How to Give Your Spa a Successful Makeover

Your spa business needs a serious makeover. Now what?

Image: Courtesy of Langham Huntington Hotel]Image: Courtesy of Langham Huntington Hotel]

Your spa business needs a serious makeover. Now what?

Not everyone embraces change, especially when it comes to business. But sometimes an enterprise needs a shake-up if it’s going to grow—or even survive. This is certainly true for day spas, where lifestyle and health trends, aesthetics and technology evolve so fast it’s nearly impossible to keep pace. But keep pace you must if you’re going to stay on top of the changing demands and expectations of your clients.

To determine whether your day spa is due for a change, ask yourself: 1) Does your spa’s concept—whether it’s the interior design and ambience, the treatment menu or the overall philosophy—feel a little dated, and 2) Is your spa not performing as well as it could, possibly because it isn’t quite serving the needs of its community and clientele? These are the most common reasons spas receive an overhaul. However, extenuating circumstances, such as new ownership or even a natural disaster, often serve as the impetus for a change, or spa “repositioning.”

To reposition your spa requires reexamining and reconsidering everything about your business, from theme or concept to treatment selection to identifying your target clientele. Think of it as a makeover, only this time you’re focusing your skills on your business, rather than your facial clients.

The following three stories are about spas that braved a major repositioning, to satisfying results. Here, their principals share lessons learned.

BRAND CHANGE

When Langham Hotels International purchased the landmark Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California, in 2008—rechristening it The Langham Huntington, Pasadena—the group also inherited its onsite Huntington Spa, a grand old dame of a facility with a classic treatment menu: Swedish and hot stone massages, facials, and seasonal manis and pedis. Aesthetically, the spa looked fine, it functioned well and it even came with a loyal local clientele.

But the new owners had a concept of their own to promote: Langham hotels all over the world are known to include the group’s popular propriety spa brand, Chuan Spas. To turn the Huntington Spa into a Chuan Spa would mean transitioning the facility into a completely new entity: a luxurious, modern Chinese-style property that would offer treatments and a wellness plan based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

There were additional reasons for the change. “We found we were ready for some ‘zhooshing’ up,” says the Langham Huntington, Pasadena’s director of communications, Susan Williger. “And I mean that in terms of both design and treatments. To grow your spa, you also have to look at updating your treatment technology. That keeps it fresh and interesting—you have to keep your audience captivated.”

To secure that audience without alienating the spa’s established clientele, the Langham implemented its changes in phases. First, the hotel rebranded its spa as Chuan Body & Soul, keeping the Huntington Spa’s look and most of the menu in place, and adding only one corridor of Chinese-style décor. For about three years, the spa merely hinted at its planned direction.

Then at the start of 2014, the Langham underwent a $4-million spa renovation, replacing the dark wood interiors with light wood and introducing modern Chinese architectural flourishes, such as a stunning “moon gate” in the lobby—“that’s where the Chuan journey now starts,” says Williger. Also added: an artful marble water feature in the co-ed waiting room’s main wall; a women’s “Dream Room” with private water beds; a Chinese-style VIP suite with an opium bed and delicate Chinese wooden screens throughout. “It’s a whole new look,” says Williger.

With the physical facelift came a shifted approach to treatments. The spa team established a TCM menu, with offerings such as a Chuan Balancing Massage, a rubdown that incorporates acupressure techniques, and a Chuan Yu facial using an ancient Chinese technique to stimulate the body’s meridians. To make the menu more appealing to a Western clientele, the spa developed relationships with well-known product lines such as Kerstin Florian and PRIORI.

But how to entice sophisticated, beauty-conscious Angelenos? Working with spa consultant Mary Zavaglia, the Langham team developed treatments using cutting-edge technology. The spa invested in a HydraFacial machine for hydro microdermabrasion treatments and entered into an exclusive agreement with Mistral Light Heat Energy, a state-of-the-art facial machine.

Throughout this repositioning, the spa has worked hard to keep former Huntington Spa clients and build a new clientele. “Educating guests about Chuan Spa’s philosophy and the benefits of TCM has been crucial,” says spa director Nichole Hester. Chuan has hosted special days at the spa during which clients and hotel guests can learn more about TCM, sample featured product lines and curated treatments, as well as partake in spa meals and yoga classes.

“With this big change, we’ve gotten a great response not only from our clients, but our therapists and the media too,” says Williger. “Everyone loves the new look and feel of the spa, the Chuan concept and the new product lines. Now we hope to become the first destination spa in this area.”

Repositioning tip: “Planning and implementing a new menu takes lots of time and energy,” says Hester. “Start training three months in advance, so your entire staff, including front desk, feels comfortable with the new protocol and retail lines.”

PUBLIC DEMAND

When Yelo Spa first opened in a ground-floor space near Manhattan’s Columbus Circle in 2007, it exploded onto the scene with a ton of great press, including segments on CNN and CNBC, plus a story in The New York Times. The buzz was spurred by owner Nicolas Ronco’s groundbreaking concept: Yelo was a spa that would specialize in power naps and reflexology, all offered in a distinct, super-cool environment.

