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Spotlight On... Avanti Day Resort
Left with ashes, a day spa owner rebuilds her business in the image of a destination spa.
In March 2007, Luda Conti’s 10-year-old Avanti salon and spa in Manalapan, New Jersey, burnt to the ground from a chemical-combustion fire. Within days, Conti found a temporary spa space and placed her stylists in nearby salons so they could continue serving clients. Less than a year later, the spa was relaunched as Avanti Day Resort.
The 14,000-square-foot facility had undergone a noticeable facelift: Hardwood floors, pebble and marble walls, crystal chandeliers, a revamped café, expanded boutique, a new men’s suite, concierge desk and a reconfigured layout that separated the salon and spa areas were just a few of the physical changes. Since then, business has never been better and the accolades—Elle magazine’s 2011 Top 100 Salons in America, Inside Jersey’s 2010 Best Spa—keep coming.
Inspired by the kind of anticipatory customer service she had experienced at Four Seasons spas around the world, the Russian-born Conti set out to create the same experience for her spa guests. Which also meant it was time for her to get out of the treatment rooms.... —Lisa Sweetingham
If a fire burned my business to the ground, I think I’d hide under the covers and cry.
It was scary. I had almost 100 employees who suddenly had no place to work and I was at a beauty show in Italy when the fire took place. But I saw it as a second chance, an opportunity to really change things that I had always wanted to change.
Why do you call your spa a ‘day resort’?
Originally we were a ‘salon and spa,’ but we changed the name when we rebuilt. I’m all about experiences and customer service. Clients should leave feeling that you went beyond their expectations—that the only difference between us and a destination spa is the bedrooms.
From the moment a client calls the booking center, we are trying to anticipate their needs. And we provide lots of extras. For instance, a basic facial comes with a foot and hand massage. I also wanted to get away from day-spa standards, so we sell blocks of time, starting at about an hour. Each block begins with a therapist consultation and includes a foot and neck treatment during that conversation. In our retail area, it’s one-stop shopping: We have a separate area for hair care, skin care, gifts, even children’s items. And anything guests see in our spa—from chandeliers to fixtures—I will get for them. Our clients are very spoiled.
You serve a lot of teens—what’s the trick to getting them in?
Some of our e-blasts go just to teenagers. We invite them in for consultations and educate them on proper skin care as they go through puberty. We also give makeup lessons: We’ll do half of a client’s face and show her how to do the other half. The relationship is often already there between the esthetician and the parent, so we talk to the mothers and tell them about what we can do for their teens.
What’s the executive retreat for men?
When we rebuilt, we knew that our male clients didn’t like going into the nail room, where it was all women, so we created a men’s suite with a flat-screen TV, a small bar and couches. A power hour can include up to four different treatments, starting with a shave and then a facial with a simultaneous manicure and pedicure. You have three women working on you at once, getting all your services done in an hour. The men love it! And they are very loyal clients who buy gift certificates for their wives.
You’ve turned disaster into success. What’s your advice to other spa owners?
You have to look at the business from the top down. When I decided to build such a large facility, I chose to no longer be in the treatment room, competing with my service providers. When an owner is still working behind the chair, she’s not thinking like an entrepreneur and creating rapport with the clients. She can’t see what happens when the clients come in, how they’re being greeted, how they look when they’re leaving. When I got a second chance, this was a decision I made for the employees, the customers and myself. And it’s taken my business to the next level.