Compiled by Alison Singh Gee, Linda Kossoff, Katie O’Reilly, Heather Wood Rudúlph, Katherine Stewart and Lisa Sweetingham
We’d like to go out on a limb and declare 2012 the year of the spa comeback. Because when the editors at DAYSPA set out to research and select the 10 Top Honors winners that grace these slides, what we discovered was a renewed sense of ingenuity, innovation and, most importantly, a return to the kind of anticipatory service that this industry knows best. From one spa’s knack for turning a popular marketing promotion into a revenue-generating way of teaching the next generation of spa-goers about beauty and wellness to an enterprising employee who transcended challenging personal issues to become an inspiration to every client and colleague she meets—we salute these standout spas and their staff for bringing out the best of the industry.

1. DAYSPA Diamond honors a single-location spa that has mastered every aspect of the business.
2. Top Destination Spa recognizes a facility within a hotel or resort that provides exceptional service and treatments that also complement the spa’s surroundings.
3. Top Design honors a facility with outstanding functionality, originality of design, beauty and comfort.
4. Top Wellness Center honors a spa that exemplifies an outstanding hybrid of total health and beauty services.
5. Top Green Spa celebrates a facility that has gone above and beyond to incorporate green practices.
6. Top Marketing Campaign or Promotion honors an exceptional strategy that brings in new clients, generates word-of-mouth buzz and draws media attention.
7. Top Entrepreneur honors a spa owner who has made exceptional business strides under competitive and challenging circumstances.
8. Top Employee recognizes a VIP staff member who goes above and beyond to enhance clients’ experiences and devotion to the spa.
9. Top Boutique honors the spa that has done an exceptional job of buying and merchandising products to maximize retail income.
10. Top Website highlights a spa with an online web presence that not only provides information about treatments and services, but also helps to improve the overall guest experience.

And the winners are…

Build your spa business with spa marketing and spa management tips • Read about professional spa products • Enter for a chance to win spa skincare, face & facial products, skin cleansers and more • Subscribe to DAYSPASubscribe to DAYSPA‘s eNewsletter

Faces DaySpa owner Patricia Owen

Nestled among the rolling greens of golf courses, luxury boutiques and the white, sandy beaches of the Atlantic, Faces DaySpa is up against stiff competition to lure—and keep—its tourist-heavy clientele. So how does it win the race against the myriad hotel and resort spas in the area? Owner Patricia Owen’s modus operandi is: in order to receive, you must give, give, give.

“I believe it is our comprehensive rewards program that keeps our clients loyal,” Owen says. And the rewards are plentiful: discounts to first-timers; a top-100 club; birthday gift certificates; seasonal specials; and credits for referrals and retail purchases keep clients happy and coming back. “We want them to know how much we value them,” Owen says.

The personal approach has paid off. Faces is one of the largest and most successful day spas in the Southeast, boasting more than $1 million in annual gross revenue, with a quarter of those profits from retail sales. And while the majority of Faces’ clients are tourists, Owen successfully recruits locals through a relentless gift-certificate campaign. Faces sold more than $130,000 in gift certificates during the 2010 holiday season alone. “Not only are gift certificates an infusion of cash flow,” Owen says, “they serve as a guarantee of future business.”

Faces’ growth has been steady since its opening in 1983. Once relocating and twice expanding, it now boasts 3,000 square feet of treatment and retail space, with plans to open an additional location in the near future. But Owen isn’t one to take her success without a grain of salt. “In many ways it’s been a double-edged sword,” she says. “We are judged by a much higher standard. Our clientele have visited the best spas around the globe; we have to be willing and able to deliver world-class service in everything we do.”

How she does that while maintaining an intimate, cozy day spa environment comes down to flexibility. “I believe the most successful people are good at plan B,” Owen says. Which is why she constantly re-evaluates her business, challenges her staff and rethinks her marketing techniques.

