Let's Get Virtual
An Inside Look at Successful Virtual Spa Events
by Josh Corman
WHEN THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC forced many spas to temporarily close their doors in 2020, it quickly became clear that technology would be key in keeping staff and guests connected and up to date about everything from reopening dates to heightened sanitation protocols to curbside retail options. Email, social media, video chat software and other online platforms allowed spas to touch guests virtually, even if they couldn’t invite them into the spa for an in-person treatment.
Not all virtual experiences are created equal, however. Attending a well-run, user-friendly online event can make interacting virtually a pleasant (and in some cases, even preferable) experience. On the other hand, enduring a clunky or needlessly complicated virtual event can sour users on the experience altogether. During the pandemic, many spas have sought to provide as much of the former as possible, hosting events as diverse as ﬁtness and yoga classes, spa parties and facial workshops usingthe magic of technology. As with so much that has happened during the pandemic, spa leaders have learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t and what virtual events in the spa world may look like going forward.
The Pandemic Was the Mother of Invention
When it became clear in 2020 that COVID-19 was much more than a pass-ing concern, many spa leaders began using virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom to stay connected to their teams and share updates about what was (or, usually, wasn’t) happening with their spas. For Betsy Abrams, owner of Five Wellbeing Studio + Spa in Littleton, Colorado, the greater po-tential of those platforms quickly be-came apparent. “Once we got shut down back in March, I started doing virtual meetings with my employees. There was a lot of fear and concern about what was going to happen to us, and I wanted to make sure that they were okay. Next thing you know, I’ve got girlfriends saying, ‘Hey, let’s get to-gether and do a happy hour on Zoom.’ One day, I thought, ‘We could do this with facials!’”
In consultation with her lead esthe-tician, Abrams assembled a step-by-step facial protocol using seven Eminence Skin Care products and began advertising their ﬁrst virtual fa-cial events to existing customers via email. Initially, the results were mixed. “We started booking events where we set the date and said, ‘Join us on this day,’ and that didn’t work so well be-cause we had people that didn’t know each other, and it wasn’t as fun and connected.” From there, Abrams and her team went big, updating their web-site and investing in digital ads pro-moting facial and aromatherapy events for groups—birthday parties, bridal showers and the like—that shared an existing connection. What started as a project focused on local guests soon became a nationwide en-deavor, as corporate groups from all over began reaching out to Abrams’s spa, looking for a fun, relaxing activity for their teams to enjoy together.
Meanwhile, a time zone away at the Women’s Athletic Club of Chicago, Spa Director Rendy Nelson was work-ing with her team to ﬁnd ways to stay connected to a smaller audience: her club’s roughly 1,200 members. After she learned that the club’s programs director had facilitated virtual ﬁtness and personal training classes, the solu-tion became obvious. Using spaces left empty by the spa’s closure, she set up rooms from which her nail technicians and estheticians could lead virtual manicure, pedicure and facial tutorials to both groups and individuals looking to continue their spa routines at home during quarantine. She took advantage of the club’s already-established curb-side pickup system to get product kits into the hands of members ahead of their sessions. “It was nice for people just to see someone, because people felt very isolated at that time," Nelson says. "Members just loved what we were doing, and those kits continued to be something that people wanted. If a member wanted to do their own small spa party, we customized it and ar-ranged for delivery or curbside pickup.”
When the club reopened last June, Nelson thought that the demand for these kinds of virtual events would subside. “What I realized was there was still a big population of members who weren’t comfortable coming back into the club, so I started a “Wellness Wednesday” program,” she says. These half-hour virtual sessions in-clude a segment dedicated to sound meditation—which Nelson has found to be very popular amidst the stresses of the pandemic—as well as facial and mindfulness tutorials. Nelson has even added a gratitude-focused weekly meditation session to the lineup, and she has been thrilled at the ways these events have allowed members to stay connected to the club. “We’re going to continue to do these virtual programs, because we have members that have homes outside of Chicago, and they’ve really been enjoying them," she says.
When hosting traditional in-person spa events and education opportuni-ties became more difficult during the pandemic, some spa leaders con-nected with resource partners to de-liver a new kind of experience for guests eager to keep up their spa and wellness routines at home.
