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Briana Borten: The Art of Relaxation
As the owner of one of Portland’s more recognized day spas and wellness centers, Briana Borton demonstrates that it is possible to blend business success with a healthy lifestyle. Not a typical businesswoman, Briana comes from an artistic background. When you walk into The Dragontree Spa, you see her artist’s touch everywhere, in every detail. And whether you’re meeting Briana for the first time or walking into one of The Dragontree’s two locations, you will instantly feel at ease.
One of the keys to Briana’s success is her strong committed purpose and passion for her business. Being a successful entrepreneur also takes an outstanding support system. Briana has that with her husband, parents, family members, friends, staff, and mentors. Her parents and her life experiences have helped to shape her vision, strength of will, and determination. Further, all of her hard work has led her to become a model for the community. For the past year, Briana has had the honor of serving as President of the Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon.
“the accident changed everything.”
How are you managing in this challenging economy?
We are grateful for our clients. In the eight years that The Dragontree has been opened it has at- tracted the most amazing, sweet and loyal clients anyone could ever serve. I believe, in this economy we have provided a sanctuary from stress for our clients and they have kept us thriving. What a great relationship! We’ve shown people that what we of- fer is real health care, something that matters most during hard times.
Recently you’ve added a spa location in the airport terminal and also new product lines?
In the last few years a lot of opportunities have be- come available to us, and as a businessperson you have to know when to hustle. You can’t wait until everything in the world is lined up just perfectly be- fore taking action—or you would be waiting forever. I mean, we have all felt the crunch in some way, but when we are at the spa it is an absolute “Economy Complaining Free Zone!”
You have a new retail product—the Imbue Pain Re- lief Patch. Where did this idea come from, and how do you plan to introduce it?
Yes, we are really excited about our new product. My husband Peter and I have worked for years with peo- ple in pain and have used all sorts of liniments and herbs to help them. Peter is a genius herbalist and loves creating formulas for people. Last year I was at a golf tournament speaking with golfers about The Dragontree and I dropped a massage chair on my foot. Man, it hurt! By the time I got home I couldn’t walk on that foot. It was swollen, and I was in a lot of pain. Peter put me on the couch and applied an herbal poultice that he had concocted. It was amaz- ing! Within one hour the swelling was gone and the pain was minimal. By the next day I was back in heels without a trace of pain! That is when we real- ized we needed to get this out into the world to help with people’s pain. In addition, we are launching a whole new line of products this month as well, so it’s been busy!
What other types of products are you launching?
We have lotions, soaps, shower gels, and a line of tinctures, all to be added to our other products that we offer.
When did you develop an interest in massage therapy?
While I was in art school in Washington I was in a car accident and broke my neck. The doctors wanted to fuse my vertebrae together, which is a pretty in- tense surgery. After which, I would have had a halo screwed into my skull. My mom who was a nurse and I disagreed with the doctors; we wanted a second opinion. They didn’t want us to get a second opinion at first.
We got a new doctor who put me in a SOMI brace. It wrapped around my body and held my head still. I had to be careful because it could move on me. I was released to my mother’s care, and she owned Hospice For Utah. I’m really grateful for my mom, and I was with her for about three months. After a month in the SOMI brace I could get up and go round the house.
As soon as I could be on my feet, I moved back to Montana to live with my dad. He and I are very close. I wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible. I got my old job back at the coðee shop I worked at in a high school. I had to be there at six in the morning and I couldn’t drive, so I walked one mile there and back even when it was snowy and cold every morn- ing. I remember thinking this is what my mom says about building character.
Besides walking to work while in a whole body brace, did you do any physical therapy?
I’ve had a few neck problems but had a lot of acu- puncture and massage to resolve that. I had bad re- actions to painkillers so I couldn’t take anything, but I had a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders that was causing me a lot of pain. I went to a massage therapist two times a week. She would work around my brace, mostly to relieve the tension in my shoul- ders. She did a lot of energy and cranial sacral work to realign things. It helped me so much. I went from severe pain to little noticeable pain. I had no idea that massage could be used in that way. At that time in my life, I thought massage was just about relaxing. I didn’t realize the healing benefits of massage. After awhile I started to ask her about her technique and process.
So she was basically your first massage teacher, giving you an understanding of the whole philosophy behind message therapy?
Definitely. In the beginning I was interested in the energy work. She spoke of trigger points—that it was important to incorporate them with the entire massage. We spoke about realignment and its rela- tionships to pressure. I learned about firmness—to work very slowly while not pushing against the body. Working with the body you can go deeper. She also helped me learn to breathe, which helped relax my muscles.
Is that when you decided to go to massage school?
Not right away. After seven months of wearing the braces and working in the coffee shop in Montana, I finally got them off. I felt free, so I went to Europe.
