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Massage Today
January, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 01

What Really Drives the Spa Industry?

By John Fanuzzi

At a recent trade show, I was talking about the growth of the spa industry when someone commented, "That would make a great story." I agree. People need to have a more in-depth understanding of what makes the industry grow.

What was the most revolutionary development in the spa industry? In my opinion, the arrival of credible therapeutic massage was the grease that helped the spa industry grow into the $10 billion industry it is today.

It is the most popular treatment at American spas, and perhaps the biggest moneymaker. Touch is one of the best tools for marketing and PR. A significant milestone that boosted the credibility and growth of the massage industry was the first publishing of the four-color journal Massage Magazine in 1986. We took out its first full-page, color ad for placement on the back cover. By the next issue, more table manufacturers started advertising in four-color formats. Advertising in the trade publications is a great way for manufacturers to introduce new products. Prior to 1986, advertising had to be done in newspapers or new-age magazines, making it difficult to reach a targeted market.

As the advertisements increased, so did the educational articles. The articles were an avenue for enlightenment and industry stimulation. I have seen this process repeat itself with the emergence of each new publication; one major manufacturer advertises, and the ante is upped again. Advertisers indirectly support the articles and the networking process.

By the same measure, advertisers also support equipment innovations. For instance, it is my belief that the massage chair was the most revolutionary and stimulating product to hit the massage industry. (Thank you, David Palmer and Living Earth Crafts.) The massage chair is by far the best marketing tool for the massage therapist starting a practice. It also is a must for the day spa owner seeking exposure in the community. We started selling lightweight chairs at hair shows in the 90s, assisted by an entourage of volunteer massage therapists. Little by little, massage started showing up in salons. I honestly believe this was the beginning of the day spa culture. Companies such as Aveda jumped on the concept, and the rest is history.

As we exhibited in hair and beauty shows, we realized that most salons were trying to give a massage on the narrow, unstable European facial beds. In 1992, this led to the development of the first multi-purpose, four-panel table. This combination massage/facial table was well-received by end-users and the competition. The table took off. Today, American-made, four-panel, multiuse tables are the industry standard, offered by most of the U.S. table manufacturers.

The next major product to bridge the spa gap was the wet table, led by Touch America in about 1992. In 1994, we created a plastic-molded wet table, primarily for body wraps in a dry room. The wet table was not even intended for Vichy shower use; however, one of our favorite competitors started marketing it with a Vichy shower. That expanded the market even further. The word "spa"equates with the word "water"; the presence of a wet table in a salon only tightened the gap between the spa and the salon. The first year, we only sold two (not very good, considering our large investment in design and tooling). This is where I learned that competition can be a good thing. We now have several competitors for wet tables, but we sell about 100 times what we sold that 1st year. The competition helped create demand through marketing avenues, such as trade shows, trainings and advertising. Product companies that provide muds, algaes, salts, lotions and brushes were born, or greatly endowed. The wet table is now a standard item in the day spa.

Manufacturers and their distributors make the trade shows possible, and also spend the advertising dollars for trade magazines. When Dayspa Magazine came out Jan '96, a new plateau was reached. The more creative the competition became, the more the industry grew. Back then, massage was just massage; today, the all-encompassing concept of "spa" embraces massage; hydrotherapy and other wet treatments; aromatherapy; acupuncture; fitness; diet; meditation; and yoga. Destination spas such as Canyon Ranch have pioneered the way in body, mind and spirit technology. Many have followed in their footsteps (again, more competition). The International Spa Association (ISPA) has grown to become a premium networking organization in a very short time. Trade magazines; tradeshows; spa consultants; spa owners and operators; architects; and product designers have all been instrumental in promoting the success of spas. Their involvement also creates a demand for more products, which leads to additional industry growth.

The hotel industry also has been affected by the growth in the spa industry. Large hotel chains are undertaking major renovations to update their spas, to meet the needs of their customers. These additions include Vichy showers; lockers; expensive hydrotherapy tubs; and steam, sauna, and multipurpose rooms for massage and facials. Many hotels are adding spas for the first time, which again ups the industry ante: every hotel must keep up with the competition. When a destination resort or fine hotel such as Hilton does a complete remodel and adds a 30,000 square-foot spa, the Marriott across the street will have to do the same (or even better) to keep up. We are seeing more and more business for our spa equipment from large hotels. By the way, this is great for the whole economy - from design and construction, to equipment, products, and jobs for spa professionals.

Essentially, the progression is as simple as this: new products = more advertising; more tradeshow booths; more competition; more education; more construction; more consumable products; more schools; and more therapists = a better economy.

This leads me to my next series of 10 articles, entitled "Where's the Water?" Water, in all its therapeutic forms, may be the most important element of the spa industry today - yet many facilities that call themselves "spas" do not offer any water treatments. How important is water to the spa industry? Tune in next month to find out!

We're all looking forward to the big splash!

Only Victory,

John Fanuzzi


Click here for previous articles by John Fanuzzi.

 

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