When Cary Mock and Kenneth King decided to open a day spa in the hip Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, they knew they had to offer something different. It was 2006, and the area was already chock-full of day spas touting celebrity clienteles and headline-making treatments like diamond-dust facials and fish pedicures. So Mock and King pulled a switch and went with something simple: happy hour. Every month, the atrium at Dtox Day Spa becomes a social hub for the tony area’s 20-somethings. The spa hires a DJ, caters healthy snacks and hosts an open wine bar, packaged neatly for $39 per person. Attendees are welcome to enjoy spa treatments at a discount.
“It was really just a founding strategy to bring new, young people in—it wasn’t meant to last this long,” admits King. “But we find that it continues to bring in new faces. The title alone attracts younger people.”
Dtox’s youth-centric business model is somewhat revolutionary. The traditional day spa model as set in the 1990s generally regarded young spa-goers as fringe clients. The 18-to-24-year-old group can be fickle and budget-conscious, traits that didn’t fit with the luxury-minded industry at the time. Graduation specials and occasional new-client discounts represented the bulk of your average day spa’s marketing efforts toward this demographic. But in today’s youth-led culture, many industry experts are seeing the need for a paradigm shift: The future success of day spas may well rely on an ability to understand and accommodate the unique needs and preferences of 20-somethings. —Heather Wood Rulúlph
Whoever first said that the only two inevitable things are “death and taxes” forgot “change.” As loyal as your current clients may be, and as steady as your business may seem, change is always having an effect. Age, relocation and just the human need for something new means you won’t have that client base indefinitely. Certainly the 20-somethings are not the only group who can step in to replace lost clientele—but they may be the most promising one.
“Young people are the future of your spa,” says Nancy Trent, president of marketing and public relations firm Trent & Co., which specializes in spas and healthy lifestyles. “If you teach them about the benefits of spas, they will be great consumers for years to come.”
Easier said than done. Just as you shouldn’t use a hamburger to lure a mouse, you shouldn’t try to attract a young client with a dated point of view. The first step in breaking through to young adults lies in understanding them, and that means busting a couple of well-worn myths:
Myth #1: Young people don’t know anything about skin care. The youth of the 1990s (now Generation Xers in their 40s) may never have heard of a facial, but today’s young people have the resources, via the Internet, to learn about everything—from the best product to tame acne to the benefits of regular massage. The spa concept is not foreign to them. “Today’s 20-something clientele grew up when spas started to become a lifestyle choice,” reminds Rianna Riego, principal of spa consulting firm Global SpaVantage. “In fact, many of them are already spa-goers and consider it part of their routine.”
Best strategy: Don’t assume that young guests are clueless; give them the benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re asking for. But, make it your business to further their education and sell them on the results of regular spa treatments.
“These young people have been provided with an infinite amount of information on how to take care of themselves,” says Scott Kerschbaumer, co-owner of ESSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare, an award-winning facility in Pittsburgh. “So yes, we now have a younger generation that is much more mature in terms of thinking about personal care. But it’s still näive as to how and where to actually take action and do something about it.”
To that end, ESSpa treats young clients no differently from its older ones, with one exception: Therapists are instructed to spend extra time educating young clients about the treatments they receive and the products they can use to see results at home. It’s that personalized customer service that makes the difference, says Kerschbaumer, who considers young men and women the spa’s most important demographic. “Just today a new college graduate stopped me after his facial. He wanted me to know how much he loved our spa—not just the actual treatment but the entire environment,” he says. “In fact, he liked it so much that today’s facial was the third time he had been in for a treatment in the past three weeks. The potential that exists in introducing younger people to our version of the spa world is phenomenal.
Myth #2: Young people are always broke. Certainly our economy has been in better shape. But just as it’s always been a rough adjustment for young adults to start their new, independent lives, reveling in that independence has been a priority for them. What disposable income they have they want to spend on themselves. Investing in spa services is less of a luxury for them and more a rite of passage.
“Regardless of all of the comments about student loans and a difficult job market, younger guests seem to have more disposable income that they are able to spend on themselves,” Kerschbaumer says. “In our experience, younger spa-goers are just as, if not more, interested in looking good, living healthy and generally taking care of themselves.”
Best strategy: Appreciate the unique financial mobility of the 20-something. 18-to-24-year olds are mostly single, and they do not yet have a mortgage or the expenses an older guest may have. “This allows them to spend more time and more money on themselves,” Kerschbaumer says. “So if properly approached and invited, young guests can actually visit more often and spend more per visit than older ones who have exponentially more going on in their lives.”
Even those young people who don’t have a lot of their own spending money are worth getting into your spa. As King notes, “They may come in the first time with a coupon, but if you provide them with quality treatments that show results, they come back.”
The minute you walk into a Bliss Spa, you know you’re somewhere cool. The reception and retail area is lit and arranged like a candy store. Locker/relaxation areas are appointed with modern, hip décor, plenty of magazines and snacks such as crudités and brownie bites. Sipping cucumber-blueberry water as you await your appointment, you notice that Radiohead is playing softly on the speakers. The receptionist offers you a lollipop.
Bliss Spas have built a reputation for being hip, light-hearted and fashionable. The flagship spa opened in New York City in 1996 with a clear mission: fun. It developed a marketing mascot (a perky blonde cartoon character with a twinkle in her eye), a distinct signature color (almost-Tiffany turquoise) and a language and tone that are relatable to the young spa-goer. “Bliss infuses happiness into everything we do,” says Brooke Temner, Bliss’ senior communications manager. “From our pretention-free attitude to our upbeat music, our spas are designed to be fun, positive environments that leave guests uplifted, glowing and empowered to take on the world.”
