Marie Watkinson permanently shifted the way New Yorkers experience spa and wellness services in 2003 when she launched Spa Chicks On The Go, a mobile spa business offering facials, massages, and manicures for events, offices, and private parties. For years Marie worked to deliver the most efficacious and luxurious services for celebrities, influencers, and brands to broaden the wellness landscape. But the pandemic threw her a curve ball—and taught her to reevaluate what’s important. Here, Beauty News talked with Marie, who is a 2022 CEW Beauty Creator Ambassador, on getting back to in-person treatments following a period where touching was all but forbidden.
It wasn’t until COVID that Marie Watkinson, a dual-licensed massage therapist and physical therapy assistant, realized how burnt out she was. The one-woman-show with 30-plus years of experience in the spa and wellness industry does it all: pitching new business, marketing, social media, accounting, staffing, as well as being the on-site presence at all events for her mobile spa business, Spa Chicks On The Go.
But during the pandemic, Marie was forced to shut down. It was during this time she entered a period of deep self-healing, self-reflection, and re-evaluation.
“For the first half of COVID there was very little pivoting I could do. Our focus is on corporate and consumer media events, both of which came to an absolute standstill overnight and remained dormant until November 2021. Our services didn’t translate into a virtual style. As for one-on-one massage therapy services, they were not allowed until August 2020. However, just because they lifted the restriction didn’t mean it was safe to dive in. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable offering massage therapy in any type of setting and customers were equally apprehensive,” said Marie, who has over the course of her career worked with a variety of orthopedic and sports medicine clinics, day spas, and wellness centers. A career highlight was serving as the Massage Director at Manhattan’s Ajune Spa during its heyday.
She wasn’t sure what the future would hold for her company or on-site activations with a touch component. So, in September 2021 Marie started Watkinson Wellness Studio, a small private practice near her home on Long Island, giving her purpose and “great joy” in helping others after being isolated for so long.
“The space is a place for me to connect with clients one-on-one with deep tissue massage, myofascial cupping, and sound therapy. I have a very large treatment room that can fit about six people where I do group sound healings with gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, and crystal bowls. I work often with children and teens with autism, which has been very rewarding and deeply personal since I have a 13-year-old son on the spectrum,” she said.
It’s Marie’s knack for creating opportunities when faced with challenges that make her a force to be reckoned with. This was the premise for Spa Chicks On The Go: the average career span for a massage therapist is approximately seven years because of the physical toll it takes on one’s hands and back. Marie needed to devise a way to remain an active therapist without physically overexerting herself.
So, in 2003 Marie came up with the idea to launch New York’s first mobile spa company. The concept looked to change the way people access full spa services at on-site events. For example, her mobile spa unit was hired to attend company holiday parties, brand sales meetings, and industry expos. Clients have included Condé Nast, Hearst, Vogue, L’Oréal, and many more. Marie’s first event was a baby shower hosted by Bobbi Brown for one of her makeup artists.
“Pre-social media, pre-glam squads, and everything else, I had this idea [for Spa Chicks On The Go] and people thought I was crazy. I thought, instead of opening a day spa, which so many people had done, what about doing things mobile?” Marie said, adding that the spa professionals she curates are licensed, insured, and match a particular event.
Marie’s company doesn’t simply provide spa services, such as pedicures and massages. Often, Marie helps organize an event alongside public relations and event planning teams, including scouting locations that can properly accommodate large pieces of spa equipment. Marie also assists companies with branding their events. For example, if a nail brand is hosting an event, all spa specialists are outfitted with the brand’s name emblazoned on T-shirts. They’ll also use that brand’s products, and be trained on discussing and demonstrating that brand’s selling points.
These days, the mom and wife is working “smarter, not harder” having learned to streamline many aspects of her business to create pockets of free time to maintain a work/life balance. And while she’s back in full swing with mobile services, and a private practice that grounds her, she’s already looking ahead.
“In 2023, I’m working on custom retreat services with a friend who just purchased a lodge in the Catskills,” she said.
For now, Marie will do more of what she knows best: delivering self-care opportunities on the go.
“I want to keep doing what I’m doing. From observing our corporate events, I see that people have so much anxiety and are really stressed out. It’s a crazy time and it’s really nice that we can make people feel special and pampered. We’re bringing happiness to people and as long as we keep doing that, I think that’s good enough.”