell, this really seems to be, the solution we’re using in our float tanks, seems to be pretty specific and pretty unique to the float industry.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah, certainly. And again, almost goes without saying, but worth noting. Worth noting. There’s another aspect too, which comes with protecting against that salt and a lot of the construction requirements going into building your center, which is it’s a lot of money you’re sinking into something you can’t take with you. Even for something that’s also in the health industry that’s similar with a lot of equipment you need to get, take a gym or something that you’re starting up. If your gym’s not doing well and you’re liquidating, you get to sell off all of your big, fancy gym equipment and that’s a big part of what you’re doing.

With float tanks, you get to sell your float tanks but almost as much money, and oftentimes more, is going into your walls and floors, which, unless you’re selling your center as a whole shebang, you don’t get to liquidate and get rid of, which also makes moving really hard. Yeah, that’s just the sheer, sheer amount of money going into your walls and floors and other parts of construction means that changing location is really hard so you really need to nail a location from the very beginning. And it means that being successful and actually being able to turn a profit with your business and stay open, has more serious implications because you can’t get all of your money back out of trying to sell it piece by piece again.

And it’s not, especially things like talking to massage studios. I remember one of our massage friends, we were sitting down for lunch one day and she’s like, “Yeah, I had to move my massage practice this last week,” and we’re like, “Oh that sounds crazy. What’d you have to do?” And she’s like, “I took down this tapestry and I put it up in this other place.” I’m like, “You suck.” If we wanted to move our float center it’s like hundreds of thousands of dollars we’re essentially throwing down the drain, so other industries do not have that same problem.

Ashkahn: Yeah. Another tricky one is float tank maintenance. That’s a tough spot that people get into with their float centers where if they’re trying to get their shops to be a little bit more staff-run, it’s really hard to transfer the amount of knowledge that goes into maintaining the float tanks or fixing something that goes wrong with the float tanks, ’cause they’re really specific and there’s no float tank repair company you can call to come in and fix something like you could with almost everything else that’s in your shop or in any normal person’s business. There’s services and people with expertise that you can call to fix things.

Even pool and spa knowledge and stuff like that usually falls short of what you need to properly fix, maintain, properly take care of a float tank. That’s kind of a tricky one and it’s a good one to keep in mind as you’re going into opening if you are trying to get on a path towards being out of the shop and not getting those 2:00 AM calls when something is going wrong. That’s something you’re going to have to get somebody else on your staff trained up with and it’s going to take time and you’re going to be really reliant on that person because if they leave they’re taking a body of knowledge with them that’s hard to replace. It’s a tough problem to just throw money at like you can with other things in business.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah, certainly. I feel like we could just keep going-

Ashkahn: I know.

Graham: -almost forever and it’s going to-

Ashkahn: Nah, I think that’s it.

Graham: -be several hours long.

Ashkahn: Those are all the differences, I’m pretty sure.

Graham: Yeah, that’s totally it. But that’s at least a lot of the ones that come to mind and I think that are some of the most salient out there for just very noticeable things if you are in the float industry versus running any of other shop.

Ashkahn: Yeah, so if you guys have other questions out there that you want us to answer, you can go to floattanksolutions.com/podcast.

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