Some of the things that have helped her keep a competitive edge include launching an aggressive social media campaign, working closely with local tourist organizations and hotels to boost referrals, requiring frequent continuing education for employees, and even keeping therapists on their toes by subjecting them to occasional visits from secret shoppers. “The goal of having secret shoppers is to ensure that each and every client gets treated to the ultimate spa experience,” Owen explains, “even if it is the very last client of the day.”

And her rigorous standards haven’t diminished staff loyalty. Owen says it’s just as important to keep her therapists and managers happy as it is her clients. In the spa’s 28 years, she hasn’t had to lay off a single employee. “Faces has a culture much like a close family. We not only work together but frequently play together,” she says. “Our staff understands the importance of sharing responsibility for their success.”

They also understand the importance of giving back. Owen rarely says no to a charity that knocks on her door. “When we donate to a local charity or participate in a charitable event, we are able to connect with the heartbeat of the community,” Owen says. “What we get in return is priceless.” —Heather Wood Rudúlph

A guest works on her balance

Deep at the base of Northern Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains sits the iconic Miraval, a veritable oasis in the desert and mecca to spa-goers and wellness advocates since its opening in 1995.

With its dizzying array of health and fitness activities, spa rituals, dietary offerings, impressive on-staff experts and even an Integrative Wellness Program created by health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, Miraval remains a standout among the many destination spas around the country. But it’s the wealth of opportunities for personal growth and creating lasting health improvements that catapult this spa to Top Honors status.

The name “Miraval,” in a loose translation from the Spanish, means “view of the valley.” But according to president and general manager Michael Tompkinson, Miraval also means the valley within. “Because of the speed of today’s world, and the multitasking that we all engage in, we rarely have the opportunity to stop and just be,” he says. “Miraval provides an opportunity to have that space, a chance for our guests to look at themselves and their lives in a different way, and to get a clearer indication of the direction they need to go.”

The rugged mountains, breathtaking vistas and hardy desert flowers only serve to underscore the spa’s ethos of resilience, optimism and a sense of possibility. And Miraval’s core philosophy of self-discovery is reflected through its experience-based programming. “Programs such as The Energy Project, Mindful Stress Management and our outdoor challenge activities make each visit to Miraval an adventure of self-discovery,” says Tompkinson.

Choice, rather than restrictive regimen, is the guiding principle here. As such, guests can sample a variety of fitness activities—yoga, kickboxing, cardio drumming, horseback riding, rope climbing and zip lining to name just a few—while also indulging in a seemingly endless menu of pampering rituals, including detoxifying mud wraps, mineral salt pedicures, al fresco hot stone massages and a variety of energy treatments, all of which aim to bring guests back into the healing fold.

“We begin by focusing on breath, through the use of inhalations and aromatherapy, so that each guest can get to a place where she can get the most out of her experience,” says spa director Simon Marxer. “It’s not about doing a treatment to somebody, it’s about establishing a healing treatment space. We also try to blend a bit of the place into some of our services, such as our Prickly Pear Sugar Scrub, made with indigenous ingredients.”

Indigenous and regional ingredients, many of them harvested from on-site gardens, are also plentiful in the spa cuisine. “Food should be enjoyed as a beautiful, delicious meal first, and afterwards it should dawn on you, ‘Wow, that was good for me too!’ rather than the other way around,” says chef Chad Luethje. “We are well-versed in all kinds of dietary preferences and can provide any experience our guest wants, whether it’s gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, anti-inflammatory, Paleo diet—you name it.”

Popular wellness programs at Miraval include meditation, mindfulness, grief counseling, stress management and weight loss. The 90-minute Miraval Equine Experience, for one, starts with a visit to the on-site Purple Sage Ranch. Each guest is charged with her own horse to care for and to perform tasks with, such as persuading the animal to raise its hoof. The exercise, which requires guests to summon a sense of emotional presence and assertiveness, ends with a group discussion of how the tasks relate to challenges in their everyday lives. For those who wish to nurture their creative interests, workshops on photography, nature, cooking and other topics await.

The Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program, overseen by America’s foremost pioneer in complementary medicine, can address a myriad of health issues such as pain management, chronic fatigue, depression, and cancer prevention and recovery.

Guests first fill out a comprehensive questionnaire and complete a lengthy intake interview. Dr. Jim Nicolai, medical director of the Wellness Program, reviews patients’ medical histories, including any test results, but his focus is on lifestyle. Various treatment modalities such as acupuncture, the use of botanicals and supplements, stress reduction techniques, bodywork, yoga and other fitness activities may be recommended, to be performed during the duration of the guest’s visit.

“What we’re doing is truly the future of medicine,” says Dr. Nicolai. “Unfortunately, things like lifestyle, sleep, nutrition, exercise and our relationships with others are not being addressed in today’s conventional medical model. We offer a forum and a place to make change a reality by figuring out what’s realistic and manageable, especially when our guests get back into the real world.” —Katherine Stewart

Le Posh’s cozy lounge

How does a full-service spa and salon distinguish itself on a gritty stretch of Sunset Boulevard that’s also home to a tattoo parlor, smoke shop and 7-Eleven? For Le Posh Salon Spa Lounge, the solution was to become the speakeasy of spas. Because hidden behind Le Posh’s mysteriously draped windows and nondescript concrete-and-wood exterior is a surprisingly luxurious and buzzy space that transports guests, making them feel as glamorous—and as cared for—as the young Hollywood celebrities who have raved about the spa since its grand opening in February 2011.

“When first-time clients walk in, they often say, ‘I never would think this spa was on Sunset Boulevard,’” says co-owner Anton Akopian. “It’s a great compliment, because we sat with our architects for many months, going over every detail, discussing every room from the customer’s point of view and asking, ‘How will they feel when they walk in?’”

All that planning has paid off with a facility that feels cozy yet wide open, exciting yet zen—and by far one of the best overall designs that the editors reviewed when selecting DAYSPA‘s Top Design award winner.

Previously office space that had to be completely gutted, Le Posh spreads across 5,500 square feet comprising a spa, salon, nail lounge, boutique, bar/café and a VIP suite. Akopian and co-owner Arman Zatikyan partnered with award-winning design and architectural firm Tag Front to create what Akopian has oft-dubbed “an oasis from the chaos”; Takara Belmont provided the chairs and shiatsu shampoo units in the hair lounge; and Living Earth Crafts furnished the comfy massage tables.

The facility’s overall look and feel blend seamlessly with the posh and unexpected non-design touches, such as DJs, free wi-fi and valet parking. A light fixture of bubble-glass that hangs from the ceiling like dozens of translucent sea anemones is meant to evoke the lightness of the space and the bubbles in the glass of complimentary champagne guests receive upon arrival.

For Akopian, the mental transition guests make when going from the hair lounge to the spa was also an important design consideration. As such, birch trees guide the way! “That’s our birch walk,” he says of the wall of thin, leggy trees that stand at attention along the length of one hallway. “When you go through the red door at the end of the walk, you enter a completely separate area. The salon is busy and fast-paced, while the spa is calm and relaxing. We have a live DJ in the salon every Friday and Saturday but you can’t even hear it in the spa because of the way we designed the walls.”

And Le Posh certainly knows its clientele: The separate VIP room—with a flat-screen TV, lockers, and all that’s needed to provide massage, facial, hair and nail services—is perfect for celebrities or couples.
But good design is nothing if not functional. To that end, Le Posh created efficiencies for staff, such as sinks and plenty of storage in the treatment rooms; vacuums hidden on the side of hair stations to make cleanup easy and dustpan-free; and a separate shampoo area with shiatsu chairs and ceiling TVs
to keep guests entertained and pampered even during washes.

