Great Lakes Spa Alliance Meeting

The Great Lakes Spa Alliance Annual Meeting took place at Chicago's Swissotel, overlooking Lake Michigan.

On May 6, the Great Lakes Spa Alliance held its third annual meeting at the Swissotel in Chicago, attended by approximately 70 people including spa owners and directors, and vendor sponsors. Owner/founder Lenny LaCour and his board members Tracy Ridder-Wertz, Elaine Sauer, Sean Handler and Linda Price put together an informative day of networking and education, with the invaluable assistance of the sponsors. Although you might think of the GLA as a Midwest spa alliance, its members actually include spas from states all along the lakes, as far east as New York. Among the goals of the GLA are to Inspire Collaboration and Create Community; Facilitate Healthy Growth and Encourage Innovation, and Cultivate the Leaders of Tomorrow. In that vein, this particular event was entitled “Collaboration.”

The day kicked off with welcome addresses by LaCour and Sauer, who introduced the morning’s keynote speaker, Miraval CEO Michael Tompkins and his presentation, “Collaboration Today – Joining Forces in Marketing, Social Media & Community.” Tompkins had only been on the job for a year when the recession hit in 2008, and he had to get creative with his marketing for the resort, with 116 keys and 400 employees, to survive. In July 2009, Miraval experienced the lowest occupancy in its history, and few Miraval guests were coming from within driving distance. Marketing that did not require huge sums of money obviously became a major focus for survival. Among Tompkins’ initiatives accomplished in the last several years were a new website, a social media marketing staff person and community outreach initiatives.

As a take-away for attendees, Tompkins outlined the activities that have had a positive effect on business at Miraval:

  • Monitor your online presence on rating sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp and respond to all comments, positive or negative.
  • Ensure that your website is optimized for SEO.
  • Utilize an outside firm to deliver SEO results and analysis on a regular basis so you can fine-tune your efforts.
  • Enlist celebrity or VIP clients to participate in content or even just “like” you on Facebook.
  • Encourage staff members to create “how-to” videos that can be used to create a channel on YouTube.
  • If participating in a deal site, package a service with other items such as a robe or vendor-donated gift set so you can at least break even on the offer.
  • Utilize staff talents to create a cookbook or other collection of education/information that guests would enjoy.
  • Create Strategic Partnerships with third-party vendors who share your clientele; swap email lists and promote together.
  • Create Community Alliances to educate and participate with your local clientele pool.

Regarding social media, Tompkins concluded, “The question is not whether or not to participate in social media, it’s how well you do it. The ROI that you’ll receive is that your business will still exist five years from now!” Needless to say, Miraval has not only survived, but thrived, and has been booked out for the past eight months. When asked why he is so open and shares so much information with industry peers, he replied, “Karma pays back, and I want to give others the opportunity to succeed.” Bravo!

After a vendor showcase break, attendees reassembled into six round-table groups to debate a specific topic, then reported on the shared conversations. Discussions included Spas & Wellness, Sustainability, Defining your Target Market, Retailing and others. The afternoon was highlighted by a panel discussion, moderated by GLA board member Linda Price, on “The Art of Collaboration and Engagement.” Panelists Alfredo Carvajal of leisure firm WTS, Grant Bruce from the Trump Chicago, Miraval’s Michael Tompkins, Rose Fernandez of Jurlique, and Marci Zaroff from Under The Canopy contributed thoughts on collaboration means to them, and gave examples of collaboration in the workplace.

Carvajal commented that as a young spa director, he mistook “collaboration” for “delegation”; now he understands much better how working together with people brings even better results. Because he did not come into the spa director role via the usual route, Carvajal spent time sitting in the back with the staff, listening and gaining an understanding of their perspective and work issues.

Jurlique’s Fernandez noted that her company’s collaborative effort focuses on being as transparent as possible; as a multi-channel global brand, it aims to drive awareness and support its own and its clients’ spas. Tompkins cited his year-old relationship with Clarins, and especially the selection process. Products that were being considered were put into generic containers and the staff used them for six weeks then voted. Clarins won on results and had the buy-in of the staff from the beginning; as a result sales are up 56% and everyone is happy. Zaroff shared that she came into the beauty industry from textiles and fashion, so she had to ask a lot of questions and listen. Her best advice was to consider relationships—“Partnering is when you speak the same language as your partner,” she said—and added that we need to support the coming generation, who will be game-changers for us.

After another vendor showcase, the afternoon closed with a final keynote by Marci Zaroff, creator of Under the Canopy and eco-lifestyle pioneer.

The Great Lakes Spa Alliance’s vendor sponsors included: Babor, Darphin, Direct Fitness Solutions, Hydrafacial, Ilike, Intraceuticals, Jurlique, Michele Pelafas, Nuface, ResortSuite, Sanitas Skincare, Sothys, Spa Week and TechnoGym. —Lisa Starr

Linda Kossoff's picture