Small in stature but packing big-time presence, Los Angeles’ Ona Spa stands out with innovative treatments, family-style service and an ambiance that’s fit for Hollywood royalty.
Ona Spa is housed in the historic Spanish Kitchen, a former restaurant in trendy West Hollywood, California. Though the original business shut down in 1961, and a “Closed for Vacation” sign went up, the tables remained set with tablecloths, silverware and napkins, eerily frozen in time for more than 25 years. No wonder the site has long been rumored to be haunted.
So, when Ona’s owners took over the space nearly a decade ago, they not only sought the services of a feng shui consultant to help design their day spa, but also hired a psychic to clear out the ghosts. Then, in a strange twist of fate, the spa opened for business—on September 11, 2001.
Some might view this as a bad omen. But Ona, which means “all things good” in the French Basque dialect, went on to become a top day destination for celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore and Teri Hatcher. After all, Hollywood can’t resist a good mystery.
Even on opening day, one of the most sorrowful in U.S. history, business boomed. “People really needed to relax on that day,” says manager Lane Lenhart. “We did really well.”
Clients haven’t stopped de-stressing at Ona since its first day, despite the economic turmoil of recent years. “Our business hasn’t floundered at all throughout the recession,” says Fabienne Dufourg, who co-owns Ona with her husband, Laurent D., a celebrity stylist who works at the salon located just downstairs from the spa. (Stanley Frileck, M.D., a plastic surgeon who oversees medical spa operations, is also a partial owner.)
Of course, that financial fortitude is partially a result of Ona’s well-to-do showbiz clientele, but loyalty from such discerning spa connoisseurs doesn’t come easily. Lenhart credits unique treatments and touches. Ona customizes all of its aromatherapy blends and sugars, and “we do cryotherapy cellulite treatments in our Vichy room with products from France that you can’t get anywhere else,” she adds.
Impeccable service is also crucial. “If you’re being treated like a queen, you’re going to come back,” Lenhart asserts. To that end, Ona regards all clients, famous or not, as celebrities. “I’m big on remembering faces and names,” Lenhart adds. “When guests arrive, we always address them by name. This makes people feel like family, which inspires loyalty.”
Ona therapists always follow up with clients by calling them at home to check on how they’re feeling and find out whether they liked their treatments. “This allows us to stay in touch, and it feels more personalized,” Dufourg says.
Mini but Mighty
Ona’s runaway success proves that bigger does not necessarily mean better. Occupying a modest 2,200 square feet, the facility is comprised of three massage treatment rooms, one Vichy wet shower, three facial areas, three manicure/pedicure stations, a reception area, an intimate relaxation lounge and a medical treatment room for services such as cosmetic injections, medical-grade peels, laser hair removal and photo facials.
“It’s a very small and cozy boutique spa,” Lenhart says. “People tend to feel at home here.”
“Homey but exotic” would be an apt description. Ona’s rooms boast plenty of Balinese and Indian antiques: sculpted wood panels from an old Indonesian palace; a hand-carved teak opium daybed situated in the relaxation room (see page 36); several 300-year old, carved stone niches from India; and a Balinese sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh, sprinkled with coins left by guests as traditional offerings. Offsetting the neutral wood and stone décor are ethnic print bedspreads in vibrant patterns of orange and gold.
Guests sip coconut tea in the relaxation room, which overlooks a small outdoor garden, and listen to the gurgling sound of water fountains during treatments. Two of the massage rooms, which feature sliding wooden doors, can transform into one large couples suite that opens onto a private terrace featuring a beautiful outdoor shower.
Ona’s staff turns its potential size liability into an asset. Celebrity clients appreciate the privacy it affords—not to mention a separate VIP entrance and personal changing rooms. “Because we’re not a 20,000-square-foot spa, there aren’t a ton of people hanging around,” Lenhart says. “Guests feel safe. We’re hidden away.”
To keep from being too obscured, Ona makes its presence known via a strong public relations campaign. From the beginning, its marketing strategy has included coupons for complimentary services to celebrities, their agents and other showbiz executives, placed where they were sure to be seen: in Oscar and Emmy award show gift bags. Ona’s 100-plus list of high-profile clients appears in the spa’s press kit, care of their longstanding publicity firm.
