With each passing day, spas are becoming more mainstream. Gone—or at least fading—is the idea that spas are nothing but a frivolous form of pampering. People are now going to the spa to look and feel younger and healthier. And so what if it happens to also be relaxing, and self-indulgent? After all, more and more doctors are acknowledging the link between mental well-being and overall physical health.
With this change in attitudes has come overall growth in the spa industry. Resorts have been in the spa game for a while now, but the surge is now rushing into private clubs, too. Five to seven years ago, notes the president of one company that provides spa, fitness and leisure consulting and management services, it was unusual to see any spa amenities in clubs. Then three years ago, club spa construction really began picking up, and today it’s the hottest area of new service development in the private club sector.
In fact, many clubs that were among the first to take the plunge are already looking, because of strong customer acceptance and demand, to increase the depth and breadth of services offered. For example, while massage is often one of the first treatments clubs offer, as spa patronage has grown many are now thinking seriously about adding specialty body and facial treatments, or even hydrotherapy and full-service hair and nail salons.
George Carroll, General Manager at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., is a forward-looking club industry veteran who noticed the increasing prevalence of spas and raised the issue with his club’s Board. “[The Board’s] always been supportive,” he says, describing the relative ease with which he moved ahead with the idea. “[It was recognized that] golf is slowing down, but fitness and relaxation are growing.”
In 2002, the Interlachen spa opened in a building that, back in the day, housed female employees who lived on the property. The structure had sat empty for about eight years, but the club’s onstaff engineer was able to convert it fairly easily into a combination fitness center and office space, and then later add the spa areas. Simple electrical and plumbing changes, as well as some additional room partitions and equipment, resulted in a startup cost of about $12,000—an amount easily earned back in the first year.
“The spa has been popular and runs in seasons,” Carroll says. “A lot of our members go to Florida [for the winter], so facials and waxing seem to slow down then.” Interlachen’s spa offers manicures and pedicures, facials and waxing services, massage and reflexology (a specialized form of foot massage), and has a barbershop, but no salon.
Like many clubs, Carroll has noticed some clear distinctions in the types of services that each gender prefers. Facials and waxing skew entirely female. Manicure clients are also heavily female—about 95 percent—but about 30 percent of pedicures are given to men. “They physically can’t reach their feet,” Carroll notes, referring to older or overweight men. In fact, Interlachen’s first three pedicure customers were men. Reflexology, he reports, is split just about evenly between men and women. And finally, about three quarters of Interlachen’s massages are given to men.
To drive spa revenues, the club hosts private spa days for various groups—like bridal parties—and after different events, such as golf tournaments. Chair massages and minimanicures have also been particularly helpful in boosting awareness and giving the spa staff a chance to interact with members who otherwise wouldn’t be likely to drop by.
As for overall revenue, Carroll admits, “It’s as good as we can expect in our present situation.” And by “present situation” he means the fact that the club’s spa and fitness center are adjacent—a situation that many clubs have found can be a deterrent to spa business.
“The service rooms are near the cardio area of the fitness center, and the noise makes it less relaxing,”Carroll notes.Noise, in fact, is probably the most important factor to consider when renovating a space to add a spa in an existing building, when options for where to locate it will be much more limited than with a new building. Don’t forget to also consider the noise that commercial laundry machines generate (and that spa services will greatly increase laundry activity).
Interlachen is currently entertaining a proposal to build a new sports building that would house the club’s tennis, curling, skating and fitness amenities, as well as a new and improved spa. The spa would be on a second, dedicated floor and fully insulated from the cacophony below. The project will be part of a larger club overhaul set to take place over the next three to five years. Overall, though, Carroll isn’t consumed with worry about the revenues coming from his spa. “It takes about three years to make a spa profitable,” he says, adding, “This club exists for member satisfaction, not profit.” And that’s important for any club to keep in mind, note the many club managers who stress that they’re in the “dues business” more than the spa business per se. If you can satisfy more people with the additional services offered through a spa, they say, the “profit” will come through the sale of new memberships.
