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RSW Living Magazine

Azul Cosmetic Surgery and Medical Spa: Nearly 20 Years of Serving Southwest Florida's Skincare Needs

Dr. Patrick Flaharty has been serving the Southwest Florida community for the better part of 30 years. Having opened his own practice, Azul Cosmetic Surgery and Medical Spa - 1009 Crosspointe Drive, Suite 1, Naples, just shy of 20 years ago, Dr. Flaharty has helped reshape and rejuvenate the faces of thousands of Southwest Florida residents. As a board-certified ophthalmologist, Dr. Flaharty relies on his aesthetic knowledge and practical skill to bring his patients' goals to life with safe, long-lasting products and services.

We caught up with Dr. Flaharty to learn more about Azul Cosmetic Surgery, its very own product line produced locally by his wife, Kristen, and how things have been going since the global pandemic lockdown this time last year.

Tell us about your business. When did you open? What was the main motivation for starting your business?

We had been in Florida for almost 30 years and I had been working for another company for 10 years. I really wanted to do my own practice because I had a vision for a cosmetic practice that would have my personal stamp. Every business runs differently based on ownership. That was important to me.

My father was a physician. He had a really warm and friendly practice. His patients were his extended family. I wanted a practice where people felt at home. Here at Azul Cosmetic Surgery and Medical Spa, we have a focus on education, helping people understand what their options are and what can be done, and providing the best solutions. We’re a cosmetic surgery practice. Part of my job is to find the best and most effective treatments for aging problems.

After 10 years of practicing prior to opening my own business, I decided I wanted to build something special and unique that emphasized that warm, family-friendly atmosphere and the high value of education. Once patients know their options, it’s easy to choose what’s right for them. I think we’ve had great success with that.

We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary next year. I now have two doctors, myself and a junior associate, Dr. Maximillian Padilla, and seven other providers in the practice. So, we have nine of us in total that provide services across three offices—Naples, Bonita Springs, and Fort Myers—and close to 30 employees. Our focus hasn’t necessarily been on that type of growth over the years, but quality care. It has grown naturally because people want to send their friends, neighbors, and relatives to us, and it just continues to grow.

What's something you wish people knew about your business?

I see a lot of people referred to me for eyelid procedures and facelifts. I don’t think the general public knows we offer a full spectrum of services from skincare to our own product line that we’ve developed produced here at Trilogy Laboratories - 10060 Amberwood Road, STE 1, Fort Myers. We do everything from hydrofacials, cool sculpting, surgical procedures, and more. We are probably known mainly for my surgical practice, but in fact, the biggest part of our practice is our medical spa with several of our providers doing services in our three offices every day.

Personally speaking, what is your favorite thing about your business?

I personally love surgical facial rejuvenation to help people look 10 to 20 years younger and see how excited they are to achieve that. It's gratifying and has been a big part of my practice for the past 20 years.

Seeing our business continue to grow, bringing in really good employees, seeing them grow in their roles, and seeing them have success as our other providers have built practices within the practice and employees have grown and taken on more responsibility—those are the fun things about a growing business. You can see the individual members of your team grow with the business. It’s really gratifying to see the progress we’ve made individually and collectively.

What is a common question you get? Your answer to it?

When I do consults, I think a common misconception about cosmetic surgery is that everything is surgical. A lot of people don’t recognize how much we can do in the office. There are a lot of non-surgical treatments that can really make an improvement in your appearance, such as injectables, light lasers, etc.

A common question would be, 'Do I have to get a facelift to make improvements?' The answer is 'No. There’s so much more we can do in terms of independent surgical rejuvenation and that can make a big difference.'

A lot of people would be surprised to learn how much can be done in the office with little downtime. There is so much to be done to look your best without surgery and that can be surprising to people.

What's the biggest compliment you've received about your business?

My office managers told me yesterday we have over 400 five-star reviews, which is pretty amazing. The biggest compliment is when people send their friends, family, and neighbors. I see that all the time. I’ll see a woman and her husband will want to come in, too. I think the biggest compliment is referrals because they’re really happy with the result—that vote of confidence in us and our abilities.

What is your most popular service? And, personally, what is your favorite?

I have what’s called 'the pyramid of rejuvenation,' which consists of three layers of procedures: non-invasive, minimally invasive, and surgical. In each of those categories, the most popular in-office procedure is the hydrofacial, which is a high-tech, deep-cleansing facial that rejuvenates and hydrates the skin and makes it look great instantly. In the past, if you treated the skin and made it healthy, you had to do peels and things that were aggressive, which makes the skin look worse before it looks better. The hydrofacial works in the short run and the long run.

Our nurse practitioners do a liquid facelift using a combination of botox and fillers to rejuvenate the face. That’s far and away the most popular minimally invasive injectable treatment. It takes care of lines, creases around the mouth, dark circles under the eyes, etc., with little or no downtime. Sometimes you can get redness or swelling after the procedure, but icing helps reduce that and you can leave and go about your day normally.

People get heavy, droopy eyelids and around the neck, which makes them look and feel old and/or tired. Our eyelid and facelift procedures take care of that and are our most popular surgical procedures.

