Nashville’s Escape Day Spa & Salon has made itself a staple in Music City without singing a note.
Home to some of the biggest names in music, Nashville, Tennessee, has earned the reputation of a big town with a big personality. Walking along its downtown streets, you’ll find a vibrant and colorful scene complete with raucous live-music venues, cowboy-boot-clad street performers and guitar shops on every corner. But just 15 minutes from the hustle and bustle, a tranquil respite awaits. With a menu encompassing everything from Thai massage to a lavender-mint salt scrub, Escape Day Spa & Salon entices both locals and out-of-towners with the promise of a top-notch mini-getaway.
Over the course of its nine-year existence, Escape’s extensive upscale menu has caught the attention of the crème de la crème of Nashville and has been spotlighted in local and national publications from Nashville Lifestyles to Vogue. Hollywood has come calling too, with well-known names like Gwyneth Paltrow roaming the facility’s modern minimalist halls—and singing its praises. For its owners, the spa’s success has been something of a surprise. “If someone had told me I would move to Nashville and open a spa I would’ve told them they were crazy,” says co-owner and founder Tami Sprintz Hall, who took on the rogue project nearly a decade ago with her husband, Jeffrey Hall. “But here we are nearly 10 years later—and we love it!”
An Exercise in Faith: To look at Escape Day Spa & Salon today, it’s hard to believe the owners of this southern gem had had zero spa or skincare industry experience when they decided to embark upon this business venture. The couple had worked as fashion photographers in Los Angeles for 12 years when they made the decision to move to Nashville in the late 1990s to “build a house, have kids and lead a quieter life,” recalls Sprintz Hall. “We thought our photography background would translate nicely into the music industry.” Their instincts were right: the couple secured regular gigs shooting album covers for Nashville’s booming music business.
It was smooth sailing until the early 2000s when, according to Sprintz Hall, “The music industry took a turn for the worse,” and opportunities for freelance photographers dwindled. However, not ones to take hardship lying down, Sprintz Hall and her husband began exploring other business opportunities. They were well aware of Nashville’s sizeable affluent community and wanted to find a way to capture that market. Ultimately, they decided to invest in the development of a building on the outskirts of downtown. Although the building housed luxury clothing stores, Sprintz Hall felt that both it and the city as a whole were lacking something: a high-end day spa.
“I had been to destination and resort spas, so I wanted to take the most luxurious features from the best ones I’d visited and frame them in the context of a day spa,” Sprintz Hall explains. “We interviewed a dozen different spa groups, but we just didn’t like any of their concepts. My husband jokingly said to me one day, ‘If you’re going to reject everybody else’s ideas, why not just do it yourself?’ ”
Building Muscle: To bring their vision of a luxury day spa to fruition, Sprintz Hall and her husband called upon famed local architect Marcus DiPietro. As a result, instead of exuding the glitz and glamour typical of Nashville’s downtown establishments, Escape’s décor was designed with a more understated, minimalist look in mind.
“We wanted the spa to be calming and serene, so clients felt like they were on vacation,” says Sprintz Hall. “We didn’t want guests to be visually overwhelmed.” Indeed, the spa boasts a simple and serene theme with accents of light and natural elements. One of the spa’s two relaxation rooms features a victor wall with images of nature that change throughout the day; the other showcases a ceiling designed to simulate a starry night.
When it came to carving out a business plan, the couple didn’t have to look far for assistance. “My father, my mentor, is a great business man and the best advisor I know,” says Sprintz Hall. Together, the family forecasted conservatively for one-, two- and five-year plans. But, despite their realistic expectations of slow, progressive growth, business skyrocketed. “It became clear we were filling a need in the area,” she recalls. “We really had to learn the business quickly.”
The couple devoted the following year to learning everything they could about the spa industry, attending conferences and seminars, and forming relationships with spa veterans who they relied on for mentorship. “We talked to a coach every week and set specific goals,” says Sprintz Hall. “Talk about on-the-job training!”
Developing Escape’s service menu, for instance, required some trial and error. When the spa first opened, offerings included medical services such as Botox and Restylane, as well as laser hair removal, but these items were soon eliminated. “Having a doctor here made it feel less like a getaway or a destination,” Sprintz Hall explains. By making such adjustments, she adds, the owners were able to stay true to their original vision, while continuing to “listen to the business based on dollars and cents.”
Mighty Strides: Since its first year, Escape has been on an upward trajectory upward, growing its workforce and space annually. “We started out with 12 employees and went up to 20 in 2006, then to 30 the following year,” reports Sprintz Hall. Today, the spa boasts a robust staff of 70.
Escape’s owners have also consistently expanded to keep up with the spa’s increasing popularity—sometimes against conventional wisdom. In 2009, in the midst of the economic recession that prompted most business owners to pull back on spending, Sprintz Hall and her husband “turned a blind eye” and added 5,000 square feet to their original 7,500-square-foot space. “We took the ‘go big or go home’ stance and surged forward,” admits Sprintz Hall. “There was no mention of the ‘R’ word.” Last year, Escape went into expansion mode again, adding another 5,500 square feet of working space, part of which allows for a larger salon area.
The couple also upped their advertising budget and took a somewhat unconventional marketing approach for a spa. “I come from a family with a strong retail business background and we really believe in the power of TV advertising,” explains Sprintz Hall. “We tested the medium when we first opened the spa and never stopped. It has worked very well for us.” So well, in fact, that the couple devotes about 90% of Escape’s advertising budget to promoting the spa during primetime slots on local broadcasts.
Dumb luck for a couple of spa novices? Hardly. “At the end of the day, we may not be estheticians or spa veterans, but we are business people,” acknowledges Sprintz Hall.
Powerful Clients: Twice a week, team members of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans come to Escape Day Spa & Salon for massages and body treatments. To efficiently cater to these and their other male clients—who comprise about 40% of Escape’s clientele—the spa’s offerings includes a men’s service menu that features a Sports Massage (60-80 min./$95-$135), a Sport Manicure and Pedicure (90 min/$75) and a Gentleman’s Fitness Facial (60 min./$125).
Escape welcomes A-listers from the music and film industries as well. The phenomenon, says the couple, occurred naturally over time. “Celebrities just came in organically, through word of mouth,” Spritz Hall explains. “They like having a place where nobody bothers them or asks for their autographs. They’re treated like everybody else in our spa—they’re just left alone to enjoy their relaxation time.”
Escape staff is also aware that 50% of clients are not of the A-list variety and make every effort to extend the same gold-star service to every guest who walks through the spa’s doors, learning their names and making the spa part of their lives. “This is something we enforce on the very first day of employment,” says Sprintz Hall. “We want every client to get that ‘exclusive’ treatment.”
–By Angela Melero