“Everything about the design was handpicked by me and my business partner,” Akopian says. “We wanted to make sure that when guests walk in, they’ll be completely comfortable and satisfied.” Design mission accomplished. —Lisa Sweetingham

The third floor, or Spirituality Loft, boasts a floor-to-ceiling glass mosaic of Buddha

For Green Spa and Wellness Center owners Sheila and Maureen Brody, wellness and complementary medicine hit home, literally, when their father, an urban miner who helped build New York City’s subway and water tunnels, was diagnosed with a progressive and potentially fatal lung condition.

The ailing man was reluctant to try anything that his doctors did not prescribe, and his condition worsened to the point where he was placed on a round-the-clock ventilator. Finally, after much persuading from his daughters, he agreed to give complementary medicine a try. Two or three times a week, he visited the Brodys’ Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, spa for massage, acupuncture and aromatherapy treatments. After just six weeks of healing therapies, his condition markedly improved.

“Even his doctors could not believe the dramatic change,” says Maureen Brody, the spa’s president and marketing director. “If we’d ever before questioned the ability of our spa’s services to enhance the wellness of our guests, we were now certain. These treatments are effective. They have the power to transform people’s lives.”

The Brody sisters, along with business partner Maria Ingardia, have been providing life-transforming treatments since 1998, when they opened Green Spa and Wellness Center to a populace just beginning to embrace the spa lifestyle. Their goal: help clients achieve total well-being through alternative treatments without sacrificing traditional spa services such as facials, body wraps, scrubs, nail care and waxing.

At Green Spa and Wellness Center, a range of massage modalities keep company with a dedicated movement center providing a full schedule of fitness classes including various yoga practices, tai chi and Pilates. There’s also an in-house acupuncturist, who targets persistent maladies, and a life coach who offers programs on mindfulness, weight loss, creativity and other meaty topics.

“Massage is a cornerstone of our business, but we always wanted something more. We believe in honoring the mind-body connection,” says Sheila. “Hiring an acupuncturist was our first step, and we now have numerous partners. We even have a relationship with a plastic surgeon. He’s a unique gentleman whose approach is all about enhancing nature—so the same belief system is in place. We see the healing aspect in everything.”

The sisters’ wellness ethos is also built into the design of the spa. The first floor, called the “Awareness” level, hosts free community-building activities and motivational workshops. When guests enter the building through the Spa Shop area, front desk personnel take the opportunity to explain the menu of services and inform them about the green materials—such as the copper plumbing and eco-friendly insulation—that were used to create this special space.

The second floor, dubbed “Personal Care,” is where guests receive pampering, one-on-one treatments. Pre- or post-treatment, they can relax with a hot neck wrap in the Whisper Lounge and sip the spa’s signature Red Sun tea.

The third floor, or “Spirituality Loft,” houses the movement studio, featuring a floor-to-ceiling glass mosaic of Buddha, and two fireplace suites for side-by-side treatments. In the personal steam room, guests can enjoy eucalyptus steams with natural sea salts and oils, as well as a range of private soaks. A beautiful skylight above captures natural sunlight during the day while offering a glimpse of the stars at night.

Quality of service is key to a wellness business, and Green Spa and Wellness Center’s owners actively seek out therapists with multidimensional expertise. They currently employee approximately 50 employees, many with advanced certifications. Their master massage therapists, for example, include a certified Pilates instructor with extensive body mechanics knowledge, and a qi gong and tai chi instructor with a broad understanding of traditional Asian healing techniques.

“In the interview process we actually receive a treatment from the therapist to determine whether they have something unique to offer, and whether they need additional training,” Maureen says. “If we decide that their qualities meet our and our guests’ needs, we begin the hiring and training process.”

Even the estheticians at Green Spa have dual certification in prenatal care and organic skincare training. “And they’ve learned to work with clients’ individual energy fields to enhance their experiences,” Maureen says.

The spa also takes its role in the community very seriously, offering free Friday night “hypnotic vacations,” in which spa guests are guided via mental imagery to exotic lands. The Live Life Lighter Weight Loss Program is a popular year-round offering that’s overseen by a registered nurse and customized to include blood-work analysis of each client to detect nutritional deficiencies. Group meetings and spa makeovers for the program’s biggest “losers” motivate clients to stay connected and also create a feeling of camaraderie.