Taking the Plunge
Spas have been elevated to such an important status in the quest for members, in fact, that many from the newest wave of club properties are now trying to build as much of their appeal around spas as around other, more traditional draws, such as golf, tennis or swimming. This is even reflected in many of these new clubs’ names—such as with Rock Barn Golf and Spa, which opened its spa three years ago in Conover, N.C. and is still evolving, as it moves forward with plans to add a lodge and conference center.
Rock Barn has the only spa of its type in the area, and promotes that unique appeal heavily to both its members and the general public. “We don’t think membership alone could support the spa; we only have about 800 members,” says Bruce Szafran, General Manager. “It would be a financial burden.”
What makes Rock Barn’s spa so different? Its pools. There are several adult-only pools in the dedicated spa area, including the main pool, which is indoors, heated and plugged-in with underwater music. There are also two Jacuzzis—one indoor, the other outdoor—and an indoor cooling pool that clients use alternately with the Jacuzzi to shock their bodies with the temperature difference. Then there’s a special waterfall area (see photo at left) that is unique in itself.
Because The Spa at Rock Barn is intended as a peaceful retreat, no one under 18 is allowed in the pool area or locker rooms. There is, however, a separate seasonal pool outdoors for family use. And to take advantage of increasing teenage interest in spas, 16- and 17-year-olds can receive treatments, as long as a parent remains in the spa with them and signs a waiver. Anyone, though, can enjoy the sushi and juice bar that serves the spa as well as other areas of the club.
These unique wet areas have brought in plenty of non-member spa clients from the nearby cities of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Asheville, all of which are about an hour away, reports Shanda Wyant, Rock Barn’s Spa Director. But all the water does come with a price: specifically, higher overhead that is hard to make up, because Rock Barn must still price its treatments competitively with other area spas that don’t have to bear the costs of so many pools, Jacuzzis and locker room saunas.
Bringing the lodge and conference center onstream will help boost spa revenue, Rock Barn management hopes, as increased non-member t
raffic funnels additional clients to the spa. But it is still looking for ways to make members, who currently account for only 20% of total spa use, pick up activity from their end as well.
Reflecting another dilemma that many clubs grapple with, Wyant notes that when members can use all of a club’s facilities free of charge as part of their dues arrangements—including fitness, pools, and other forms of exercise and relaxation— it may actually work against getting them to pay for services such as massages, unless they are priced significantly below outside alternatives. Rock Barn tries to entice its members with a 15 percent discount on all spa services, but this again makes it difficult to adequately absorb overhead, especially for such an elaborate facility.
Considering the Source
Another key issue is whether a spa—particularly in a private club setting—should be staffed with independent contractors (ICs) or full-time employees. With the exception of its dietician, Rock Barn goes with all full-time employees, primarily because Szafran thinks it has “given us the opportunity to recover from a complaint faster than an outsourced company is able to do.”
When hiring for Rock Barn, Wyant looks for people who are not only properly trained and certified but have actual spa experience, so they will be much better-versed in the critical areas of treatment design and proper scheduling. In general, clubs report that promoting managers from other disciplines, or giving fitness center directors add-on responsibility for spas, tends to not work out as well as finding someone who has run other spas effectively.
Interlachen Country Club, however, has gone the other route, and outsourced all of its spa operations to independent contractors. Does it have a spa manager? “Yes—that would be me,” laughs Carroll.
All of the ICs at Interlachen handle their own appointments, within scheduled blocks of time to make sure that no rooms are double-booked. Since the spa isn’t manned, the independent contractors also make their cell phone numbers available to clients, so they can easily be reached. So far, it’s an arrangement that’s worked well.
The club takes a 30% cut from each IC’s rates; the club’s share goes largely towards keeping the spa stocked with the products needed for treatments. Those products, Carroll notes, are top of the line and also sell well in “The Shop at Interlachen” (which is no longer called a “pro shop,” to emphasize that other non-golf items are also sold there). Treatment prices include an 18% service charge which goes directly to the IC, Carroll notes, and many members will often add something on top of that. C&RB
Summing It Up
• Spas have moved beyond being seen as indulgences for the privileged and gone mainstream, in step with the trend that links mental well-being with overall physical health.
