Q&A: Young entrepreneur turns up the heat at family business

This week we chat to Alex Tyson, a young man who has taken over the running of family business iHealth Saunas and putting his own stamp on the venture.

ISB: Please tell us about the backstory of the company before you “took the reins”.

AT: My parents Peter and Miriam originally sold infrared sauna for a European manufacturer between 2002 and 2008. As they were only a distributor, they were ultimately hamstrung in the quality of product and service they could provide. In 2008 they created iHealth Saunas. Utilising his 30 years SME business experience my father started up the company in the best way he knew how: here’s a product we sell, push for the deal, get the sale… it was an old school style of business and it worked for most of his life. However, it was clear to me when I began working closely with him that this style of doing business was on the way out.

ISB: What is the point of difference of iHealth saunas compared to others in the market?

AT: We don’t just flog you a sauna. We specialise in infrared saunas with a focus on helping our clients optimise their health. It was clear to me from the start that we don’t really sell saunas, we sell the lifestyle that goes along with sauna ownership. We help people improve their health. We focus on giving people the tools to live healthily through the highest-quality infrared saunas and the latest health education. People who are looking into infrared sauna are doing so as a way to better look after themselves, so we double down on this with our sauna guide, regular online webinars with health professionals and our Sweat It Out podcast.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you took over the running of the business, and how did you overcome it?

AT: The biggest challenged I faced when taking over the business was culture. I had a vision, but for it to be achieved I needed people who believed in it. However, the business was old school. Arguments about commission, people not believing in the product, no one properly being looked after, it wasn’t a nice place to work and it felt as if every second day the was a blue between staff. I had also taken over the business when I was 24 and so, although I had several years working alongside my father, I would have been ignorant to think I knew how to run a business. At the time I took over, the business had over $500k in debt without a sales process to leverage or an overdraft to utilise.

So, I worked hard to change the culture. I knew that if I had a team that believed in what we were doing, believed in me, we could do anything. Those who were not promotable were let go and over time we had an energised team who enjoyed doing their work and believed in the importance of what we were doing. I also underwent training with DENT through their “key person of influence program” and took on a business mentor. Through focus and belief, we were able to turn things around.

ISB: How do you envisage the business developing in the next couple of years?

AT: We are currently going through a significant growth phase. And I see this continuing as we continue to shake up the sauna market with our health education and focus on customer experience.

Besides the growth in our sales and logistics, I see us doubling down on the customer experience. How can we make sauna even easier to use through app development? How can we more easily deliver our health content in a more digestible way which integrates with customer sauna usage?

Our mission is to provide healthy lifestylers a platform to live continuously healthy on. And so, my focus remains on how we can continue to improve the quality of life for Australians through what we do.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with other young entrepreneurs looking to run their own business?

AT: Culture is king. If there is someone not happy, deal with it. The bad apple really does spoil the batch. As soon as you get the sniff someone is not happy, look after them, listen to them, and take action on whatever you find. When you need people to take drastic action, like we had to during COVID this year, it is much easier if your team is on side and motivated.