Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Milwaukee might be famous for making beer and motorcycles, but one company on the city’s northwest side has made a national reputation for itself by building products designed to pamper feet in spas and salons.
Since 1985, European Touch has been making spa chairs designed specifically for pedicures. The chairs are made in a throne style, with clients sitting in an elevated position similar to
a shoeshine stand. The chairs also include a wash basin with water jets, giving feet a whirlpool soak before receiving pedicure services.
European Touch’s chairs were invented by the company’s founder, a Russian immigrant who asked to remain anonymous for this report. He sold the company in 1998.
Today, most of European Touch’s efforts are focused on two products – the Murano and Platino spa chairs.
The Murano, launched in 2003, was designed to be a higher level spa chair than others available at the time. Connie Weissling, president and chief executive officer of the company, compared the Murano model to a high-end luxury car such as a Bentley.
"The wash basin is made of glass, and there’s nothing else like that on the market," she said. "All of the controls are computerized – there are digital controls to raise and lower the wash basin at the touch of a button. The leg rests are new and patented designs. And the chair tilts to help elderly or disabled clients get in and out of the chair."
The Murano costs about $12,000 for each model. European Touch’s next-highest model, the Platino, sells for about $5,000.
European Touch has sold about 700 Muranos and 1,000 Platinos.
"Because we chose to keep the features and functions we did, we limited the market," Weissling said. "We wanted to have the top level (product). We are not worried about unit sales. We wanted to keep it as brand equity. It’s not intended to be a high-volume product."
The Murano was developed in cooperation with Ingenium, an Allenton-based engineering and design firm, because European Touch did not have its own in-house engineering and design capabilities. One of the unique features that Ingenium developed for the Murano, called Crystal Clean, creates a pipe-free circulation system for the chair’s wash basin. Having limited piping is crucial, Weissling said, because many salons use products such as flower petals or chocolate in their pedicure treatments, which can get caught in pipes.
European Touch purchased the rights to the Crystal Clean system from Ingenium, Weissling said, and has included the system in the Platino.
The Platino was designed by Norm Fugate, vice president of operations for European Touch, who was hired in 2004. His responsibilities include engineering, production and helping build the company’s management team.
"He did the entire design and development," she said. "He sourced all of the parts for it, he built it and he launched it, all in-house."
The company sources for each
component of its chairs and then assembles the parts.
"All of the assembly and finished goods are done here," Weissling said. "We buy everything that it takes to make the spas, and we’re finishing the assembly process."
The Platino and European Touch’s other products are made partially in small pre-assembly cells and on an assembly line. A small testing station located at the end of the line tests each product before it goes to packaging and shipping.
However, because the Murano chairs include more electronics and complicated assembly, they are made one at a time. Each chair takes about three hours to assemble and is followed by a 24-hour testing period.
The drive toward creating its own in-house design capability is indicative of changes being made at European Touch over the past two years, Weissling said. The company was purchased by American Capital Strategies, a Bethesda, Md.-based private equity firm, in November 2001. European Touch was previously owned by Styling Technology Corp., an Arizona-based spa supplier, who purchased the company from the original owner.
American Capital Strategies has been interested in building the company’s management as part of an eventual sale of the company, Weissling said. Although the fund is not working actively to sell European Touch, private equity firms generally sell the companies they hold in five to eight years.
When European Touch was purchased, it had about $18 million in annual sales and about 45 employees. In 2005, the company had about $25 million in sales and employed about 55 people.
In the past month, the company has hired several new employees in top-level management, including a vice president of sales and marketing, a senior product manager, a public relations coordinator, a marketing and sales analyst, an engineering manager, a director of operations and a supply chain specialist. A chief financial officer was hired in 2002.
"We’ve been focused on adding and growing the business through the top line," Weissling said.
One of the company’s main goals is boosting its international sales. Of European Touch’s annual sales, only about 4 percent are from overseas.
"Now, by bringing on a marketing analyst, we’re trying to figure out where to go and how to get there," Weissling said. "We’re trying to validate the size of the market."
The newly created engineering department has already started work on the company’s next generation of products.
"We’re going through the process of taking the look of the Platino and applying it to our other products," she said. "Continuous improvement is part of our new group. We’re looking to improve the current line and create new products too."
Location: 8301 W. Parkland Court, Milwaukee
Products: Spa chairs for pedicures, portable pedicure stations and accessories.
Revenues: About $25 million in 2005
Employees: 55 to 60
Web site: www.europeantouch.com