Put the Aah In Day Spa

What your new profit center needs to keep customers coming back for more -- from design to services to staff.

In today's hectic, stress-filled society, a little self-indulgent pampering and relaxation can go a long way. Day spas can provide that pampering and relaxation, while adding many profitable possibilities to a club.

Day spas not only complement health clubs, they may even bring in people who normally avoid fitness facilities. And once people enter, more often than not they become repeat customers.

“In the last two or three years, [our] spa has pulled in as much or surpassed the money for the gym,” says Lori Waggoner, the regional spa director for California's Total Woman Private Gym and Day Spa. A membership at the women-only chain includes two free basic services at the spa per month, which helps to increase traffic. And the members will often go beyond the freebie, paying for additional services.

This isn't to suggest that members will charge into a day spa simply because it exists. They will only visit a day spa if a club really takes the time and effort to, in fact, make it a day spa. Since day spas deliver mind/body retreats, they require plenty of planning and consideration. Specifically, clubs interested in the spa business must address the issues of design, staffing and services.

First, design. Clubs that have neither the money nor the time to design a full-fledged spa business could follow in the footsteps of the Reebok Sports Club. Reebok decided to rent space to the upscale Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa.

Reebok Sports Club members benefit because the spa gives them a discount. Reebok benefits from the rental revenue, and the additional traffic that the salon brings. And the spa benefits from the location.

“We are really like the pulse of the Reebok Sports Club,” says salon owner Brian Cantor. “The spa services are definitely a major extension the people are looking for when they join the club. They're not looking to just exercise.”

Partnering with a spa provider is just one option. Clubs could also create their own spa component. However, operators who wish to run a day spa must consider the total-body experience that today's sophisticated member (and nonmember, for that matter) craves. To set the proper mood, the spa must be conducive to relaxation, privacy, comfort and sensual indulgence.

To achieve these goals, a club should establish the day spa as a separate entity from the fitness center. One of the simplest (and most psychologically effective) ways of doing this is to create a threshold of some sort that gym members must pass through in order to access the spa.

“I think the spa should feel distinct from the rest of the club,” advises Cantor. “I don't think there should be a few treatment rooms off the locker room…. You need to create a separate space.”

Use Your Senses

Operators should consult their five senses when putting together the spa space. Remember, the heavy-duty, industrial-strength design elements and loud music found in fitness facilities should be avoided at all costs in the spa area. Spa-goers prefer silence.

“The person who's coming for the massage wants to have peace and quiet,” says Herb Lipsman, vice president of development for the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa.

The lighting and coloring should reflect this state of tranquility. Therefore, the space should rely heavily on natural light (as opposed to glaring, overhead fluorescents). “The color schemes and surface things are very, very important,” Lipsman says.

Basically, every element in the spa should indulge a member's senses — whether it be sight (soothing colors like pale blues and greens), sound (new age or classical music piped in over the speakers, or, at the very least, the spa's walls should be adequately soundproofed to muffle the guys grunting in the weight room), taste (fresh fruit or cold water), smell (aromatherapy diffusers), and touch (soft, fluffy carpets; textured fabrics).

“The design of the space of the spa is absolutely crucial, and you should find a qualified and experienced spa consultant to help you with this task if your budget permits,” says an adamant Deborah Smith, president of Colorado's Smith Club & Spa Specialists, which offers spa consulting services to clients in the hotel/resort, club, and day spa industry.

“At a minimum, your design concept for the spa needs to incorporate a serene, quiet, soothing sanctuary-type of atmosphere. This is the biggest challenge to club owners, since the rest of the club has just the opposite effect: It is stimulating, upbeat and relatively noisy.

“Your members who use the spa must feel that they are in a ‘world apart’ from the rest of the club as they know it, so they can gear down, destress and enjoy the therapeutic benefits a spa offers,” Smith continues.

The Right Staff

Besides investing in the look of the spa, club operators must invest in the staff. Locating new staff should be fairly easy for an already-established spa, as applicants may come looking for employment. Newly opened spas, however, may have to do a little searching. New day spas can place “help wanted” ads in newspaper and trade magazines, and even go looking at the places where their applicants are likely to be.

“Develop a relationship with local massage schools and local beauty schools,” says Eva Jensch, the president of Spa Concepts International, a consulting and management firm in Sonoma, Calif.

Julie Sutton, the national spa director for Wellbridge, the fourth largest health club chain in the United States, contacts these schools and offers the students an internship program at her clubs. Trained in-house, these students are much more likely to fit into the club as employees later on.

Operators hoping to hire spa employees should also contact the manufacturers of the spa products that they use. Often these companies have training schools of their own.

At Your Service

With the spa designed and the staff in place, clubs must decide which services to offer. Remember: You can have the coolest-looking day spa in the world, with the best staff, but if you're only offering pedicures during the middle of winter and your club's located in North Dakota — well, let's just say that cobwebs will soon be the spa's overriding design motif.

So how do you decide what to offer your members? You can start by looking at the competition.

“You have to do a market study and find out what other day spas are doing,” Sutton says. “People have to really decide if they are going to have a day spa or if they're just going to do a massage business.

“Some people dabble in it and it's hard because their focus is all over.”

Before conducting the market study, clubs should understand that massage and facials are the two most popular spa services. This makes them musts for any aspiring day spa.

“Massage therapy is No. 1,” says Lipsman. “It's as much as 40 or 50 percent of the business for most businesses. Skin treatments, facials, manicures, pedicures, hair — all that is sort of evenly distributed.”

“Facials and massage, they're the basics,” agrees Kelly Wolfarth, the spa director of New York's Gravity Fitness and Spa. “That's where you start from. You can always expand and take that service to a higher level.”