When it comes to skin care, however, Bliss is no-nonsense. The chain (now with 21 locations worldwide) hires highly skilled professionals and ongoing training is required. It has become known for its results-oriented treatments as much as its youth-oriented image, and the dual strategy works: While Bliss does invest in targeted marketing, its brand has grown almost entirely by word of mouth, Temner says.
You, too, can start building your roster of “generation next-ers” by implementing five specific steps across your business. You can be subtle or aggressive in your changes, depending on what works best for your day spa.
1) Increase your focus on cyber marketing.
The popularity of social media and the advancement in mobile and tablet technology means young people are rarely reading print media or even watching TV these days. “Social media is the cornerstone of our marketing strategy,” confirms Dtox co-owner King. “We post weekly updates (on Facebook, Twitter and Yelp) about skin care, events, specials and industry news—information that’s interesting and useful to our young clients.”
The spa also sends out email promotions to all guests (collect those email addresses with every appointment!), highlighting different treatments and packages each month, as a way to expose clients to the variety this day spa has to offer.
First step: Pimp your website. Do not underestimate the importance of a clean, modern website that is easy to navigate. If you’re not online, you might as well be invisible to these potential guests. Your site should offer online booking, clear descriptions of services, prices, all current promotions and your spa policies. Be sure to link your Facebook and Twitter pages to your site.
In fact, get to know Facebook and Twitter intimately. Building followers is just the beginning. Keeping your accounts active and informative is equally important. “Wednesday is our social media posting day,” King says. “We have one person in charge of posting but the entire company is involved in what we say. We sometimes have a contest for the best post.”
Enabling your clients to get involved in your social media allows them to become a part of your spa community. Offer places for feedback, respond quickly to re-Tweets and Facebook postings, and hold contests on your social media pages. “Our followers share their wonderful experiences at the spa and their at-home tricks and tips with our products,” says Bliss’ Temner. “Twitter and Facebook are also great customer service tools; we can help our clients immediately and give them that one-on-one assistance.”
2) Get more social.
Making your spa a social destination is key to appealing to the youth market. “This demographic does everything in groups,” Trent says. “You sell one, you sell them all.”
So get them mingling. Dtox Day Spa cites its monthly happy hour as the single most important event for bringing in new clients. Oasis Day Spa in Westchester, New York, takes advantage of spring and summer months to throw rooftop parties to introduce new clients to the spa, and to treat existing ones to a fun event. ESSpa focuses on bring-a-friend-for-free promotions to attract new guests and offers existing clients a price break. “The word-of-mouth promotion is invaluable,” Kerschbaumer says.
Be conscious of back-to-school season, semester breaks and holidays, when many young people come home to visit with families and may be looking for something to do with Mom—or somewhere to go to escape. “Any occasion can be an occasion for a profitable party,” Trent says. (See “Party Menu.")
3) Cultivate the right environmental vibe.
There are many ways your day spa can “speak” to young people, starting with actual communication. Hire young staff members who will connect with their own. Train therapists to educate these clients—but not talk down to them.
The visual effect of your spa is key. Updated spa furnishings, a flat-screen TV in a waiting area and a retail area that resembles a hip urban boutique are all good calls. You also want to give these clients things to do. “The previous generation turned to the spa for respite from activity,” notes Trent, “but this crowd is looking for the opposite.” Make your spa feel like a hang-out, she suggests. Stock waiting areas with the right magazines, offer a variety of familiar snacks, and set up testing stations in your retail area to occupy restless clients (and orient them to your product lines). You might even provide free wi-fi access in areas that wouldn’t disrupt other guests. “The spa is no longer a cell-phone-free zone,” Trent says.
4) “Fun-tune” your treatments.
Tweaking your spa menu to appeal to younger spa-goers is easy, affordable and effective. The Bliss spa menu reinforces its “fun” approach with wink-worthy treatment names, such as The Blissage, Betweeny Wax and Fatgirlshrink Body Wrap. It also makes a variety of mini treatments and add-ons available that appeal to young clients who are time-starved and on a budget.
“Twenty-somethings are less likely to do things they don’t perceive as fun and entertaining, and they’ll definitely avoid anything scary, painful or requiring commitment,” Trent says. “So create services with that in mind.”
5) Keep it personal.
Despite how our society changes, spa clients young and old appreciate personal care, whether it’s an esthetician taking an extra 15 minutes to educate a client on her skin or a front desk staffer replying to a new client’s question on Twitter. “Whatever age a spa client is, they always appreciate results and personalized service,” Riego says. “They still make choices based largely on word of mouth.”
Heather Wood Rudúlph is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.
Attract young spa partiers with happy-hour themed treatment + entertainment packages they can’t resist!
Happy Hour Friday (admission + 20-min. mini treatment/$39), Dtox Day Spa, Los Angeles
Includes wine; refreshments; retail specials; choice of selected massage, skin or hand/foot mini treatment; additional treatment discounts (event is reserved and pre-charged)
Brazilian Waxing Happy Hour (admission + waxing service/$40 [$32 for members]), The Spa, Orlando, FL
Includes homemade Sangria, “munchies” and music; other Happy Hour themes include Chocolate, Oxygen Bar, Latin, Casino and Hookah
Girlfriend Happy Hour (admission + 20-min. mini treatment/$69 or 2 20-min. mini treatments/$109), Ocean Pearl Spa, Carlsbad, CA
Held twice a month, includes 2 cocktails/glasses of wine; appetizers; comfy robes; selected massage and/or facial
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