Opening up a float center is a lot like climbing a mountain.
Even if you can see the peak, it’s a lot further away than you think and, when you finally get there, the journey and the destination usually end up being quite different than previously assumed. One important difference is you rarely encounter bears when opening up a float center. Unless you’re in Montana or Alaska, then all bear bets are off.
In this post we’ll lay out a general process and timeline of what you may encounter on your path, from initial idea to actually operating a center. Each of these variables will be different for every person, as this timeline will be longer or shorter for everyone (more often longer than shorter, sadly).
Research, Research, Research
The first thing you’re going to want to do, before anything else, is a ton of research. Read everything you can get your hands on, talk to people, float a lot, etc. This phase is critical because it can help hone your vision for your center while increasing your knowledge base.
A deep understanding of floating will help you out in further steps, too, like getting a bank loan or securing a location, because you will come across as someone who actually knows what they’re doing and talking about.
Invest in yourself and become an expert in the industry you’re looking to get into.
Learn everything you can about your community and available market, as this will inform your business plan and marketing strategy. Take time to familiarize yourself with the building materials found in the industry, and why they are used.
Look at all the float tank options out there and, if you can, float in them before you decide to buy. In fact, the best thing you can do in this research phase is visit as many float centers as you can. Take it from us, float centers who have gone through the process will have tons of advice and, in general, people in this industry are excited to help and share!
If you already have funding, that’s fantastic. According to our Industry Report, however, most people need to seek out some source of funding.
More often than not, this will be in the form of a bank loan, in which case you will need a written business plan, complete with financial projections for the first 3 – 5 years of operation.
As we keep driving home, a robust initial research phase is critical for creating these materials. A written business plan and financials, while primarily needed to convince a bank to give you money, are also tools to help guide your process and develop your vision.
Once funding is approved, you can begin to put your plan into action.
Health Department Approval
Float centers are subjected to differing levels of regulation from their local health authorities, so this step will look different for people in different locations. The first thing we’d recommend is simply to contact other float centers in your state and ask them about their own process. Often, you can try to copy their approach, hopefully making the road to approval quick and easy.
Another early step is to touch base with your health department to see what they require. Before reaching out, be sure you’re familiar with your local pool and spa code, which is usually what health inspectors turn to when trying to regulate float tanks.
Here are some great resources to prepare you for approaching your health departments:
- Our free Health Department Essentials resource.
- Our free Water Treatment Course.
- A good summary blog post on float tank water sanitation.
Research what other health departments are doing, know the specs of your tanks, and just be generally kind. The Health Department is simply a group of humans trying to keep other humans overly safe, and they have a lot on their plate.
Make sure that you get approved before signing a lease or moving forward. If you do sign a lease before your health department approval, be sure that there is a clause written in allowing you to pull out if you don’t actually get approved.
Find a Location
Your research will give a you a good sense of the type of location you want to be in, how big it needs to be, and how much you’re willing to pay.
Some banks want to see a list of potential locations before they approve the loan but, generally, once funding is secured, you can pursue your location in a much more concrete manner. While this phase overlaps with other aspects of the timeline, it’s a huge milestone once you actually have a signed agreement with a landlord. There will be some time between when you sign the lease and have access to the building, but at least you can move forward with a bit more confidence. If you own your building, this will speed up the whole process, obviously.
Get a Contractor
While you can do research and meet contractors before your location is set, you probably want to wait until you know what your general layout is going to be before setting this relationship in stone. Having the physical space to walk around is helpful for this part of the process.
When looking for a contractor, check their references and previous jobs. Make sure they truly have the time for you and are aware that float center build outs are generally very different than their typical job. From sound and salt proofing to strategic placement of fixtures, there are tons of things in the buildout process that, if done wrong, are going to cost you down the road, and you want to be sure that your contractor understands and respects that.
It’s also important that you know you’ll work well together. You need to feel comfortable being direct with them, and know that they’re open to your questions, comments, and suggestions. The road to opening a float center is inevitably riddled with surprises, so pick someone who can roll with the punches.
After you know which building you’ll be going into, you’ll be working with a draftsperson or architect to turn your idea into a presentable set of plans. You’ll need these plans to obtain construction permits, which can take anywhere from a week to several months.
