Day Spa Operator The Buzz


Millions of people are taking advantage of day spas -- places to go for mud wraps, massages, facials, yoga and tofu -- which spells opportunity for self-employed day spa operators.

Nothing Roman About It

While today's definition of a spa has moved away from the original meaning of the word "spa" -- a resort near a mineral spring -- it is water that historically separates a true day spa from a full-service salon. While a salon offers manicures, pedicures, facials, massage, haircuts, colors and styling, a day spa often provides water treatments, body scrubs, hydrotherapy tubs, Vichy showers, Scotch hoses, and skin and nail care.

The day spa concept emphasizes wellness over appearance. The focus is on stress reduction, relaxation and energizing treatments that leave clients looking and feeling good. Yoga, tai chi and meditation may be included in the offerings.

"True day spas offer head-to-toe, well-rounded services for pampering, relaxing and stress reduction. They usually include full- or half-day packages as well as a la carte treatments," says Stephanie Mtolyak of Spa-Finders, a top spa-booking agency.

The Boom Spas

The number of spas nationwide has mushroomed recently. The largest growth has been in day spas, whose customers come from the surrounding area, as opposed to so-called destination spas in exotic places.

Experts say that the greatest growth is in smaller cities and towns rather than the largest cities. Companies give spa gift certificates to employees as incentives, and more men have become spa-goers, according to research by Spa-Finders.

"This phenomenon of day spas is brought on and supported by baby boomers," says Woody Yowler, who travels the Northeast helping to build or renovate about one spa a month. "It's people starting to take charge of their own health."

Day spas are attracting men and women in search of stress relief and spiritual renewal, according to the International Spa and Fitness Association (ISPA). "Growth statistics show that the message spas have been sending for the past 50 years is finally beginning to be heard in the mainstream," says Aimee Hiller of the ISPA.

"[A decade ago] the main reasons people went to spas were for weight management, beauty and pampering treatments," says Hiller.

An Insider's Perspective

Of course, those working in the field were the first to note the growing demand. One of them is Ann Sorenson, who started two day spas.

Wealthy women are the traditional customers for day spas, she says. And the sudden growth is thanks to aging baby boomers who have the money to enjoy the finer things in life, and an interest in personal health and appearance. Yet these two groups of people are not the future of the industry, she says.

Who is? It's the younger people for whom day spas "are not an extra -- they're a way of life," she says.

It's for this reason -- customer demographics -- that she situated her second spa where it is. The Uptown Spa is in an upscale neighbourhood, near both a well-to-do residential neighborhood and a large business area where a large number of younger women work. The location means the spa -- with its many services -- is available to a large number of potential customers.

But there's more to a successful day spa than location. What is Sorenson's secret? Lots of business expertise and a clear understanding of what is required to run a successful enterprise.

"Put it this way. I have 35 staff, hairdressers, registered massage therapists, estheticians,...but I couldn't do a manicure if my life depended on it!"

Sorenson has a business degree -- but she got that many years ago. "I got out of school thinking I knew everything, but I knew nothing," she says. "When you get out of school, you have the basics -- you are at the very beginning."

It took her years of experience in a variety of businesses before she started her own day spa in 1981. Then she started the Uptown Spa. As an entrepreneur, she cautions young people strongly against starting their own businesses right out of school. She makes presentations in area schools, telling them that they need a lot of experience if they want to make their own business a success.

Working 18 hours a day is not uncommon for entrepreneurs. "There can be no limit to the time you put in if you want to be a success. You're always the last one paid -- there's a lot of sacrifice."

The good news is that if you are a success, then you'll do well financially, says Sorenson.

Other Advice

If you are interested in this field, get some experience with an established day spa in your community. During your tenure, examine both the customer service and the business aspects of the company. Learn the pampering business inside and out. Keep abreast of industry trends, new products and new technology.

Hundreds of beauty salons have cleared out space for a massage table and facial chair and started to call themselves day spas. But a true day spa offers something more -- namely a little sanctuary. The whole point of a spa is to provide a respite from life in the fast lane. Providing the right atmosphere is essential for a successful spa.

The day spa experience is enjoyed worldwide with increasing popularity. If you want to start your own business, take some time to study spas in your area. What are they charging? What are the popular products and processes? How is the interior of the spa set up?

Do your research before you go out and invest in equipment and resources. Once you're up and running, you'll have a new reputation as a "stress-reducer" in a world full of stress.

Links

About.com Spas
Keep up-to-date with all the news about spas

Spa-Finders
A reservation agency that provides spa info like "what to bring" and spa recipes