Sheila and Maureen report that their father continues to visit the Green Spa multiple times per week, and that he is thriving in spite of his health challenges.

“He’s one of our most loyal customers and that’s really gratifying because he was such a skeptic at first,” Maureen says. “Now he’s absolutely a true believer.“ —Katherine Stewart

A quiet hallway at The Spa Ritual

Every guest visit to The Spa Ritual in Calgary, Canada, begins with a slipper ceremony. An attendant asks the client to take a seat and remove her shoes, thereby “leaving the outdoors behind and embarking on a path inward to rejuvenation,” says president and founder Shauna Walker, who borrowed from Southeast Asian traditions in designing the ritual. The client then trades her footwear for sanitized slippers from Thailand, while her shoes are placed in a gift bag that’s green in both hue and origin: Made from non-woven, recyclable plastics, the bag can be reused for shopping. It’s just one of the many eco-savvy touches that help elevate this spa to Top Honors status.

The Spa Ritual, a 7,000-square-foot destination/day spa hybrid, was one of the founding members of the Green Spa Network before the Thai-inspired sanctuary even opened its doors in 2008.

And while its sustainability practices can seem humble when compared with some of its solar panel–bedecked, grey water–using peers, what makes this facility notable is that much of its green-fighting spirit is generated from within its day-to-day working ranks. For example, The Spa Ritual created a dedicated Green Committee early in its inception. Comprised of spa directors and representatives from different service departments, the committee meets monthly to discuss new initiatives for furthering sustainability.

“We’re currently trying to find ways to incentivize staff and guests to use public transit when traveling to the spa,” Walker says. “We’re also trying to encourage volunteering for green events in the community.”

Past committee decisions have resulted in the spa implementing programmable lighting and HVAC systems to reduce energy use; paperless appointment reminders, electronic guest surveys, and e-birthday and thank-you cards; water-efficient showerheads, toilets and tap aerators; recycled paper products including bath and facial tissues and paper towels; eco-friendly washing machines and detergents; and electric fireplaces.

All these efforts have paid off with high-profile distinctions from SpaFinder—including a 2011 Readers’ Choice Award—and the 2010 Industry Award for Sustainability from Leading Spas of Canada. Accolades aside, the spa has also endured its share of uphill climbing in its quest to be green.

“We struggle to find staff that are fully committed to our green philosophy; and when we first opened, there was no citywide recycling program and we had to outsource to find companies to come pick up our recyclables,” Walker says. “Still, I have always been very passionate about spa. It peaked when my husband and I traveled to Thailand. We fell in love with the people and the high level of gracious hospitality. Our goal here is to achieve that same level while also engaging our clients and staff in our ongoing mission toward greater planetary wellness.”—Katie O’Reilly

NeVaeh Kids Spa clients are treated to the works—including serious talk about taking care of their skin

It all started with a birthday party. Last January, Marsha Coppola, owner of NeVaeh Day Spa in Ontario, Canada, got a call from a client, begging her to host her daughter’s 12th birthday. “She didn’t want a kids’ princess party; she wanted to be a teenager,” Coppola says. “But the other local high-end spas didn’t permit children.”

Coppola agreed to organize a 2.5-hour spa soiree for the birthday girl plus 10 guests, and the tweens were treated to the works: robes, slippers, cupcakes, fancy spa water, manis/pedis and skincare tutorials. The party was a hit. Soon after, party guests were begging their parents to have birthday parties at NeVaeh. So Coppola created an all-inclusive kids’ spa party promotion (starting at $200), with à la carte services such as the Ice Cream pedicure ($26), makeup lessons ($40) and glitter tattoos ($6). As it turned out, adults loved the parties as much as their kids, because it didn’t require parents to do anything extra. The idea spread, Coppola says, “like wildfire.”

