Listen to Austin 360 Radio

How two sisters and a friend created Viva Day Spa

Nicole Villalpando,
Shannon Mouser and sisters Maya Aroch and Laurie Aroch started Viva Day Spa 15 years ago. Now, two of its three locations are able to offer medical treatments such as botox and fillers, microneedling, body contouring, skin tightening and photofacials. [Viva Day Spa]

The story of Viva Day Spa began well before it opened its first location 15 years ago.

It actually began when Laurie Aroch moved to Austin from the New York area to go to University of Texas pharmacy school. She met Shannon Mouser, who became her best friend.

Mouser was a massage therapist working around town since 1999 and trying to find a spa that was the right fit for her.

Mouser, who says she “knows what it’s like to work in the service industry,” wanted to start her own spa and make sure that it was a place where people would want to work.

Mouser, 50, says she remembers working at other places and not having what she needed, or having to also be the one to clean the rooms.

In the meantime, Laurie Aroch graduated and began working at Peoples RX pharmacy. She got to know how to build relationships and loyalty among clients.

“It’s caring from the inside out,” says Aroch, 46.

Every two months, Maya Aroch, Laurie’s sister, came to Austin to visit. She had a career in engineering, working for Kimberly-Clark in Atlanta for five years. She was growing tired of Atlanta and being away from family. She got to a point where she felt she had learned what she wanted from that job. It was time to move on, and that meant coming to Austin to be near Laurie.

Maya Aroch thought she might be in Austin for six months while she waited to figure out her next move.

“We convinced her to move to Austin,” Laurie Aroch says. While they had toyed with opening their own spa, they needed a person to run it. “The minute she arrived, we had a person.”

“Maya was key,” Laurie Aroch says. “She balanced us out. Shannon and I wouldn’t have moved forward without Maya.”

Maya Aroch remembers being skeptical about the business. How could there be enough need for more massage therapists? “Who gets massages on a Tuesday?” she says.

It turns out, a lot of people, something they learned when they began Viva Day Spa in 2005 with one location, a house on West 35th Street, with eight employees. They used their savings, asked family for help and ran up their credit cards.

Laurie Aroch kept her day job at Peoples, even until 2016, but helped behind the scenes while Maya Aroch worked the front desk and Mouser worked as a massage therapist while leading the staff and focusing on the client experience.

Six months after they opened, they were able to pay back their credit card debt and shared a profit of $19.

Today, Viva has grown to three locations: the original on West 35th Street, a South Lamar Boulevard location that opened in 2008, and a location at the Domain that opened in 2016.

They have 150 people on staff and a growing med spa business that began with the opening of the Domain location. It expanded last year when they purchased the store next to the South Lamar location.

They’ve seen the ups and downs of Austin. Just after they opened their South Lamar location in 2008, the recession hit.

“It was scary,” Laurie Aroch says. People were paying attention to their spending, and a day at the spa wasn’t always part of their new budget. Viva worked with its new landlord and rode out the recession

Just as their business grew, so did their families, but in different ways. Maya Aroch has two children, one biological daughter and one stepchild; Mouser, after years of infertility, used a surrogate to have her daughter; and Laurie Aroch and partner Suzanne Mahoney have two 7-year-old boys together. They each were pregnant at the same time and had the boys months apart.

Like the founders, their staff has become close. Many of them have even lived together. They call it the “Vamily,” a combination of Viva and family, as in, “Welcome to the Vamily,” Laurie Aroch says.

“Once you are in, you’re in,” she says.

Why is that? “Nurturing people need nurturing people around,” Mouser says.

“The clients here can feel it,” Laurie Aroch says.

As they’ve expanded, so have their offerings. When they opened the Domain location in 2016, they also quietly expanded by offering med spa items, things traditionally offered in a dermatologist’s or plastic surgeon’s office.

They partnered with an oculoplastic surgeon, Dr. Sean Paul, to serve as their medical director. Laurie Aroch says he really helped them with the direction of the whole operation.

The medspa is a “natural progression,” Mouser says.

Clients would come to get a facial and then ask what more they could do to prevent wrinkles or make up for the loss of collagen. Or they would be getting a massage and talk about wanting to tighten certain parts. Viva noticed people in their 20s and 30s wanting to do preventative work as well as people in their 40s, 50s and 60s wanting to improve their skin, or at least not lose more ground.

Now Viva has the next step to offer them.

The med spa operation offers things like Botox injections and fillers, photofacials, microneedling, vaginal rejuvenation, body contouring and skin tightening, and laser treatments that get rid of unwanted hair or tattoos.

“It’s an experiment: skin care and well care together,” Mouser says.

What began by word of mouth at the Domain has begun to take off.

Part of the reason they are able to succeed with a med spa is that technology has changed; people also are talking about these procedures more openly.

“Everyone is into wellness,” Maya Aroch says.

She calls what they were doing at the Domain more “med spa light.”

When they had the opportunity to expand into the spot next to their South Lamar Boulevard location, the grabbed it. They created a second half of Viva to bring med spa to a second location and to a new level.

They invested in machines such as the Evolve body sculptor, which melts fat using heat, a light vacuum and radio frequency and lets the body metabolize it. “It’s a major improvement,” Maya Aroch says. It’s also pain-free, she says, unlike a surgery like liposuction.

They bought a Morpheus8 RF for microneedling, which uses radio frequency to damage the skin slightly, causing the body to repair itself by encouraging collagen production, as well as the Forma for skin tightening and the Lumecca IPL for photofacials.

These machines cost $225,000 each. “It’s the best of the best,” Laurie Aroch says.

As they’ve grown the med spa operation, they been able to take advantage of technological advancements and have built a plan around taking advantage of upgrades. The machines they use can handle more variations in skin pigments than earlier versions. “Viva is for every body,” Mahoney says.

Viva’s med spa operation is part of the growing trend of blurring the lines between spas doing medical treatments and doctor’s offices offering spa treatments.

“We have a lot of people reporting that they feel comfortable in a spa setting over being in a doctor’s office,” Mouser said.

Here, “you’re No. 1,” Laurie Aroch says.

The goal for Viva, is “we don’t overdo,” Maya Aroch says. “It’s natural results.”

“When things are done with care, you look and feel excellent without looking ridiculous,” says Melvis Lara, an aesthetician at Viva for more than three years. “Less is more.”

That doesn’t mean the owners aren’t excited about the results they’ve seen personally.

“Once you start seeing changes, it’s exciting,” Laurie Aroch says.

“I tell people you notice when it wears off,” Maya Aroch says.

There are limits to what they can and will do.

Clients have to see a physician’s assistant before they can receive treatments. The physician’s assistant can prescribe medications like an antibiotic if something goes wrong. They also have an emergency protocol.

Sometimes it could be a reaction, or it could be that “some people see a needle and faint,” she says.

Clients will see a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant at least once a year for their safety.

“We wanted to do the right thing and do the best,” Laurie Aroch says, as well as make these treatments more accessible to more people. They tend to be less expensive in a med spa than in a doctor’s office.

While they’re excited about the direction the med spa business is taking them, at its heart, Viva still has “a massive spa operation,” Mahoney says. “It’s reflective of who we are.”

Downtown/South Austin: 215 S. Lamar Blvd.

North Austin/Domain: 11601 Rock Rose Ave.

Central Austin: 1811 W. 35th St.

Viva Day Spa