Are you involved with or do you support any local nonprofits, community organizations, or causes?

My wife, Kristen, and I have three daughters we’ve raised and a lot of pets—currently four cats and a dog. Last year, we donated and attended the CROW fundraiser, which is really great for the rehabilitation of wildlife on Sanibel. As a practice, we supported Susan B. Komen, women's shelters, and 'What About That Dress?' Women’s health and support programs as well as those in aid of rehabilitating animals have been the main emphasis for us over the years because they are the most meaningful to our family with three daughters and multiple animals and seeing the number of challenges that women can have, especially if they don’t have good family support or find themselves in difficult situations at a young age.

Kristen and I have also supported the Florida Gulf Coast University volleyball program. All of our kids played, and we believe it is important to support our local university. Kristen is also engaged with Fort Myers Women in Business.

In all, we've done several things annually dating back to many years ago. I also served as president of the board of the YMCA in the 1990s. 

Why did you choose to be in Naples/Fort Myers? Why is SWFL important to you?

Kristen has one brother, who was first to move to Naples with his wife. We used to visit them when I was in medical school and during my training and just loved the area. I was fortunate to find a good opportunity and received a job offer locally, took that, came down, and of course, once we were here, fell in love with the place all over again.

I grew up in suburban Detroit and compare it against living there. I remember waking up on weekends when we first moved down here, seeing the sun come up every day and getting out and do things, thinking I’d died and gone to Heaven. It is so beautiful here for 12 months out of the year. We initially said we’d stay two years to see if we liked it. By the time five years had passed, we were never looking back! Now, we've been here almost 30 years and love it more than we ever did. It really grows on you.

It's been fun to be a part of the growth in the community. We've seen a lot of changes over the years. We would drive past cow pastures in Bonita and Estero and now there's development there and along the coast in Punta Gorda. It's really fun to see the continued growth and development of the community and be a part of that.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business? Have you rebounded? Did you do anything special given the circumstances?

It’s really been interesting because when COVID first hit and cases started spreading and they shut down everything, we were shut down. We were non-essential services, other than emergency work, which is a small percentage of what we do. For about five weeks, we were pretty much closed for business. That was a very strange time because we didn’t really know how long we were going to be closed and when we were going to be reopened. I had a staff of 24 people and had to furlough everybody for two weeks. The government came through with the PPP program, we applied and were granted and able to bring people back to work.

Once it was safer and we were allowed to open back up, we got right back to it. It was slow at first, as people were apprehensive. We had to introduce new protocols—wearing masks and gloves, taking temperatures, cleaning common areas. While patients weren’t here, we were learning all of that and changing schedules to separate between patients to reduce foot traffic in the office. People couldn’t bring their spouses or friends. Interestingly now, people gained the confidence to come back in using safety measures and have procedures done safely without taking big risks, without contracting COVID, and we saw services gradually shoot up as time went on.

A ton of people were told to cancel trips, so there were a whole lot of people staying in Fort Myers, Naples, and Bonita for the summer. People were stuck at home and came to the conclusion it was the perfect time to get something done since many people are working from home and not traveling. We had a really busy last six months of the year and finished ahead of last year, despite the fact that we were completely closed for five weeks. I could have never predicted that happening. It turned out and remains to be a good time to have cosmetic procedures because people are still stuck at home. Initially, it was a big challenge, but in the end, it turned out to be a big opportunity.

Do you have any upcoming events, specials, or new items/services that people should know about?

We usually do a lot of events at our offices. I do a lot of seminars. We're not doing those right now. We did some virtual events over the summer. Like everybody else, we're seeing when things improve. We do specials every month. In February, we're offering 15 percent off all laser treatments in our office (HALO, HERO, BBL) and 15 percent off hydrofacials.

Anything else you'd like to add?

One of the fun things that have happened with our business is our product line, Azul Skin Health. Kristen, my wife, has a doctorate of pharmacy degree and did drug development research for many years, helping drug companies get drugs approved by the FDA. We developed a product line because we were buying products all across the company. Six years ago, Kristen opened Trilogy Laboratories, a small skincare company locally located in Fort Myers, so we create our own products right here in our own backyard.

I operate as the clinical arm and she’s the chemistry/pharmaceutical arm. She started off with one employee and has grown to six full-time employees. They make our products and products for a number of other companies and practices around the world. It's a great benefit to us to have our own product line produced here so we can control and adjust the ingredients locally. It's another huge part of our success story. That’s been something really cool about our business, which really is a part of our family.

One thing patients should know is we offer free consultations. A lot of people are intimidated by the concept of rejuvenation or cosmetic surgery. Patients can come in to see us or any of our providers to learn about any procedure they see on our website, find out the pros and cons of those procedures and their alternatives, and can make a decision on whether or not to move forward. Again, we're very much into the education side of things—no pressure. Our products and services sell themselves and if someone’s not interested, at least they learned something more about it. Once you have the education, you can choose the path forward and that’s the way it should be.

I’ve written two books that are free to our patients in the office. Look Younger Now and Young Again: A Baby Boomer’s Guide to Facial Rejuvenation will give them a good overview of my philosophy on rejuvenation and what can be done. That speaks to education being the cornerstone of the practice.