Over the course of 30 years, Bella Schneider has steadily grown her business from a 700-square-foot day spa on Maiden Lane where customers sometimes waited on the floor to three high-end and high-tech spas in The City and Palo Alto, plus a spa products manufacturing company with more than 120 products and a distribution company. Not bad for someone who came to the United States as an immigrant on a tourist visa seeking a better education.
Schneider’s family, from the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, was displaced in the reorganization of the region after World War II, and finally left in 1956 to go to first Italy and then Israel. But it was not before the upheaval of the time took their toll — her parents were both made deaf and mute after birth, one by a disease and one by a beating. Her brother was born blind because her mother developed measles while pregnant, Schneider said.
“I started working at a very early age to help support the family,” she said.”At 14, I started working in fashion and beauty.”
Her love of the glamorous industry — and teenaged breakouts — led her to start working with two Bulgarian sisters in Tel Aviv, Nina Shaky and Bella Sidy, who were “known to be the best aestheticians ever,” Schneider said. She did makeup and waxing, and learned a lot from them.
She completed high school at night, and then came to the United States on a tourist visa, choosing Berkeley because she was excited about its politically charged climate. She began her college education at Foothill College and then completed her bachelor’s in international relations and economics at UC-Berkeley, while working for Estée Lauder full-time. And she got a very bad facial from another company in San Francisco.
“I realized that women here didn’t have a clue how to care for your skin,” she said.
So in 1976, she opened her first spa, La Belle, with manicures, pedicures, facials, massage and salt scrubs. It was founded with a $5,000 settlement when she broke her foot on the Berkeley campus. The spa was a hit. A client helped her get a $60,000 loan, and she opened a 3,000-square-foot spa on Sutter Street and went to work on her first line of products.
Over the years, she’s served celebrities such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Audrey Hepburn. Now, she has the San Francisco spa on Grant Street, one in the Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, and one at the Stanford Shopping Center. She also is opening a new shop for her long-time clients in the Hyatt Residency in Palo Alto.
“That’s the generation that has their hair done every week,” she said.
She also has Five Star, which manufactures spa products under the La Belle and Christina brand names under her personal direction. All told, she does $14 million to $15 million a year in local business, with around $10 million overseas, she said. And times have changed.
“[Now] women are very informed,” she said. “It doesn’t matter anymore if you are in academia or are in high tech, they are wanting to look good.”
New project: Stanford expansion. Five Star relocation. Introduction of new skin care line.
Last project: Expansion of Stanford hair salon from six stations to 18 stations. Adding distribution of Diamond Head Microdermabrasion equipment to our wholesale division.
Number of e-mails a day: 60
Number of voice mails a day: Not many. I’m not fond of voice mail!
Essential Web site: Spafinder is a useful source of information in the spa industry.
Best perk: Weekly services (tons of massage, nail, hair, makeup). “I don’t even have to do my own eyebrows anymore!”
Education: Bachelor’s in international relations and economics from UC-Berkeley
Last conference: Les Nouvelles Esthetiques, Long Beach.
First job: Selling high end women’s fashion clothing in a European Style boutique.
Original aspiration: “When I was younger, to be a journalist writing about international affairs. When I started LaBelle, to bring European quality spa and salon services to the American woman.”
Career objective: Expand current locations so that all locations are completely full-service. Expand the business-to-business aspect of the wholesale division by selling new and exciting products to spas internationally.
Details: 56-years-old; 5’6″; likes traveling to Mediterraneancountries, loves to drive fast, drink a morning latte from her Italian professional coffee machine; dislikes economy class travel; is obsessed with smells and cleanliness; doesn’t like to be called “grandmother, despite my total devotion to my grandchild”
Transportation: CL 600 Mercedes
Worst fear: Heights
Motivation: By the fact that I am physically capable, unlike the rest of my family, and by making sure that everyone around me including myself lives the good life (La Dolce Vita).
Sports/hobbies: Pilates, reading biographies, gossip/ celebrity magazines on planes
Transportation: CL 600 Mercedes
Favorite restaurant: Evia. But to be honest I don’t have a favorite restaurant as I like to have variety in my life.
Computer: HP laptop
Vacation spot: For short trips, Las Vegas or Puenta Minta, Mexico, or Dubrovnik, Croatia, when I have more time.
Favorite clothier: 1. Blue Marine 2.Dolce & Gabanna 3. Fendi 4. Dior
Role model: I’ve never had a specific role model as most were not applicable to my life. But there are women who have inspired me for certain qualities: Sophia Loren for her beauty, Golda Meir for her courage to stand up to all the men, Gina Lolobrigida for her eternal youth, Simon Signoret for her strength. Audrey Hepburn for her devotion to humanity.
Reading: Biographies and a lot of professional and trade magazines and books