By March, the promotion was so successful, Coppola needed a new, dedicated space for kids. She purchased a second location, a 1,300-square-foot storefront, and redesigned it to achieve a look that was “really photo-friendly, like the funky, kid-friendly version of my other spa.” With a jaunty green-and-white color scheme, the space features multifunctional furniture, a giant pedicure couch, and skin and nail bars. Coppola’s main consideration? “Nothing breakable. I’m a mother myself, after all.”

The new outpost, opened in July, caters to clients age 2 to 16, operates Friday through Sunday and allows parents to get mani/pedis too—but under one condition: they must be accompanied by a child or teen. As a result, mother-daughter and grandmother-daughter nail services have exploded in popularity, Coppola says. “We get families driving in from towns an hour away where I’ve never even advertised!”

NeVaeh Kids Spa parties, the promotion that begat an entirely new facility, aim to create a dream world for young girls. “We don’t do feather boas or runway shows, none of that gimmicky stuff,” Coppola says. “It’s a spa through and through, with professional products, beautiful waffle robes and a serious approach—we talk about the importance of wellness and respecting your body and staying fit. They’re not treated like kids.” And Coppola only hires professionals who are sociable and creative. “I need someone who can understand a child’s vision when they say, ‘I want one finger blue and one with a face,’” she says.

So where did she take this outsized promotion next? To spa camp, of course. Last summer, Coppola designed a weeklong spa day camp serving ages 3 to 9 ($85; mornings) and 10 to 16 ($115; afternoons). “We did tutorials on taking care of your nails, skin and hair; body hygiene; mapping your face; and an intro to makeup. Parents loved it because it was something different and we were teaching campers how to take care of themselves,” she says.

Two cycles of spa camp immediately sold out, and requests for next summer are already coming in. In fact, every NeVaeh Kids Spa promotion—including the Halloween weekend Monster Manicure Marathon for charity—has sold out in advance. “Parents talk,” Coppola explains. “And even though we’re in a down time, mothers will almost always spend money on their children before themselves. I’m the same way. We may put off getting our own pedicures, but if we can share a service while bonding with our kids, we do it.” —Katie O’Reilly

Sara Schieff-Ross, founder of Archbeauty Skin Care Salon & Boutique

When the going gets tough for Archbeauty Skin Care Salon founder Sara Schieff-Ross, she asks herself a simple question: What would Elizabeth Arden do?

“She’s one of my all-time idols,” Schieff-Ross says. “She actually expanded her business during the Great Depression.” Just knowing that gave Schieff-Ross the courage to start her own skincare spa about two years ago, in the middle of our own Great Recession, even as she watched others fail.

Schieff-Ross, who entered the beauty ranks as a 17-year-old Clinique makeup consultant at a Boston-area Filene’s, established her creds in her early 20s as a lead esthetician and consultant for local spas, honing her management and training skills before moving to Rhode Island six years ago.

By 2009, she saw spa owners respond to the recession by offering deep discounts—with disastrous results. “That never works because then customers won’t pay full price again,” she says. Schieff-Ross’s service philosophy: “You may be pinching your pennies. But you are going to come into my world and I am going to take care of you. And you are going to see results.”

No longer satisfied with being on the sidelines, the budding entrepreneur partnered with her tech-sales manager husband and spent six months creating an airtight business plan. It wowed bankers, but didn’t result in any loans. “They may have been impressed but nobody was lending,” she says.

Then she found SEED Corp., a nonprofit that helps small enterprises, and received a $50,000 start-up loan. She next rented an adorable shingled cottage in the heart of historic Newport. “I wanted people to feel at home, not in a starched commercial space.” Months before launch, she engaged future clients through Facebook, posting photo updates as the spa took shape. “People loved seeing us evolve,” she says. “Before we gave our first facial, we already had 250 Facebook fans.”

