Industry Update
Opinion Article31 July 2015

How to Revitalize a Flagging Spa - Six Easy Steps

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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The headlines tell the story. Spas in 2015 are plunging forward with big refreshes. The flipside: to stay in place is to fall behind. Complacency = stagnation = a slow death. But the good news is that little - inexpensive - steps can put a spa on the winning track.


First however feast on the headlines. In Napa, Meadowood is opening a new 14,000 sq ft spa. Hilton is reimagining its eforea spa brand. Six Senses marches onward, opening new, dazzling spas. The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale has announced a $9 million renovation that involves its spa. Four Seasons Dallas just completed a renovation that refreshed its spa. The list could go on and on. Every day there is more news about spa brands taking big steps forward.

In the great recession, some - many - spas dialed back spending on non-essentials as a tough economy inflicted pain. That was understandable. But today - with soaring RevPAR and profitability at well-managed properties - the time has come to invest, to keep pace, maybe to get ahead.

Keeping the purse strings drawn tight is a recipe for failing.

But that's the point: just staying in place now requires investment.

​In what? Here are six places to put money for optimal results.

* A facility refresh. ​I am not talking renovation. Though some facilities may need a renovation, many will benefit from sprucing up. This means new paint, a good cleaning of upholstered furniture, new pool furniture, new linens, even new grout in bathrooms. Spa is a luxury product and to keep guests, it has to look luxurious - which in this context means sparkling, fresh, clean.

* Staff up. Staff often was cut in 2008 - reverse that course. Fill those jobs that have been kept empty. That means more pool attendants, bus boys, housekeepers, locker room attendants. Many of these positions are at or near minimum wage, so a wave of hiring shouldn't bankrupt a well-run spa. But guests will notice the difference when their needs are met, in the moment. A guest does not want to wait 10 minutes for a smoothie. When she is paying $250 for a treatment she wants it now. This second. Make sure she gets it.

* Train your staff. A lot of training was cut back in 2008, understandably. It is time to reinvest in it. A better trained employee is a better employee. Employees do not intuitively know their jobs in high-end spas. Train them. You will get better results.

Train in everything guest-facing. How to answer the phone. How to deal with an angry guest. How to answer guest questions - and, above all, make sure employees understand this spa's philosophy, what it stands for. And make sure their demeanor reflects the philosophy.

* Study the competition. You'll like this one: go to competitive spas and absorb what they are doing. Look for what they are doing right, not wrong, and see what you can adapt to make your spa that much better. Get treatments, talk with therapists, talk with frontline staff.

*Bring in high-level spa consultants. Listen and learn. Running successful spa programs involves staying open to new ideas, new ways of doing things to please more guests. Spa today is an international industry - think about all the great spas in India and Thailand and all the great ones that are now opening in China and Dubai. Well-heeled spa clients can follow their interests to wherever - Bhutan for many is as accessible as Brooklyn. Good spa consultants bring a broad outlook that can help a small, regional spa lift itself to the competitive level found internationally.

*Look at everything through guests' eyes. Never forget this: spa is a luxury. Guests want to spa in surroundings that feel luxurious. If something looks out of place, or is worn and tired-looking, get rid of it or replace it. Do this today, tomorrow, every day.

Absolutely nothing on this list is a budget breaker but everything on the list will produce real returns. View the steps not as costs but as investments with ROIs.

Babs Harrison

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