An Oasis of Relaxation in Chicago
Urban Oasis founder Peter Rubnitz’s company is helping the world relax – one client at a time.
Moving from tax accounting and real estate to entrepreneurship and massage might not seem like a natural career path. But for Peter Rubnitz, founder of Urban Oasis massage spa, the business was a lifetime in the making.
Peter’s grandparents, who got regular massages for 50 years, introduced him to massage when he was just a teen. As an adult in Chicago, Rubnitz continued to get massages at his health club. He wasn’t happy as a corporate employee, and began looking for a business to start or buy. When he came across the advice “Do what you love,” massage was “the first thing that popped into my head,” he recalls.
“The only places to get massages in the early 1990s were at health clubs or chiropractors,” Rubnitz says. Neither of these environments was very conducive to relaxation. Then he visited a massage spa that was in the heart Manhattan, but with colors, sounds and textures that transported him to Santa Fe. “It really got your head out of the city,” he says. He loved the concept and wanted to bring it to Chicago.
In 1992 Rubnitz launched Urban Oasis, featuring an Asian motif. “Clients told me they began to relax right after walking through the door. It makes for a better massage and a happier client,” he explains.
Educating prospective customers about the value of massage was “a struggle,” Rubnitz admits. But unsolicited publicity, including write-ups in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader, got the phones ringing. Slowly but surely, those clients began referring friends. In 1995, Urban Oasis doubled its size on Maple Street and, in 2003, it opened a second massage spa at North Avenue & Sheffield.
Today, Urban Oasis has 65 massage therapists, half of whom have worked there for over 10 years—“unheard of in the industry,” says Rubnitz. On average, he notes, the a massage therapist stays a one place only 18-24 months and has a career span of 4-5 years. The longevity at Urban Oasis means clients can find therapists they truly connect with and build lasting relationships.
Why are massage therapists so loyal to Urban Oasis? “From the get-go, I’ve made them a priority,” says Rubnitz, who offers competitive wages, education benefits, health insurance to full-time therapists and a 401(k) for those who stay a year or more. “Most important, I’ve always catered to their health as therapists.” Therapists at Urban Oasis take recuperative breaks between massages; to keep them healthy, the spa limits the number of massages one therapist can see to four per day. “If our therapists stay healthy and happy, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The family vibe is another reason customers love Urban Oasis. “Clients and therapists all talk about this place as a family,” Rubnitz says. “It’s a close-knit community of co-workers, and that rubs off on their clients.”
Urban Oasis also offers a wide range of massage styles. In addition to Swedish and Deep Tissue massage, customers can enjoy Sports massage, Ashiatsu (massage done with the feet), and Thai massage (a combination of massage and stretching done with clients clothed and on a futon mat).
Urban Oasis was the first spa east of the Rocky Mountains to offer hot stone massage—in fact, Rubnitz, in 1997, flew the technique’s founder from New Mexico to Chicago to teach his therapists. Prenatal massage is another specialty. Urban Oasis uses unique belly cradle tables that allow pregnant women to get massages face-down safely and comfortably.
More and more, people are recognizing massage to be a necessity. “Touch is a basic human need, and very important for our well-being,” he explains. “Today, everyone is stressed, and people don’t take time for themselves. That’s where our service comes in.”
From corporate America to massage entrepreneur, Rubnitz wouldn’t change a thing. “My favorite part of my job is seeing the positive change [in] people after their massage,” he says. “It’s so gratifying.”