This length of time will depend somewhat on how organized and prepared you are, but largely has to do with the general building climate in your area. If you live in a place with tons of construction, this process can take a frustratingly long time because the city has a backlog. In addition to permitting slowdowns, contractors can be more scarce in high construction areas, making them harder to schedule and/or more expensive.
Oh yeah — float tanks
Most people hone in on what tanks they want at their center early on in the process. Once you’ve negotiated a price, perhaps wait until the lease is signed, you have health department approval, and your permits are in place before paying for them fully. Knowing what tanks you’ll be going with early on is crucial, since you’ll be designing your room layout based on the dimensions and electrical requirements of your units.
You want to have confidence in your buildout plan in order to time the delivery correctly. We recommend getting your tanks a couple months before your buildout is all done and putting them into storage. It’s cheap insurance against the scenario of being totally built out, but waiting on your tanks to arrive because of manufacturing or shipping delays before you can open.
Marketing is a special category with respect to a timeline, because it starts early and continues well past opening. Even before you have a name, and before you know for sure that you’ll be opening, you can put up a short, one-page website announcing that you’re planning on opening a float center in your website. Ask people to enter in their emails for more information and specials as you get closer to opening. You don’t even need to put an opening year, much less a month, on the site.
After you’ve secured a location, you should work to get a website up and start a social media presence. Make as much time as you can for building relationships in the community and giving out free floats. Connect with people you know you want to be part of your broader float community.
Make sure to go into construction with a thorough understanding of what to watch out for. Soundproofing and water/saltproofing are all about the details, and we’ve heard horror stories of small problems in installation that caused tens of thousands of dollars down the road.
At some point after you sign the lease, you get to move into your building. Take a look around, feel that special glow, and start smashing down walls. Try to gut your space as much as possible. Starting from scratch is some of the best advice we can give.
After a thorough gutting, your contractor and subcontractors can get to work putting in plumbing and framing, putting up soundproofing, and covering your center in completely non-porous materials in a noble attempt to preemptively beat The Salt Monster.
Before you know it, your lobby takes shape with purple couches and zebra carpet, and you’re like, “Great Lord of Salt, this was my vision! A dream comes true, today!”
If you plan to have employees, plan on bringing them on early in the process. In fact, you might be so busy that it’s in your best interest to hire someone sooner than later, even if your center isn’t open. Beyond someone to sit behind a desk, you want someone who can wear many hats, is smart, and flexible. The sooner you train them, the more ready you will be.
Consider having them start right before the tanks are in place. If they’re able to see the whole installation and initial filling process, they’ll be that much more knowledgeable and prepared to diagnose and possibly even fix things that go wrong in the future.
PR and Marketing Push
As you get close to finishing your construction (about 5-6 weeks away from your opening), you should plan on bringing as much awareness and early sales to your business as possible. Reach out to local media, get your website tightened up, blast out to your mailing list, and generally make as much of a ruckus as you can.
Did somebody say lunch?
No, “launch.” There’s no time for lunch anymore.
You’re dead tired, the center’s starting to actually look like a place of business, and you think, “Yeah, I think someone will pay me to come here.” This means, you’re about 3 weeks out from launching.
We recommend you have a “soft launch” once your center is mostly finished. You can still be decorating and adding finishing touches, but as long as your tank rooms themselves are all set up you can start inviting early test floaters to come in. A great way to do this is to give free floats in exchange for an interview on their experience afterwards.
Having a modest flow of customers will help you and your employees get used to operating as a business, and gives you enough time to work out any kinks, whether they’re technical or operations-related.
Three weeks is a good amount of time for your soft launch, as it allows you to run test floats for a week, shut things down for a week of final tweaks and adjustments, and then run another week of test floats before…
Your Grand Opening
Holy salt caves, Batman — we’ve got ourselves a float center!
You’ve got your website looking great, tanks are installed and humming along. Your early word of mouth campaign seems to have paid off and your marketing and communication strategies are ready to go. Your employees are finally trained masters in the salty art of running the daily operations of a float center. Now’s the time to open the floodgates, and share your crazy dream with family, friends, and total strangers.
The float center is now yours.
You’ve put everything into this dream, and that dream is now reality. That dream is real people coming through your doors, connecting with this very unique practice that you took a chance on. You see the looks on their faces when they hop out of the tank, recognizing the face of someone who’s day, year, or life just changed dramatically as a result of the last hour and a half of their life.
Where are you on your path? Drop us a line — firstname.lastname@example.org