But before you do any expanding, you're going to have to get your hands dirty and do a little digging. In addition to studying what the competition offers, conduct research to find out what people want.

“I am a firm believer in the value of conducting research,” says Smith. “To be financially successful, your club's spa has to meet the needs and expectations of its members. This should include a phone survey of members, focus groups — which can be very dynamic since members interact and react to one another's feedback — and, at a minimum, a written survey.”

Just keep in mind that what people say they want during an interview, or when filling out a form, may be completely different than what actually becomes popular. You can base your services menu on their responses, but don't become so rigid that you can't improvise. Leave room for change.

“Whenever we do build a new club, we don't know what the focus of that area will be so we try to keep one or two rooms that can be converted for either facials or massage by buying a chair that can be converted,” says Waggoner.

Geography Lesson

In addition to customer feedback, the savvy operator will be able to rule out, or rule in, spa services based on the geography and climate of the club's location. For example, pedicures and body scrubs are often popular services at beach locations — after all, your clients are showing more skin and wearing open-toed shoes. Detoxification and stress-release treatments keep members lining up in more urban locations, and colder climates are ideal for offering hotter treatments (such as hot stone massage — one of the most popular “new” spa services).

Many clubs try to offer an exclusive treatment featuring a little local flavor or indigenous products. For example, a day spa in Hawaii may offer “Hot Lava Body Wraps” or sell “Papaya Skin Cleanser,” while a spa near the ocean may feature a “Seaweed Facial” or a “Salt Water Scrub.”

Not only should location influence the services provided, it should influence the products used. For example, clubs in humid climates should rely on oil-free lines that are lighter than the lines preferred in colder climates.

“In a humid, hot environment such as southern Florida, cooling treatments are most popular — an aloe vera body wrap, a cool essential oil wrap, peppermint mint aloe pedicures, etc.,” Smith says. “Warm body wraps such as herbal wraps are not in much demand since they cause perspiration and deplete the body of moisture and water.”

Soothing Skin

The location of the club also has certain skin challenges associated with it. After all, the dry mountain air has an entirely different effect on people's skin than the humid environment associated with the Deep South. “Having been a general manger of clubs in both a mountain [Aspen Club, Colorado] and a tropical climate [Spa Internazionale at Fisher Island, Florida], there is definitely a difference in treatments a spa offers depending upon its climate,” explains Smith.

“In a mountain environment, such as the Rocky Mountains, the key challenges presented by the climate are low humidity and an 8-10,000-foot elevation,” she continues. “Low humidity means dry, cracked skin that constantly needs to be hydrated. The high elevation means there is much less of an atmospheric filter to the sun's UV rays, and sun damage from exposure and the increased production of free radicals in the body. Skin-care treatments that make sense here are antioxidant vitamin C and E facials, even combined with oxygen gas.”

While spa operators should remain aware of their environment — in terms of temperature and elevation — there's another climate concern to consider. The economic climate. During an economic slowdown, people will continue to go to spas, but their expectations change, Jensch claims.

“People are still using spas,” she says, “but they're looking for value at this point. That's always the case when the economy takes a dip.”

And they're also looking for more of the basics. Therefore, operators can experiment with services, but they shouldn't forget that most spa-goers simply want a massage, a facial and some relaxing ambience.

“What we're finding in the downturned economy is people are turning down the fluff stuff for the things that people can really notice, like the body scrubs,” Sutton says. “A lot of people went into this [industry] with really ‘out there’ treatments, but I think people are really coming back to basics.”

Day Spassibilities

  • Several kinds of massage

  • Several kinds of facials

  • Body treatments

  • Manicures

  • Pedicures

  • Offer one or more signature treatments

  • Hair styling

  • Makeup

  • Saunas and whirlpools

  • Tanning

  • Hot stone therapy/massage

  • Microdermabrasion

  • Hydrotherapy

  • Holistic skin care


Most popular services during summer and spring

  • Body scrubs

  • Pedicures

  • Waxing

  • Tanning

  • Manicures

  • Cellulite treatment

  • Detoxification treatments

  • Anything “cool” (e.g., aloe vera wraps)

Most popular services during fall and winter

  • Aromatherapy

  • Body wraps

  • Massage

  • More extensive/intensive facial treatments

  • Anything “hot” (e.g., hot stone massage, etc.)

Day Spa Amenities and Products

Let your customers bring the day spa home — for a fee.

For day spas, the moneymaking opportunities don't stop on the premises. Spas can also profit by giving amenities and selling products to take home. The most popular day spa products, according to Wanda Hartz, director of marketing and regional sales manager for Discount Amenities, include:

  • Lotions

  • Scrubs

  • Shower gels

  • Shampoos

  • Sun-care products

“Day spas normally offer a full range of spa products,” Hartz says. “Often they do like to remain consistent with a brand that offers bulk (gallons, etc.) for use as well as retail to sell through to the customer for home use. Facial products get very specific according to individual needs. Shower products sell well, especially if used on the client. Lotions are a must, whether they are massage products, daily moisturizers, or sun care.”

Research into the amenity and home products area is just as crucial as determining what services a spa should offer.

“Going to one of the trade shows offered in the industry…will give you an idea of the range of treatment lines and products available,” says Deborah Smith, president of Colorado's Smith Club & Spa Specialists, a consulting company. “I also recommend to spa directors that in researching a treatment product line, they contact four or five of the vendors' existing customers to see what their experiences have been like.”

Perhaps the greatest thing to rely on when picking a product line is your own common sense and taste. If you think the product is great, chances are your customers will as well — especially if your enthusiasm for the product carries over to the client.

“Usually, as a rule, anyone can sell what they, as a consumer, are ‘sold on,’” Hartz says. “The trust that a spa builds with their relationships with their clients offers them an opportunity for profits as well as services.”

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