How did your experiences in Europe influence you?
I spent most of my time in Czech Republic. That country is just amazing and super friendly. Their hospitality is significantly greater than what I have felt in the States. Perhaps it was just the people I met, but they established connections so quickly. They were so warm and welcoming.
And their architecture—especially in Prague, such a beautiful city—I loved how walkable everything was and that it was all local and centered. That was es- pecially true in the very small town in which I lived called Êesk Krumlov. It had stone streets and ev- erything was close by. I don’t think I left a five-block radius for about a year. Everything I needed was in that the community. I loved living there, meeting new people, and finding out about different cultures and religions.
Did you go back to art school?
No. My passion is painting, but I love all art. I think it comes from my father, who is an artist. At school I decided early that I’d be a graphic designer, but the accident changed everything. I still use my arts background in my business—from the interior décor of our spas to the design of our marketing materials.
Tell me more about your father the artist. Did he inspire you?
He is a wonderful musician, illustrator and painter. His art style is realism and cartoon. I was inspired mostly by his process. There are other artists that inspire me, too, such as the powerful architecture of Frank Gehry. His art is amazing and he is one of my major inspirations. While walking along the streets in Italy, there are always people painting. I used to stop and watch their process, then return later to see the finished work. Those street artists inspired me in a different way.
Do you have any mentors?
My mother is an amazing entrepreneur and has been very successful. She started Hospice For Utah and Hospice of Missoula. I’ve been able to really glean a lot from her amazing wisdom, like keeping your vision, standing firm behind it, and letting other people align to it rather than bending at any mo- ment. My business coach Kathie Nelson—she is my advocate and cheerleader. She has guided me with creating systems and structures. Also, Spike Bailey, my Small Business Administration advisor, he has been an excellent resource in regards to marketing and finance.
When did you open The Dragontree Spa?
I graduated East-West College of the Healing Arts in 2000, after which I got a job at the local spa. I had a lot of great ideas to improve the spa and often encouraged the owner to do things diðerently. She eventually told me in a loving way that I should go out on my own.
With a business partner, we started The Dragontree while I went back to study at the California College of Ayurveda (a traditional medical treatment native to India). I also had a new boyfriend who eventually became my husband. After about a year and a half I bought out my partner. Then my boyfriend moved his acupuncture practice into the spa. When we got married I gave him part of the business, then a year and a half ago, opened the spa at the Portland Air- port. We have been in business for over ten years.
You’re originally from Montana. What do you think of Portland?
I love Portland, a beautiful lush place compared to Montana. It’s amazing to live here especially when all the flowers are blooming. I love the uniqueness of all of the neighborhoods. We live in southeast, but enjoy visiting other neighborhoods—it’s like a little vacation in your own city. I love that, and its con- venient proximity to the ocean, Mt. Hood and the Gorge.
How did you end up joining the Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon?
I had a client who was a member of the group and in- vited me to a meeting. It was a great experience and really seemed very collaborative. People really cared about each other, really helped build each other’s businesses, not just by actually going to them and referring them, but there is also a huge educational component. I was 23 when I joined that group. Most of my friends were bartenders and waitresses and they were not starting businesses. It was really use- ful to join a group at that time in my life.
Now you’re the president of Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon?
Since I joined nearly ten years ago, I have volun- teered in many positions for Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon. I have been nominated many times to be the president, and I always turned it down. The pres- ident right before me was very passionate and very organized. I wanted to wait until I was ready to put in as much time and energy as she had done. When I finally did accept, I was ready to thrive in that position and really help the organization thrive. It’s like running a lot of little businesses with all these dy- namic women. It has taught me a lot about running a bigger organization as well. It has been a privilege.
You’re now running a business with two locations, you’re the president of Women Entrepreneurs, you have a husband and a child—how do you do it?
You know it’s hard sometimes. I have one adorable three-and-a-half-year-old girl. She is very sweet and I just love her a lot. It’s difficult being a mom, but especially if you’re working. You always pull tight when you’re with them, but feel like you should be working more. So that part is really difficult.
I really like to be with her, and we just have such a good relationship. I really enjoy everywhere we wan- der and I feel rather lucky to be in the position that I’m in. For the first year and half of her life she was with me at the spa all the time, so we got to spend that essential time together. And now she comes to see me at work and everybody knows her.
And, I have a great support system. My husband is amazing. I think that he is from another world. He is just so generous, kind and loving, and he really is so supportive of me all the time. We have an awesome relationship. I feel like I have a lot of really good friends, too. And my family—I have two sisters and a brother and I’m really, really close to all three of them. And my parents, my husband’s parents, and my husband’s uncle have been so supportive of us, and really are there and help me every step of the way.