“I wanted to create a spa for the weary urban warrior, something that would improve people’s quality of life,” says Ronco. Yelo featured zero-gravity napping chairs in which guests slept with their knees slightly above their head, concentrating blood fl ow to the chest for almost instant relaxation.

Having traveled extensively through India, Hong Kong and Japan, and experienced Asian spa life, Ronco also believed in the effi cacy of refl exology. Thus, Yelo’s other offering was a specialized foot massage.

Yet, despite the newsworthy business concept, Yelo didn’t consistently draw crowds. “Napping was something people associated with toddlers or the elderly,” he says. “And people just didn’t understand reflexology.”

Ronco decided to reposition the spa to be more responsive to his clients’ desires. He surmised that they wanted more massage and skin care, and an easy-to-decipher menu, as well as flexibility and affordability, so that the spa could fi t seamlessly into their busy urban lives.

The first big change was the venue. Yelo’s original ground-floor location posed several problems. “We had sketchy individuals walking in, and there was so much street noise,” Ronco says. He’d hoped the easy street access would draw in impulse customers but as it turned out, only 5% of guests were walk-ins. “We were enjoying great word of mouth at that point, so we didn’t need all that visibility.”

In 2012, Ronco moved Yelo to a 12th-floor space between Madison and 5th Avenues, near Central Park. He ditched the reception area, and had spa workers approach guests with an iPad to book services, sitting side by side with them, to create a friendlier, more collaborative vibe. He even did away with rigid booking times, opting to charge for services by the minute: $1 for napping, $2.40 for massage and $2.50 for skin care. “This allows people to take whatever amount of time is convenient for their schedules,” says Ronco. “We found that people love the flexibility.” Clients can also book these variable-time services online.

The spa owner also took the repositioning opportunity to introduce another key business element: spa membership. For a monthly fee of $99, clients receive a 60-minute treatment, as well as hefty discounts on additional treatments and products, and a birthday surprise. Ronco credits the membership option for cultivating client loyalty. Repositioning tip: “Observe and listen to your customers, and pay attention to Yelp reviews,” says Ronco. “This will tell you how you need to grow and change your business.”

FORCED DECISION

It was January 2007, and Nina Milano was thrilled by the brisk business at La Thérapie, her five-year-old day spa in Cary, North Carolina. “We’d just had our best January ever, and we were on track to have our best year ever.” Then when at home late one night, she got a phone call: The building housing La Thérapie had been partially destroyed by a devastating fi re. “After about a week, my employees and I went into the spa—there was smoke damage everywhere and the top floor needed to be demolished and rebuilt,” Milano recalls. “My staff cried, but I kept thinking, ‘I lived through the war in Croatia. I can survive this.’” In fact, Milano decided that the only way onward was upward: newer, bigger and better. “What happened was terrible but we didn’t want to dwell on the negative,” she says. “We wanted to use this event to move forward.” Fortunately, Milano had purchased an excellent insurance policy that not only allowed her to set up temporary digs in another building while her spa was being rebuilt, but also guaranteed her employees’ salaries and benefi ts. “Now, after what happened, one cost I will not cut back on is insurance,” she notes.

First came a whole new look for La Thérapie, which took some careful consideration because of the well publicized blaze. Milano recalls, “Originally we wanted a new color scheme in a crisp white, black and silvery gray, but then we thought the ashy colors might be associated with the fi re.”Instead, the spa was renovated to feature blush tones and dark cabinetry. That comprehensive insurance policy enabled Milano to replace every piece of furniture and equipment. “I pushed for it,” she explains. “I didn’t want clients to be reminded of the fi re in any way, to think, ‘Oh, are my nice clothes sitting on a chair that used to be covered in soot? Does this pedicure chair have ashes in the jets?’”

Milano, an esthetician for almost two decades, then set her sights on an improved service menu. “We kept the staples because we didn’t want our clients to feel as though everything had changed, but we also seized the opportunity to introduce some new, exciting elements, such as a Jane Iredale cosmetics counter and makeup application services.” Next, she focused on introducing new skincare technology, adding skin analysis and Vibradermabrasion machines. “We moved the spa toward serious skin care,” she says. “So, not only did the spa look much better, but now the services were better than ever too.”

After six months of rebuilding and repositioning, La Thérapie welcomed guests to its fully renovated space with a grand re-opening event, complete with outdoor tents, catering, music and opportunities to try the latest services. “We wanted to say, ‘We’re back, we’re refreshed, and we love our new spa!’” Repositioning tip: “If you’re going to reposition, do everything fresh,” says Milano. “You don’t want clients looking at old chairs or old machines and thinking, ‘Why didn’t she replace those?’ Clients don’t have the appetite for anything less than a 100% makeover.”

–by Alison Singh Gee

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