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Abby Cook says more men should travel in to Travelling Toes Esthetics Boutique when lockdown lifts

'We aren’t using words such as ‘waxing’ or ‘threading’, instead we are calling it ‘grooming’ and we hope that can make people feel more comfortable about coming in'

“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market. 


Why don’t more men treat themselves to a spa day?

“I think there’s a bit of a stigma coming to a spa, its traditionally a women’s space,” says Abby Cook.

“However, we offer services for men. Men can do hair removal, they can do facials and manis and pedis too, and they are functional in nature as well. Making your feet feel better, getting rid of calluses or ingrown toenails or making your face feel better, that’s not stuff that’s just for woman.”

Cook is the Coordinator of Travelling Toes Esthetics Boutique on O’Brien Street in North Bay and she says, “We’ve always wanted to bring in more male clients. Other spas, or manicure and pedicure bars are set up where six seats are in a row, and only our party space is set up that way. We have private rooms to get that done so if someone isn’t comfortable being seen in that space, they do get some privacy.”

She adds the majority of the beauty and health care industry isn’t always directed toward the male population, however Cook says,  “These are things that are not only functional, they help you relax like the facials; they make you feel really nice but they also help with keeping your face hydrated and working on anti-aging. Men maybe don’t think about that all the time, but what we’ve found is that once we can get a man in here, their whole outlook changes.”

A big goal for their operation is to market themselves to men by thinking outside the box says Cook.

“On our website we are being conscientious about having a section that is more geared toward men. So we aren’t using words such as ‘waxing’ or ‘threading’, instead we are calling it ‘grooming’ and we hope that can make people feel more comfortable about coming in.”  

She adds, “I was able to convince a male friend of mine to buy himself and two of his guy friends a ‘Pedis and Pints’ gift certificate. So once we open again, they will come in, have some beers and get their feet done which I think will be an eye-opener for them as these are guys who work in the trades and so they are on their feet a lot and I am excited for them to experience that as I think that will really help spread that message through word of mouth.”

Its this kind of marketing and creativity that makes Cook a valuable asset to the Travelling Toes team. Owner Lea Brenne had offered Cook a part-time receptionist job when Cook couldn’t find anything in her line of work.   

The North Bay native returned to the Gateway City in 2018 to be closer to her mother who was diagnosed with lymphoma. Cook says, “She’s doing well with that, its not aggressive but I am an only child and so I wanted to come home and be here for her.”

Along with that care, Cook brought an impressive resume that she had cultivated after going to post-secondary school on the East Coast. Graduating from a 2-year diploma program in Nutrition and Foodservice Management at College of The North Atlantic in Newfoundland, Cook found work within that industry.

However, none of that experience could help her find a job in that field when she moved home.  

“When I first moved back I couldn’t really find anything in the tourism/administration side of things. Tourism North Bay wasn’t interested and nothing really was coming up for me. My resume was really East Coast oriented so I didn’t have the experience in North Bay and this area, which made it difficult,” says Cook.   

“It was really frustrating because I know what I’m capable of. I’m really driven and I’m really good at the things I do. I won an award in 2018 for being one of the best tourism ambassadors in the country. So to come back and be told I’m not experienced enough or I’m not what people were looking for, it was really discouraging and I particularly started to wonder if North Bay was the right place for me.”

That’s when, through a mutual friend, Cook was introduced to Brenne.

“Lea was looking for a receptionist. She had just opened her location on O’Brien and things were getting busy and she couldn’t handle that side of the day-to-day operations on her own, so I started working with her because I have that business/administrative background and it turns out we formed a great team. She has the esthetics side, she knows what’s on-trend in the beauty industry and I have the logistics on how to get things set up.”

Cook adds, “Getting to work with Lea who values the work I do, and being able to start doing things that I’m passionate about with her has been really great. We had opportunities to host events and create partnerships, which I really love to do and it falls right into the tourism side of things that I’ve done before. Its been really nice to create a growing business.  Now, I’m starting to meet more people through those partnerships and create my own sense of community within the business world in North Bay, and getting to work with other people around town. I’m starting to find my way in how to get involved in the bigger picture, there were just a lot of barriers to starting that, which I didn’t expect having been born and raised here.”  

Having a sense of community has helped during the pandemic and lockdowns which have been put in place for almost a year now in Canada.

“I think it’s really important as a local business to support other local businesses as best we can,” says Cook.  

“We started doing that a little bit before Covid, working with Good Glaze Doughnuts to have some doughnuts on hand for any events we were hosting. We started working with Gateway City Brewery to do our Pedis and Pints event, which was going to happen at the Brewery. We have so many local vendors that we work with, we push their stuff and buy their products for our promotions and they are always telling people if they want more of that then they should come see us. If you reach out to a local business here, they are usually pretty open and receptive to doing something with you and that’s something that’s been wonderful to learn and be a part of in North Bay.” 

Cook says depending on what level of lockdown the province has been put in, they are allowed to operate.

“If it’s a stage two when the lockdown gets lifted, we may have limited services, but that’s still up in the air. However, right now, our retail space is still open for pick up and local delivery. We have a fully Canadian retail space, our entire product is from Canada. We switched over to all Canadian made products during the first lockdown and we did that to support local, small businesses from around Ontario and some from other provinces as well.”

Ironically, Cook says the first lockdown allowed them to do some work they had previously planned for.

“We were actually thinking of closing for a short period to renovate the first floor of our building so that we could expand. So our silver lining during this pandemic was that we were able to get that work done and our space has really opened up. We’re also doing some online renovations, working with Clark Communications to do an overhaul of our website and implementing an online store and online scheduling down the road.”

She says the safety of their team and their clients is not something they take lightly.   

“We want everyone to feel comfortable with their health and safety when they come in so we are following all guidelines and we are taking even more precautions than what has been set out for us. We personally want to stay safe as we have some members who are extremely at risk, not just from Covid, but from other viruses as well, so we’re trying really hard to make sure we do everything we can to stay safe. We actually stopped taking clients and patients that weren’t from our health unit district. We wanted to make sure that people throughout our community would be safe as well.” 

While they can’t take care of the health and beauty care needs of their clients in person, Cook says they are hoping to use the online space and social media as a way to stay connected and promote their retail side of the business.

“This lockdown that we’re in now, people have just spent money on Christmas and so there isn’t as much shopping happening as people are trying to be really careful with their money, however, we’re doing a ton of Valentines Day promotions happening right now, and then we’ll be moving into our mothers day promotions as well.”  

Cook says her story should show the value of believing in your skills while not limiting your possibilities.

“Just try and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Your skillset shouldn’t limit you,” she says.  

“All the stuff I learned in school and on the East Coast I was able to then turn and implement into working in a spa setting. Making partnerships with people is huge because you never know what is going to come out and what might happen. Meet as many people from your area as possible so that you can have people in your corner and support you. Just let people see your work ethic and know what you stand for. I think it took me a little longer to realize that it doesn’t just have to be a work connection that can help you with your career.”  

 If you have a story suggestion for the “Jobs of the Future” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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