Archbeauty opened its doors in March 2010, with six employees and a vow to focus on three things: customer service, education and details. The estheticians (or Archbeauties, as she calls them) are schooled to “treat everyone like family.” In addition to a service menu of high-tech facials, Brazilian waxes, massages and $15 arch tweaks at the stylish BrowBar, spa staff are skilled in treating adult acne and rosacea. (Archbeauty also partners with local dermatologists for client referrals.)

Staff frequently take weekend classes and field trips to Boston, sponsored by the spa’s featured skincare lines—all of which boosts employee knowledge and retention. In fact, all the original employees remain more than 18 months later.

“I like to tell my clients that you’ll get phenomenal service here, and you’ll learn something about your skin,” Schieff-Ross says, adding that she cautions staff never to hard-sell. “Our philosophy is we don’t push, we educate.” Similarly, she hosts complimentary client events with free mini-facials and Q&A sessions.

And while her big-picture vision makes her a standout entrepreneur, it’s her focus on the smallest of details that sets Schieff-Ross apart.

“Make sure the walls aren’t scuffed, make sure the products aren’t dusty,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a spa boutique and picked up a dusty product. I don’t want to buy it. If they don’t care about their product why should I?” Business owners, she says, may get busy and become complacent, “but customers notice, so you have to notice, too.” Which is why she makes sure that everyone who works for her “has pride in our place, because customers pick up on that.”

Schieff-Ross next hopes to establish Archbeauty Salons in Boston, New York and Connecticut—Great Recession be damned. “If you are good at what you do you will thrive,” she says. “The ones who have integrity will succeed and grow—even in this crazy economy.”—Alison Singh Gee

Spago Day Spa owner Dr. Michael Stampar with spa director and Top Employee Tracy Stewart

Six years ago, becoming the director of a 6,000-square-foot spa/salon was the last thing on cosmetologist Tracy Stewart’s mind—but the universe had other plans.

Stewart, who had just relocated to Florida from Massachusetts with her husband and two small children, had planned to work alongside her sister, a real estate agent, and leave the beauty business behind for good. But then her two-year-old son was unexpectedly diagnosed with diabetes.

“I needed to be with him constantly,” she recalls. Yet despite having insurance coverage from her husband’s employer, rising medical expenses dictated that Stewart find work, too. “The salon and spa business were all I knew, so I asked my sister where she was going for services. That’s how I got hired as a part-time receptionist at Spago Day Spa.”

Stewart wasn’t the only one going through changes. Dr. Michael Stampar, a plastic surgeon with a thriving medical practice, had just purchased Spago and had his hands full. “For years, it was a nurse, a practitioner and me. Now, all of a sudden, I had 17 female staffers to deal with!” says Stampar. A self-confessed “human resources wimp,” he was soon stymied by the many challenges that accompany new ownership. Fortunately, Stewart was ready to pick up the slack.

“I started at about 10 hours a week, but pretty soon it was, ‘Oh, can you fill in here; can you do this?'” she recalls. “Then at the six-week mark, the manager quit! The doctor had less experience running the day spa part of the business than I did, so he told me, ‘Well, I guess you’re the manager now.’”

Stampar eventually closed his medical practice to work at Spago full-time, with his prize employee at the operational helm. It was a winning formula: The more that Stampar empowered Stewart, the more she took on.

Today, as the spa director, Stewart handles human resources for the 32-employee facility, including all performance reviews, scheduling, payroll and training for salon assistants. She oversees all the inventory and invoicing for the salon, spa and medical practice. And the advertising and marketing campaigns—as well as promotional events and the monthly newsletter—all fall under her purview.

The doctor even had her certified as a medical assistant so she could help with patients before, during and after surgical procedures. (“She sewed me up once!” he says with a laugh.)

Last July, when the spa built a new location from the ground up, Stewart was involved in every aspect of the project, from negotiating the lease and meeting daily with architects and contractors to designing the floor plan and handpicking tiles, hardwood floors, paint colors and more. It wasn’t out of the question to see Stewart polishing the floors herself as part of her tireless efforts to be on top of every single detail. She worked 12- to 15-hour days, keeping busy at both sites, to make the move seamless.

