Atlanta’s lesbian-owned Natural Body Spa and Shop keeps it fresh 30 years in

It’s a sunny Friday morning at Natural Body Spa and Shop in Morningside and business is brisk. Customers mill about the retail portion of the store browsing the latest skincare products while others are checking their phones in the nail salon as they get manicures and pedicures.

Before long, in walks Cici Coffee, owner and operator of Natural Body since the business’s humble beginnings in this very same neighborhood nearly 30 years ago. A tour of the property reveals a dramatic scene change as one makes their way from the bright, active retail portion then back through wooden doors into the dimly lit, tranquil 13-room spa area, which takes up most of the nearly 4200-square foot facility.

But flash back to 1989 and take a few steps across the street and you would have been standing in the first Natural Body location, a 1000-square-foot retail store with just two treatment rooms in back. Companies like Estée Lauder ruled the skincare world and people had barely heard of Kiehl’s, AnneMarie Borlind and other brands Natural Body offered. But customers loved testing out the products, doing makeup applications and learning how to take care of their skin.

“The demand for those services – because nobody else was doing it in town – was just crazy,” Coffee told Georgia Voice.

Within a year they moved across the street into the current location.

“We brought a lot of lines with us and now they’re complete stores,” Coffee told Georgia Voice. “We constantly have to reinvent ourselves and move with the times and stay fresh and relevant.”

Natural Body would move into their next phase of growth as the eyes of the world turned toward Atlanta.

Sumo wrestlers, saunas and success

When organizers of the 1996 Summer Olympics decided to have a day spa in the athletes village for the first time in the Games’ 100-year history, they turned to Natural Body. The palette they were given to make it come to life? The Georgia Tech football team’s locker room.

“We put two blow-up Jacuzzis in the middle of the locker room. We wiped the old wooden lockers down with tea tree and orange essential oils because it smelled,” Coffee said laughing. The athletes ate it up. “We did not have one minute to squeeze somebody in. It was fun.”
And the saunas and steam cabinets they lined up in the bathroom gained quick fans from the Far East.

“Sumo wrestlers were packed into our saunas,” Coffee said. “It was a hoot.”

It also garnered the business press attention nationwide, positioning them to take the next step – franchising. They soon got up to 20 locations nationwide. The recession hit years later and Natural Body wasn’t spared, as several locations closed their doors. But they’ve rebounded in recent years and are back up to 12 spas and three nail bars in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, with paperwork close to being signed on a new spa in Alpharetta.

One aspect of the business that’s continued to attract customers is the commitment to environmental sustainability – “natural” isn’t in the business name for nothing. For example, they use recycled school bus tires for the flooring in the spa area, which has more than one benefit.

“The therapists love it because it’s easy on their backs, and it also grabs sound,” Coffee said.

And the business’s Brookhaven location was the first platinum LEED-certified spa in the US.

“We’ve always been about people, planet, profit. Trying to always stay true to sustainability, doing as much as we can for our staff and for the community while still maintaining profitability. We try to balance those as equally as we can. That’s what’s gotten us close to 30 years in now,” Coffee explained.

Coffee and the Natural Body team know they have to constantly stay in tune with their customers’ needs and with the latest developments in the skincare and spa treatment worlds in order to make it another 30 years. But it’s a challenge they welcome.

“I get turned on by that for sure. And as I age too it’s like, what am I looking for? I want the most aggressive skincare line out there that’s still going to honor our brand standards, which is not tested on animals, no toxic ingredients, the companies are looking at ways they can package differently and be more sustainable,” Coffee said. “We’ve been able to stay true to that as our clients age, and now we’re starting to see their kids. How do we stay relevant to what the next generation is looking for? They enjoy that a company has a mission, so my goal is just to make sure that the next layer of staff is able to hold onto that and tell the story of a LEED platinum location and what we went through to try and achieve that award, and what’s it meant to be here for almost 30 years. So as long as I can keep telling the story and they are comfortable relaying that story, I think that the next generation will really dig what we try to do as our mission.”