• Resort properties got a leg up in the business because most private clubs didn’t start to offer any spa amenities until a few years ago. But the gap is closing rapidly.
• Even with their late start, many clubs are already in phase two of developing and expanding their spa offers, after discovering that they badly underestimated space needs and the breadth of demand for services the first time around.
• The noise factor must be considered carefully when creating a spa from an existing space.
Taking It Like A Man
Despite the fact that men in Europe, Japan and many other foreign locales think nothing of patronizing spas, American men—not all of them, but a good number, for sure—still have hangups about the whole spa experience. Slowly but surely, though, there are signs they are coming around.
KSL Resorts, owner of properties such as La Costa Resort & Spa, Suncadia Resort and the Trump National Golf Clubs, recently commissioned a survey to measure men’s attitudes towards spas that yielded some interesting—even surprising—results. Certainly, it showed there are more men than you might think who are spa-savvy. And among those men who had already tried spas, the feedback about the experience was largely positive. All told, the survey results showed there is real potential to get more men to embrace the spa experience—if you can get the holdouts to overcome their preconceived notions.
About 26 percent of the respondents to the KSL survey reported they had visited a spa before, while almost 74 percent had not. But only a third of the surveyed men were so biased as to say that spas were “only for women.” And perhaps the best news is that of those men who had been to a spa, 81 percent said they liked it enough to return.
What prompted those men who have already been to a spa to make the leap? A desire to reduce mental and physical stress topped the list while, surprisingly, sports-related reasons were at the bottom. Perhaps most revealingly, 40 percent of this group said they had gone because their wife or partner “wanted me to go” —signaling that a couples-oriented marketing approach may yield especially good results.
Among the male survey respondents who had been to a spa, massage was the most popular treatment, with over 82 percent having received one. Manicures and facials came in at about 26 percent each.
But what about the nearly three-quarters of the surveyed men who said they hadn’t yet been to a spa—what emerged as their biggest reasons for still holding back? About half of this group said treatments were simply too expensive, while the next largest reason given—by over a third of the non-user group—was that they didn’t understand the benefits.
Here, too, that may be good news. Most men feel at home in their clubs, so they are likely to be receptive to a mini-spa introduction in that environment. A good way to start is with simple chair massages, where men remain fully clothed and more at ease, thus providing an opportunity for the masseuse to demonstrate and explain the benefits of more involved treatments.
Men responding to the KSL survey also thought that these were good ideas for helping them feel more comfortable in spas: “men’s only” areas for manicures, pedicures and facials; outfitting men in shorts and t-shirts rather than robes; and, of course, combining spa treatments with golf packages. —JLS
Ideas for the Haves and Have-Nots
Continuing to grow your spa business will require paying as much attention to the customers you already have as to those you’re still trying to get. According to the International SPA Association, these are some of the trends that will appeal to already converted spa users in 2006 and beyond:
• Longer services. 90- and 120 minute services, or even multi-service packages, are gaining popularity.
• Services for the entire family. Try adding acne treatment facials for teens, or couples massage programs for their parents.
• The option to book time, not services. This may complicate staffing, but could boost use. Imagine a foursome of women dropping by after their standing 9-hole rounds each Wednesday—perhaps for a massage one week, and a mani/pedi the next.
And to bring in those “virgins” who might still consider spas frivolous, overindulgent, or just plain unappealing, give some of these ideas a try:
• Have a men’s day with a special package deal, such as a haircut and pedicure at a discount.
• Reposition your spa with a less intimidating name, such as the “wellness” or “activity” center.
• Give free five- or ten-min
ute chair massages after golf tournaments or at peak times for club use. It’ll generate a buzz and is a great way to ease people into the notion of getting a massage.
• Start a gift certificate program, or push special Mother’s Day or holiday gift bags that include spa benefits. Sometimes all a person needs is a nudge from a family member.
• Tout the wellness aspects of various spa treatments in your newsletter or on locker-room posters.
• Train golf and tennis pros and fitness center staff to refer members for specific reasons. “A massage can really help loosen up your shoulders and improve your golf swing” can be a much more effective motivator than “I hear the spa is nice.” —JLS
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