THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF RENOVATION:
Insights from a Top-to-Bottom Spa Makeover
by Jamison Stoike

Treatment trends change, new products are released and new equipment is brought to market—spa is never static. With consumer demand constantly evolving, it’s no surprise that your spa will have to physically evolve over the course of its years in business. Your business may expand to meet increasing demand, create new areas that feature the latest trends or build new treatment rooms that open doors for innovative treatments.

To get to the nitty-gritty of renovation—the how, the why, the why nots—Pulse spoke with key stakeholders in the recent renovation of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, a luxury
ranch destination that unveiled last year an all-new Wellness Center. The story of the renovation from start to finish offers insights into the dos and don’ts of spa renovations, from choosing the right partners to deciding what facilities to build.

DO: Anticipate Future Demand

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, located in the rugged mountains south of Bozeman, Montana, has long catered to those seeking a “western-style vacation,” says Recreation Specialist Cam Middleton. The dude ranch offers a variety of outdoor attractions and programs, including renowned fly-fishing, hiking and horseback riding, that attract families in the ranch’s summer season and couples in the shoulder season. Approximately 15 years ago, it began offering massage—both to entice new customers and to supplement existing services. “You get pretty sore after a two-hour horseback ride,” quips Middleton. “It’s a very active vacation.”

As wellness blossomed into an essential aspect of mainstream culture— and as the ranch’s owner, Arthur Blank, underwent his own wellness journey—Mountain Sky added more programming and services to accommodate this—a hot tub, daily yoga and more. However, massage squarely remained the focus, despite customers reporting that yoga was becoming “integral to their stay,” notes Katie Runge, the ranch’s wellness director. The facility remained relatively spartan—three treatment rooms, with minimal space to relax and rejuvenate for a true ‘spa day.’

This disconnect—between what customers were asking for and what facilities the spa had—drove the decision to renovate the spa to better meet future demand. In addition to meeting the requests of current customers, Mountain Sky hoped to anticipate the growth of trends when designing their new space by building more flexible, versatile areas. This is a good rule of thumb for any renovation: do the research necessary to better understand future demand. Survey your current customers. Utilize any research available tracking industry trends on treatments, facilities and products. Once you have a handle on what the future of spa may look like— and what future your customers would like to see—redesign your spa to make it a reality.

DO: Choose a Partner You Trust

The most essential question of any renovation, though, isn’t “what do I build?” It’s “who do I build with?”

“Make sure you pick a partner that you can work with, and have a relationship with, for what could be six months, a year or two years,” says Joe Roodell, principal of Miller Roodell Architects. Mountain Sky Guest Ranch chose the Bozeman-based architecture firm to head up the project after having worked with them previously on other projects. For interior design and construction, Mountain Sky turned to Peace Designs and On Site Management, respectively, with both of whom they’d had positive experiences on prior projects.

“They’re very familiar with our story and our values,” Middleton notes, “and we didn’t want to put our guests in a facility that didn’t fit into the Ranch as a whole.”

DO: Work Together from the Start

With a team assembled, Mountain Sky began to work on the project together, collaborating on every aspect of the design rather than dividing up the work and remaining ‘siloed.’ “In the early stages we like to have the entire team put together,” comments Roodell, “and use the initial stages a fact-finding mission.” It’s at this point that key decisions were made regarding the scope and nature of the renovation.

The goal of the renovation was the elevate the overall spa-going experience at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, but a few areas and additions were key. First was the creation of a dedicated indoor-outdoor yoga studio that can be “opened up to enjoy yoga outdoors,” says Middleton. This addition has allowed Mountain Sky Guest Ranch to expand its yoga program, which was a key motivator for the renovation. Second, the renovation saw the installation of an outdoor hot tub—one of the largest in Montana— and an indoor grotto that permitted an increased variety of hydrotherapy treatments. Since unveiling the new indoor water areas, Mountain Sky has launched a signature water massage treatment that has become one of the spa’s best-sellers.

