What You Should Know Before Entering the Spa Market

By Stephanie Beck
May 29, 2009

What You Should Know Before Entering the Spa Market

By Stephanie Beck
May 29, 2009

In my seven years in the spa market, some of you might remember meeting me over the phone, in person at a tradeshow, or attending one of my classes. Others of you are asking, "Who is this person?" I might not have had the pleasure of meeting or speaking personally with you yet, but I look forward to the opportunity.

Whether you are looking to open a new day spa or be a spa director, I would like to share what I hope you will consider valuable information from myself and from some top industry professionals. We will start with the basics, and expand to include the benefits of offering spa treatments, how to retail, how to select the right spa products, selecting the right vendor, how to create menus the list goes on and on. I hope you enjoy this series and consider it helpful to your endeavors.

OK, so you want to open a day spa. What type of day spa do you want to open? What kinds of treatments do you want to offer? How do you decide which treatments work best for your environment? For some of you, these questions can be answered easily; for those still contemplating the answers, let's look at a plan.

Most of the day spas create a theme for the spa. Design a theme or layout that inspires you. Perhaps you have a deep desire to help others achieve the perfect body. There are a variety of themes, like "Spiritual," "Health and Wellness," "Cultural," or one conducive to your environment. The important thing to remember is that this spa is a part of you your aspirations and your dreams so it needs to be something you feel passionate about.

What do I mean by "conducive to my environment?" For example, if you are planning on opening a day spa in Lemon Grove, Calif., you might want to play off the citrus theme and have several treatments designed with lemon or other citrus essential oils and extracts. You might decide to serve freshly squeezed juices before each treatment, and keep your colors very bright and cheerful.

However, just living in a particular area doesn't mean you have to adhere to that environment. If you have a desire for sports massage and deep tissue work, you might want to open a day spa next to a sports complex or fitness center. You might want to have nutritional supplements and sports drinks in your retail area, and keep your reception areas very contemporary and your colors simple; lots of white, with accents of bright, bold colors. Perhaps your uniforms are more casual; for example, you could use polo shirts with logos instead of lab coats.

I have talked quite a bit about the environment, colors, uniforms and some of the menu. But there is a lot of work involved in creating themes. What if you aren't in a position to open your own spa? You might have other possibilities, like being hired as a spa manager for a new and upcoming spa with a particular theme. This was the case for Lynn Bisoce, the business manager for Spa Balinesia, one of the hottest new day-spa chains in the Los Angeles area. Lynn's background was sports massage and sports therapy before being hired in her new position last year. I was able to interview Lynn and ask her for her advice to other massage therapist that want to break into the day spa market.

"In my opinion, every massage therapist new to the spa environment should know the vision and intention of all services offered," Lynn said. "Study the menu of services and research products utilized. Take courses in aromatherapy and hydrotherapy. Learn as much as possible, not only for yourself, but for the guest who deserves the utmost quality in care."

"My advice to massage therapists, in general, would be to obtain your national certification for massage and bodywork and become a member of a professional organization such as the American Massage Therapy Association. Continue your education in, for example, aromatherapy, Reiki, body treatments, nutrition, and herbology. You will become highly marketable and in high demand," Lynn added.

Don't be discouraged if you find yourself having to make adjustments to your menu, design or theme as you progress with the design concept. According to Lynn, "We made a number of changes as we progressed. The main changes began with our menu."

Once you have selected a theme and created a rough draft of your menu, one of the most important things you can think about is equipment. Generally, equipment has the longest lead time when ordering. It also can be one of the more expensive investments for your day spa, and like the professionals you select, it can make a lasting impression on your clientele base. So, what kind of equipment are you looking for?

It can be overwhelming to the mind and pocketbook to start looking at equipment. In general, it helps if you are prepared when you start looking. Know what type of budget you have to work with, and think long-term when considering equipment. What is going to produce the quickest return on your investment? For example, you can put portable massage tables in your new five-room day spa. They will be less expensive now, but are they able to produce the most return? You might decide, based on your selection of services, that you need multifunction tables that can be adjusted to meet the needs and services of your clients quickly and easily. The more often you are able to use the equipment, the quicker it's going to pay for itself!

Another good thing to keep in mind is that you generally will get a better deal if you can purchase all of your products, including crèmes, lotions, muds, equipment, stools, bolsters, uniforms, disposables, herbs, skin care items, etc., from the same "one-stop shopping" source. You undoubtedly will be laden with countless decisions, and the last thing you need to concern yourself with is calling five to 10 different distributors to check to make sure the lotions are shipping.

All of these items can be handled by a professional spa distributor. You will be busy with personnel hiring, training, spa menu development, marketing, insurance, business licensees, and all the rest of the daily duties to make this day spa run efficiently and effectively. So, make things easier on yourself, and get as much as you can from one place. Make sure they have staff that are easy to reach, reliable, knowledgeable and friendly. Trust me; it's much better to make one phone call and get all of the answers than flipping through your Rolodex or invoices to find who you purchased what from! In the long run, you will make life easier for yourself or your product manager, and you will get the best pricing and service by developing a lasting relationship with your professional spa distributor.

I have seen a few day spa owners try to cut corners by purchasing large buckets of a product and re-bottling it into smaller containers to sell in their retail area. While this might seem like a harmless and less expensive way than purchasing the retail sizes to sell, you must be aware of the potential risk. Product liability can be very costly. All manufactures provide product liability that extends through their distributors as long as the product has not been tampered with, adulterated or misused in any way. If you purchase a gallon of lotion, fill several small containers with the lotion and re-sell it to your clients, you have broken the responsibility to the manufacturer. They are no longer responsible for the product because they were not the ones that sold your client the product. Since they did not fill the bottle, they are released from any responsibility. Please keep in mind: The manufacturers are in the business of making product in sterile, clean environments and should have met all the FDA regulations to be qualified to sell the products. The other question to ask yourself is, do you or your staff want to spend time servicing the clients or filling small containers for retail?

Working for a manufacturer for more than six years and now for a distributor, I have learned we all have a role and a purpose. Manufacturers are great at making products, packaging products, and providing them to the appropriate channels to get the products to the end user. Distributors are the best at maintaining a large variety of products and delivering them with friendly, reliable and timely service to the end users. They are an extension of the manufactures, and are able to meet your needs on multiple levels that a manufacturer is unable to. You, as a day spa owner or spa manager, are the best at meeting the needs of the customer and using the proper goods and services to enhance a customer's well-being. As always, it's best to check with your local or state licensing and regulatory offices to find out what licenses are required for each service your practitioners offer, and to adhere to those regulations.

Next month, we will discuss the benefits of offering spa treatments. If you have questions or comments pertaining to any of the items mentioned in this article, please contact me at sbeck@scrip-inc.com.