In-spa wellness seminars help turn students into loyal clients.

Courtesy Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa

If school is wasted on the young, then plenty of adult spa-goers are finally getting their due! Today, growing numbers of spas are hosting free, on-site wellness education courses that not only enhance their facility’s brand and credibility, but also help to make their spa a locus of the community.

Class offerings are varied, covering every imaginable angle of the wellness spectrum: Stress management, organic cooking and gardening, relationships, meditation, leaner living, mental exercise and skin care are just a few popular themes.

“Spas I’ve worked with have offered a variety of courses over the years: lunch-and-learn type events with speakers, open houses, wine tastings and even passion parties where adult novelties are showcased,” says Felicia Brown, a veteran spa owner and founder of marketing resource company Spalutions! “The possibilities are unlimited, but I encourage spa owners to get a good understanding of what their clients are most interested in to really maximize their time and the benefits to everyone.”

Ready to start your own wellness forums? Here are some helpful guidelines to get you started.

Course Planning
“The topics you cover should really depend on your company culture, services or niche in the marketplace, as well as your clients’ interests and any expertise your staff or affiliated businesses have,” says Brown.

Many clients are drawn to The Huntington Spa at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California, an ornate oasis with Asian-inspired décor, because they’re intrigued by Eastern healing traditions. So when spa staff recently decided to offer a class that would resonate with their overall approach to wellness, they chose to hold an open-to-the-public workshop to discuss the tenets of acupuncture, led by the holistic physician who performs those services in the spa.

“We wanted to drive home the idea that much of our spa brand centers around Traditional Chinese Medicine and wellness,” says Elsa Schelin, head of public relations at the Langham. “Many of the Huntington Spa’s rooms are dedicated to Chuan treatments, which are based on TCM.” The course was taught by Dr. Paulette Y. Saddler, a medical doctor with an acupuncture practice in Pasadena who also provides her services in the spa. “Dr. Saddler is familiar with both Eastern and Western medicine,” Schelin says, “and her course gives our community a unique insight into the opportunities for healing within both traditions.”

Likewise, Teresa Hinton, co-owner of Blu Water Day Spa in Kensington, Maryland, is always on the lookout for partnerships, charitable outreach and cross-promotions that complement her spa’s mission. “Part of our logo says ‘Just Breathe,’ and relaxation therapy is a major element of all of our treatments,” Hinton says. “That’s why we recently invited a client/yoga teacher in to lecture on ‘The Art of Relaxation.’ We figured a class focused on stress relief, with expert-led breathing and meditation exercises, would really help our guests.”

To bolster its antiaging mission, Blu Water also invited a local physician (another client) to present a seminar on Bio-identical Hormone Pellet Therapy, a medical procedure that helps restore hormone loss due to menopause and andropause (its male equivalent). “Since so many health issues are related to a drop in hormones,” Hinton says, “this was valuable information for baby boomers, our top demographic. It drew a huge crowd.”

Kathleen Ronzio, wellness consultant at Richard Francis Salon & Spa in Ashland, Massachusetts, views the monthly family nutrition workshops at her facility as a natural extension of her own professional passions. “I speak to every client about the relationship between food, internal health and beauty,” she says. “This helps us make connections, and we’ve been fortunate to bring in a variety of persuasive speakers.”

If you’re unsure about where to begin, Brown suggests creating a simple client questionnaire: “Start by making a list of potential education topics or activities, and survey guests about what they’d be most interested in learning about, or what types of events they’d choose to attend.”

Class Time
Once you get a feel for what your clients are into, network, network, network! Oasis Day Spa owner Bruce Schoenberg says he actually made the acquaintance of relationship therapist Dr. Fred Bader—also known as “Dr Love”—at one of his Westchester County, New York–based spa’s book launch parties. (The book, a lighthearted work aimed at helping women find the perfect bra, was a hit with spa clients.)

“He came to check it out and got to talking with my wife and me, and she suggested he’d be a fun character to have in to speak to the guests,” Schoenberg says. “He’s just a likable person.” They pitched him the idea of “An Evening with Dr. Love” workshop, and the good doctor agreed. “He wasn’t talking about romance so much as finding love in your life for everything that you do—waking up and saying, ‘Today I’m going to have a great day.’ I liked that for my clients.”

Oasis’ parties and events—often makeover demos, cocktail hours and runway benefit shows—typically reflect Schoenberg’s playful iconoclasm. As an owner, your passionate and authentic attachment to your workshop topic is its best advocate, especially if that enthusiasm resonates with your staff and clientele.

Using social media to publicize these events is also a must. “We’re giving away free information; it’s the perfect way to generate excitement on Facebook,” says Richard Francis’ Ronzio. Whenever she can get doctors and local health experts into the spa to lead her nutrition workshops, she jumps at that opportunity. But class goes on (and draws crowds) even when she can’t wrangle guest speakers. Those months, she presents DVD footage of experts discussing pressing health issues such as new super foods, exercise regimes, disease study breakthroughs, etc. And all workshops start out with a standard wellness presentation based on recent scientific research, given by any one of a number of passionate Richard Francis employees. “We’re all very proactive about spreading news about the link between nutrition, disease and aging,” says Ronzio.

Though she believes word-of-mouth is her most powerful PR tool, Ronzio promotes events through the spa’s newsletter and signage as well. Follow-up is also key. “We take attendees’ information and check in later to answer any questions and see how they’re doing with any nutritional changes they’ve made,” she says.

Schelin and her team publicized the Huntington’s acupuncture workshop through social media outreach as well as press releases, in-house signage and invitations sent to all local spa and Huntington gym members. Guests were advised to sign up for the course in advance, but the staff planned ahead to accommodate walk-ins, with plenty of light snacks and extra product goodie bags on hand.

“We received a really nice turnout of both community members and spa guests,” Schelin says. “It was the first such acupuncture course we offered, but definitely not our last.”

Finally, don’t forget to promote your spa! On-site seminars are prime opportunities to conduct facility tours, distribute service menus and coupons, and offer information about your wellness-oriented treatments and programs.

The monthly wellness workshop program held from December through March at the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, California, was designed to recruit spa clients from within the community during the resort’s slower tourist season. Each hour-long session takes place in the spa’s garden patio. A recent workshop showed participants how to create customized body products from scratch: Spa therapists set up tables with Epsom salts, orange rind, avocado, and grape seed oil, and participants mixed the ingredients themselves. Each took home a container of the product she had created, along with a spa menu and information on seasonal specials. “Many eventually return as clients,” says spa manager Shela Towns.

Hinton says that Blu Water’s seminars really show how serious the staff is about wellness and aging prevention. “Afterward,” she says, “when we’re chatting with guests, they’re always saying, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t know about this!’ ”

Keep in mind, marketing through free education necessitates a departure from instant bottom line gratification. “But if your staff is enthusiastic about the topic, and your event opens more windows to network and connect with your community,” Hinton says, “then every dollar spent staffing and producing it is worth it.”

Katherine Stewart is a freelance writer in New York City.

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