“She always had this grand vision for the new area,” Stampar says. “But it’s like we went from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz.” More than 500 guests attended the champagne-studded grand opening event—which, of course, Stewart had planned and prepared.

Beyond her professionalism and stamina, what really makes Stewart shine as a Top Honors employee is her connection to the clients. She knows them by name and checks on them frequently, making sure their pillows are fluffed and that they have fresh, full glasses of cucumber water.

Ask Stewart how she has managed to become such a workplace dynamo, and she’ll give you a list of people who make it possible. “I have a husband willing to step up and do whatever’s needed; a mother who does everything from grocery shopping to picking up kids; and an employer who understands when I have to be at a parent breakfast or attend a field trip,” she says. “It really does take a community at home and at work to make you a success.”

Stampar has a simpler theory: “Tracy is willing and able to do what’s necessary.”—Linda Kossoff

With five spas, three salons and one spa/salon hybrid sprinkled in locations throughout South Carolina, Urban Nirvana takes retailing very seriously. And the effort is paying off: According to the chain, 18% of revenues in 2010 came from retail sales. How do they do it? For starters, each location dedicates approximately 15% of space to the retail boutique, and also operates both independently and cooperatively.

“Some of our promotional events are implemented across all Urban Nirvana locations and others are location-specific,” explains Natascha Kastel, operations assistant at the chain’s Charleston-based headquarters. “This gives us the freedom to come up with our own promotions, enabling us to more efficiently target clients’ needs.”

Similarly, product displays are handled by individual location managers, but some elements are consistent across the board. “When a new product or line arrives, everyone highlights these at the counter or a special designated table,” Kastel says. The boutique items themselves are all handpicked by Urban Nirvana founder Susie McCrary and her two co-owners.

A partial list: skincare products from SkinCeuticals, Phytomer and Jack Black; candles and bath/body products from Archipelago, Kama Sutra and FarmHouse Fresh; hair lines from KMS, Paul Mitchell and Pureology; and a generous selection of boutique-level gifts, jewelry and clothing. Retail selling is also built into Urban Nirvana’s workplace culture, and front desk staff are trained—by management and by product line representatives—to answer product-related questions.

“We also have a guest service training team in place that travels from location to location semiannually,” Kastel says. And clients are kept well informed about the latest retail offerings, thanks to the chain’s online newsletters and email blasts, hawking holiday promos, events and the annual “25% off everything” anniversary sale. Like we said, Urban Nirvana takes its retailing very seriously. —Linda Kossoff

“We put our website up in 1997 and it’s been a slow evolution,” TallGrass owner Gail Ridings says of her facility’s early adoption of the web. “Foremost, our site has always focused on clearly highlighting our brand: You’ll always see, front and center, photos of where we are, what we look like and how we operate.”

Ridings knows that her spa’s website is often “the first portal of how we communicate with guests, before they set foot in the door.” As a result, she and her team of designers have produced a one-stop, virtual information booth. Most notable are the rotating photo galleries; instantly printable gift cards; online booking; newsletters and blogs; informative videos (from how to spa to smoky-eye makeup tips); and service menus that not only describe treatments, but also provide helpful information about ways to receive discounts.

“Taking away the guesswork and fear is very important to us,” Ridings says. “That’s how you build client trust and relationships.” In turn, she trusts her web team to help her make sense of the nuts and bolts of successful website operations. “Besides just looking at your competitors’ sites, you have to be aware of search-engine optimization, click-through rates, making sure your phone number is crawlable and drawing Facebook fans to your website.”

Another must? Constant updating. “You can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re done with our website, we’ll look at it again next year.’” TallGrass staff add new info—even personal photos—as often as possible. “We think that things like the pictures of our staff picnic connect us to our guests,” Ridings says. “We want to make sure people know who we are.” —Lisa Sweetingham

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