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The Devil's in the Details

I just went through the process of planning, designing and opening a hotel's spa. Once again, I was reminded that small details are important but can also drive you crazy. At the beginning of the project, the owner/client selects the “team,” which usually consists of the designer, architect, consultant, contractor, mechanical and engineer consultant, and the hotel general manager (at times the list is even longer). Everyone has their own agenda, but at the end of the day, you're the one who has to live with the results. That means you need to be asking questions along the way. Once you have developed your concept statement and you're in the process of space planning and reviewing schematic drawings, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How will you get the laundry out of the treatment rooms discreetly?

  • How will staff get to the treatment rooms without going through the locker room or relaxation area?

  • How will the therapist greet the clients in the respective waiting areas, especially if you have single sex waiting areas?

  • Do you want the phone to ring at the reception desk?

  • Do you have room for a separate reservation area in the back of the house?

  • Is there a quiet consultation area near the front desk?

  • In how many treatment rooms do you want a separate prep area or a second check-in screen?

  • Did you include a surveillance system in the budget? If so, what areas of your facility do you want to record (your supply closet, the front desk and your retail area)?

Smaller details to consider include:

  • Who is selecting the door hardware and what type do you want? Do you want closers on the door?

  • Who is selecting the doorstops and robe hooks?

  • What about the toilet paper dispensers, towels, etc.?

  • How deep do you want the lockers — 17 inch vs. 20 inch? Do you want a hanger rod or hooks (maybe both), shelf, draws?

  • What is the ratio of lockers to treatment rooms?

  • Where is the hose bib going in the wet area to wash down the showers and steam room?

  • Is the steam generator appropriate for the cubic feet of the room?

  • Do you get a commercial generator or will a residential model be sufficient? Will it be on all day, or just when a client wants it on?

  • At what height did you set the steam nozzle (supplying the steam to the room)?

  • Did you remember to slope the ceiling? Did you specify smooth tiles with squared corners and flush grout to avoid drips in from the ceiling?

  • Do you have enough storage space?

  • Did you put in a janitor closet with slop sink?

  • Where did you place the air supply and returns in the treatment rooms? Make sure your budget allows for linear.

  • Did you spec blow dryers?

  • Do you have room on your vanity for all the amenities (Q-tips, cotton balls, shaving cream, etc.) you want to offer?

  • Do you have all the outlets you need and in the right area?

  • Did you want drywall partitions and doors for each water closet, or are standard partitions sufficient (not for a mid level or high end spa)?

  • Is your hot towel cabi going into the table, on the counter or recessed into the cabinets?

  • Are the electrical outlets for your treatment tables located underneath them?

  • Are your soiled linen bins large enough?

Have this list of questions in front of you while you are looking at your plans, especially when you start securing equipment bids. You need to separate each room and provide the vendor with the equipment you are looking for. Once you have your final equipment list, place the icons on your drawings. If you don't have that capability, mark up the rooms with different colored pencils representing each piece of equipment. Then make sure you have the correct specs for each piece and that you've met any electrical/plumbing requirements. Don't forget ADA requirements.

You must think about so many things when opening a spa that one page isn't enough room to discuss it. Sometimes you cannot even address it in one book because the industry as well as customers' needs and wants change so quickly that you would have to write another one as soon you finish the first.

So, as they say, “the devil is in the details.” Make sure you have the right team, and do sweat the small stuff. That is what will make the difference in your spa.

Glenn Colarossi is the president of Colarossi Spa & Health Club Consulting & Management. He has worked on projects throughout the world for five-star clients. He can be reached at 203-357-7555 or at

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