However, all the star power and free treatments in the world won’t keep clients coming back to a facility that doesn’t deliver. Even with no extra space for hot tubs and saunas, the spa provides a full range of face and body services that include nutrition consultation and tanning. Factor in the convenience of a hair salon downstairs, and Ona makes itself the ideal place to prep for the red carpet.
A unique treatment approach helps this petite jewel stand out against the competition. Ona’s menu emphasizes both ongoing wellness and rapid results in its treatment descriptions. Color consultations, during which therapists create a coordinated service regimen for individual clients with nature-based products, hue-specific lighting, aromatherapy and music, are used to customize sensory treatments. A color-coded system is applied to facial, body and even waxing services. (Ona recommends orange for awakening, blue for soothing and green for detoxifying.) The spa also offers ayurvedic treatments tailored to each guest’s dosha, or personality type, as defined by the ancient Indian wellness system. (For a rundown of signature services, scroll down to see “On Ona’s Menu.”)
While Lenhart is responsible for managing the flow of the spa and retail sales, she prefers a hands-off management approach. “We don’t really have titles. Everybody takes charge, and there’s a high level of responsibility. That makes it easy for me as a manager. I’ve worked in other spas where a hierarchy exists, and it doesn’t work incredibly well.”
Nevertheless, there are some non-negotiables on her list. “Clients are taken on time, always,” she says. “Sometimes therapists are so focused on a VIP customer service they neglect to watch the time. I make sure they’re aware. I say, ‘That cannot happen again’.”
If a client is running late, however, it’s never a problem. “We always make it work,” she says. “I don’t want them to stress on the way to the spa. We do whatever it takes to make people happy.”
Bottom Line Breakdown
Not all of Ona’s clients are wealthy celebrities, so management has tweaked its service menu to cushion the business from the recession. Since early 2009, the spa has offered shorter and less expensive options such as mini-facials and 30-minute massages for $50. There are highlighted monthly specials on Ona’s website, as well as an Elite Access Membership Club (free) that delivers discounts, prizes and other perks to clients’ inboxes. Promotions run on the Gilt Group (gilt.com) designer discount site have brought success, too.
One of the biggest factors boosting the spa’s profitability is the 10%-off discount clients receive when they schedule before leaving the spa.
“We send out email blasts to members every couple of weeks featuring specials to look for,” Lenhart says. “We keep ourselves on guests’ radar.”
Client loyalty is rewarded, and Lenhart says that one of the biggest factors boosting the spa’s profitability is the 10%-off discount clients receive when they schedule their next treatment before leaving the spa. “At least 50 percent of clients are regulars, and most habitually re-book during every visit,” she adds.
Retail sales also contribute to spa profits by about 20 percent, and Ona often gives employees incentives through its retail-selling contests. Lenhart describes herself as “pretty frank with people when their skin looks like it needs help. I won’t hesitate to let them know, and that helps drive sales.”
What drives Lenhart is witnessing the transformations that clients undergo when visiting Ona. “I love to see people walk in frazzled and walk out, all, aaahh,” she says. During such stressful times, she believes, this type of recharging is not simply a luxury. “Our treatments are incredibly important for well-being. They help with insomnia, and several other issues plaguing people everywhere,” Lenhart concludes. “Spa should be viewed as a necessity, not an extra.” •
On Ona’s Menu
Popular picks of “the pretty people”:
• Reconnective Healing (30 min./$150): A novel form of touch-free energy work designed to help cure illness and restore mind/body balance. “People are dubious, but anyone who’s experienced it raves about it,” manager Lane Lenhart says. “It’s another way we demonstrate our commitment to wellness.”
• Onahh (65 min./$220): A four-handed Balinese massage.
• Pada (80 min./$175): Balinese treatment during which therapists walk across the backs of clients while holding onto grab bars attached to the ceiling.
• Bling Bling Bikini ($80-$95): A Brazilian wax that includes application of a Swarovski crystal tattoo.
• Chocolate and Roses (50 min./$110): A cocoa and sugar body scrub with indulgent tastes of chocolate truffle—four bites are dispensed throughout the warm, hydrotherapeutic massage portion of the service—and a full-body application of jasmine, rose and sandalwood oils.
• Babor Platinum Facial (60 min./$150): This is the latest of several facials in high demand at Ona, because according to Lenhart, “Los Angeles just rips your skin dry.”