Lastly, after the combined team studied the desires of the ranch’s guests, Roodell designed an expansive serenity room overlooking the valley floor below. Previously, the spa had no real area in which customers could relax and luxuriate in the spa experience; now, Runge says that it is a “common occurrence for a guest to ask if I can wake them up in 45 minutes” while lounging in the space. Mountain Sky guests—the facility is open to all guests, not just spagoers— also use the space for reading, relaxing and quiet socialization.

In addition to the all-new facilities, the project renovated the spa’s existing spaces, adding two new treatment rooms, more bathrooms and shower facilities—modifications that are less spectacular than a water grotto, of course, but which serve as an important reminder not to lose the forest for the trees when dreaming big during a spa redesign.

DO: Be Structured, Yet Flexible

“There are always hurdles, it really doesn’t matter what the project is,” Roodell says. Flexibility is critical to a successful spa renovation, yet so is planning for contingencies and building out a rigorous timeline. In fact, planning for possible modifications is precisely what enables future flexibility, according to Roodell: “A big part of our process is to take the time that’s needed to be thoughtful and answer some of those unknown questions prior to opening the walls.” The physical constraints—as well as some quirky easements on the land—did factor into decisions around what could or could not be expanded, explains Runge, but it only affected the degree of what was included, not whether it was included at all. Accounting for these constraints upfront meant that no key additions—the yoga studio, the grotto, the serenity room—were threatened by discoveries made after construction began, when the figurative clock was ticking.

As a result of doing the legwork upfront, Roodell’s team and On Site Management encountered very few setbacks during construction; accordingly, the spa’s final form deviated very little from the final design itself. When partnering with an architect for your own renovation, be sure to find one that takes the time to be thorough during the planning phase.

The most impressive part, though, is that Roodell’s team took this time despite strict time constraints on the project. Mountain Sky Guest Ranch is only open from May through October, and missing a full season’s worth of revenue due to renovation delays was a non-starter. The construction project had to be completed between November and March, then, despite Montana’s notoriously cold winters which make it difficult to build. “Everyone had to be on their game,” Runge notes, “and they had to have a great working relationship with the ranch.”

DO: Maximize the Potential of New Spaces

The renovation was completed ontime, and the new facilities have afforded Mountain Sky Guest Ranch new opportunities to enhance the guest experience. “It’s allowing us to connect with a broader scope of people,” says Middleton, by enabling spa staff to assemble customized spa packages for Ranch guests less interested in fishing, riding and shooting. The spa’s yoga program has expanded greatly, offering more sessions than before and being more personalized to each group of guests.

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch has also decided to maximize their new space by hosting its first-ever “Wellness Week” this fall, featuring a full week of special spa programming, seminars and services. This all-inclusive experience simply would not have been possible prior to the renovations.

Once your renovation is complete, maximize its potential with ideas like Mountain Sky’s—expand your programming. Market the renovation on social media or through digital advertising. Keep in touch with your email database, ensuring that your most frequent customers are aware of and excited by the changes. And develop signature events and services that utilize your new facility’s full capabilities.

Preparation Matters Most

In the end, the stakeholders in the renovation of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch’s spa signaled that the actual renovation—that is, the construction and refurbishment itself—was the least critical part of a successful renovation project. By the time that the walls are opened up, both you and your project partners should have a thorough and complete understanding of the plan, the potential challenges and what your spa’s priorities are. Doing this work up front—especially when it’s done with an architect, contractor, builder or interior designer you trust—is the single biggest contributor to a successful renovation of any spa.


…AND A FEW DON’TS

This story features many of the “do’s” of renovation. Here are some of the don’ts:

DON’T RUSH THROUGH PLANNING.

The secret to a successful (and costeffective) renovation is to do the legwork on the front-end. Any problems that you gloss over while planning will rear their head once construction begins.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHOOSE A RESIDENTIAL FIRM.

You might think that because your spa is a commercial business, you need a commercial architect. But Roodell notes that a spa is “more similar than different” to a residential project. Both should feel personal, warm and home-like.

DON’T OVER-EXPAND.

The last thing you want is to build new treatment rooms that are never used— especially given the uncertain marketplace we’ll experience in a post-COVID-19 world. Do research and build what is necessary to grow your spa—no more, no less.