Switching skincare lines or adding additional SKUs can be a costly endeavor for any spa. You’ve likely spent a lot of time and money to create what you consider to be the ideal product offering in your retail area and back bar. So when the time comes to consider switching out a line or adding a new one, what’s most important? There are common questions and concerns every spa owner should consider before taking the leap.
“Changing lines is expensive, time-consuming and will likely require retooling of a menu, pricing, product assortments and more,” confirms Kathryn Moroz, president and senior management consultant at Spa Advisors, Inc. “The more you know, the more comfortable you will be with your decision.”
Fortunately, consultants and veteran spa owners agree—more or less—upon a tried-and-true method for determining and launching “a change in the lineup.”
Read the signals. Is it time for a new line? Sometimes the answer is obvious, such as a complete spa branding change. But there are also subtler reasons. “Maybe there has been a shift in the spa’s philosophy that calls for an update,” says Moroz, “or perhaps there’s a lack of interest or enthusiasm for the products, from spa guests or staff.”
Regardless of the reason(s), there are always signs. “Usually the first indication that it’s time to replace a skincare line is general stagnation,” says Stephanie Coyle, lead esthetician at SenSpa in San Francisco. “The products aren’t moving; or they aren’t delivering the most efficacious treatments. We know then that it’s time to reconsider whether that particular brand is going to back us in our goals for success.”
A perceived lack of vendor support is another red flag. Notes Carol Phillips, retail expert and founder of Beautee Smarts, “If you start to feel that your vendor is no longer really working for your spa via training, support and events, it might be time to swap out brands.”
Determine whether your clients are fans. Stacy Cox, esthetician and owner of Pampered People in Los Angeles, reminds fellow owners that communication with clients is queen, and that includes understanding their specific goals and preferences. “When you’re having conversations with your clients and they keep mentioning brands you don’t carry, you have to stop and reconsider your offerings,” says Cox. “You need to rely on your retail as passive income, so if you go six to eight weeks with dipping retail sales, it may be time for a change.”
Your staff may have the best beat on whether clients are really sold on your spa’s product lines. “Find out what types of requests are being made of the front desk team members,” says Phillips, “because if they’re hearing the same names over and over, it’s time to make room for new items.”
Still, you can’t assume that clients will love a product line just because your staff does, warns Cox. “Work with your rep to share samples with clients first and get a read on whether they’d consider purchasing the products,” she says. “If your clients don’t see the value in them, you’re going to take a fall.”
Even after you’ve determined the need to alter or expand your product offerings, make sure you’re very clear on those client-driven goals. There are thousands of skincare products to choose from, so narrow down the list before research begins. Will you be looking at a science-focused line? An organic option? Something that caters to a certain demographic, such as teens or men? “Bringing in a new line is exciting, but the market is so much more competitive now,” cautions Cox. “You need to take more preparative steps and be a thorough detective.”
Coyle offers some common-sense advice: “Look for a skincare line that can provide remarkable results and has the clinical data to support its claims,” she says.
Re-examine your game plan. How many skincare lines should your spa use/carry? This depends on several factors, says Phillips. “The optimal number of skincare lines is best determined by the square footage of your spa, guests per month, commitment to retail and commitment to education,” she explains. “Statistically, concept salons and spas have higher retail-to service ratios because they can become the ‘experts’ in their one-and-only brand. If your spa’s unique selling position is to be a skincare boutique, then you need to stock several different brands.” Phillips suggests averaging around three “well-rounded brands.”
Toni Le Tran, operations manager at SenSpa, prescribes to this idea. “We carry a maximum of three to four skincare lines at any given time, and they all complement one another and work together,” says Le Tran. “We don’t have competing items, such as two of the same product from different lines, which helps to limit the choices for our clientele. It’s less overwhelming.”
Cox takes a different approach. Given today’s selling environment, with competition coming from online and big-box retailers, she opts to provide greater choices. “We’re in the world of the discount, and people are fickle,” she says. “Offering a variety enables me to let a client sample three different moisturizers or serums to see which one they like best and to start to build that relationship.”
The underlying message is, there’s no ideal number of lines to ensure profitability. However, it’s key to remember, says Moroz, that every item on your shelf represents dollars that aren’t in the bank. “Keep your stock turning three or more times per year,” she urges. “Yes, different products attract different users, but each line you add is likely to decrease your stock turns considerably.”
Play the fi eld—or not. The extent to which you emphasize your spa’s brand factors into how you choose a new skincare line. There’s some difference of opinion here, with owners like Cox stressing individual client need and variety over branding. “We have to go in so many more directions than we did 10 years ago and we must be able to cater to the majority of our clients,” she says. “Buy and retail what works best for your client base. Your bottom line is more important than a theme.”
However, that strategy may back- fire with spas that seek to attract and retain clients with a unique spa look and approach. “Spa branding is everything,” insists Phillips. “Your brand story is told throughout the entire spa experience, and product branding has to match the product philosophy, packaging, pricing and ingredient stories. How you tell your skin story has to match the front and back of house product mix.”
Moroz agrees, but with a caveat. “You should choose lines that work well with your brand today, as well as what it will be a year down the road,” she says. “But ultimately the products are for your guests and not for yourself. The products’ image, price points, story and philosophies must appeal to your clients,” she adds.
SenSpa seems to blend both ways of thinking in its strategy. “We choose products that address every skin concern to create an ideal mix of retail options, but branding is also important,” says Le Tran. “There’s a fine balance to selecting a skincare line that’s well established and unique, aligns with our business brand and also isn’t oversaturated in the market.”
Time the call. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of what or why, but when. “It’s a process to switch lines, from sell-through to education,” says Le Tran. “There’s usually a dip in profit in the beginning that tends to even out over time. But we manage our expectations not only by dollars, but by how our investment aligns with our vision and mission. Will it deepen our commitment to wellness for our clientele, for example?”
“Do everything you can to make the transition an easy one,” says Moroz. “Launch new services and new products at the same time; launch the new line with a special event; invite the top 20% of your retail customers in to sample the skin care and help you determine the new regimen in advance; feature a ‘product of the week’ and make sure it’s available to sample.”
Above all, say experts, don’t pounce on a new product line because it’s the trendy thing to do. Every change you make will impact your bottom line, and not always in a positive way. And, remember: whatever may lead you to change skincare lines, stay true to your spa’s purpose of pampering and beautifying.
–by Liz Barrett