Livia Reddington, director of spa at Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina, organized a hands-on skin care master class featuring a re-source partner’s lead global educator. Guests gathered in a banquet space large enough to allow them to remain physically distant as the educator led the entire group via Zoom. “The event was broadcast on a large movie screen, equipped with speakers and professional video camera to view the room. Each table had its own micro-phone to allow the class to be inter-active,” says Reddington. Tables were limited to pairs of guests (if they reg-istered together) and individuals (for solo registrants), Reddington notes, and the spa’s service providers were on hand to assist. “Products were per-sonally dispensed to each guest by an esthetician—wearing PPE—for each step of the facial, and each station had its own mirror, headband, hot water bowl, hand towel, disposable sponges, four-by-fours, disposable product scoops and regimen cards.”
The events were kept small—there was a ten-person maximum for each session—and the intimate environ-ment allowed the education guests re-ceived to have a more personal feel. The spa’s estheticians even stuck around following the virtual portion of the event for an additional Q&A on the tips and techniques they had learned.
That personalized approach was key to the success of a similar series of events hosted by St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. Dawn MacLellan, director of spa and salon, organized two virtual facial events, each focused on a different home skin care routine, led by FarmHouse Fresh educator Beck Beall. Each participant received a kit comprised of three products speciﬁc to that event’s focus, as well as a gift bag tailored to each ses-sion. “The interactive part with the educator was excellent,” says MacLel-lan. “She was fantastic and has con-tagious enthusiasm, which is a huge bonus on a Zoom event. Members were able to experience the product in the privacy of their own home with personalized instruction. They learned ingredient information in a fun way, and the event even motivated my salon team to want to learn more and do a staff spa party.”
Virtual Events, Real-Life Learning Opportunity
The descriptions of these events may make it seem like hosting a successful virtual event is a simple, seamless pro-cess for all involved, but accounting for logistical and operational chal-lenges ahead of time is key to deliver-ing virtual events that won’t have guests reaching for the Escape key.
Perhaps the most signiﬁcant of those challenges concerns the technol-ogy itself. According to Rendy Nelson, clear communication and education about the technology involved and the steps guests would need to take to participate was crucial to the success of her spa’s events. “It has involved constant education and tutorials,” says Nelson. “Previous to doing these virtual programs, we had a different system where members could register for in-person programs through our website. Now, it’s a two-part thing—they still have to register for the actual Zoom event. A lot of members were not ﬁnishing that second step.” The so-lution? A video tutorial created by the club’s programs director and shared with members who had signed up for the virtual events. Though it may seem like, a year into the pandemic, everyone has mastered the basics of online platforms, it’s important to not make any assumptions and be patient in walking your guests through the process.
Once any technical kinks are ironed out, it’s crucial that the person or people leading the event itself are comfortable presenting to groups in a virtual environment. After all, the quiet intimacy of an in-spa facial is very different than the more communal “spa party” atmosphere of many online events. When Five Wellbeing Studio + Spa launched their virtual facial events, Betsy Abrams noticed that some of her estheticians relished the change of pace. “A couple of them are so into it! They get a chance to really talk to people on a virtual facial. There’s a real energy—they just love it.” Of course, if your team is camera shy, connecting with resource partners can be a great way to bring expert education to your guests. Livia Reddington notes that the vendor Montage Palmetto Bluff worked with to lead their virtual facial events not only provided excellent education, but they also collaborated on details rang-ing from the events’ theme to table décor. “Deﬁnitely lean into your pro-duct partners for support,” she says.
Spa leaders should also give themselves plenty of leeway when it comes to organizing and shipping any mate-rials guests will require for participation in virtual events. With postal de-lays common during the pandemic, Betsy Abrams learned early on that ef-ﬁciently managing events involving guests from all over the country re-quired plenty of lead time. “We need 10 days, minimum,” she says. “Not 10 days to sign up, but 10 days to ship. You can’t be doing things last minute. The worst thing is having an event scheduled, and one person doesn’t get their kit.”
Start with “Why?” and Go from There
Beyond simply keeping guests con-nected to the spa and lifting them up during the pandemic, virtual events can also serve spas’ interests in other ways. “I would deﬁnitely plan these events with an end goal in mind,” says Dawn MacLellan. “Is it to generate revenue? Spark interest in a particular department? Educate guests on treatments or a speciﬁc ingredient?” Whatever the goals, MacLellan adds, “Be sure to create value.”
One thing virtual events probably should not be, however, are sales pitches, notes MacLellan. “Do not make it about sales,” she says. Rendy Nelson agrees, pointing out that by focusing on educating guests about the products they are using as part of an event, spas are likely to see product purchases happen anyway, without requiring the hard sell. “What I like to do is build a rapport with my members and let them know that everything that we use during an event, I’ve personally curated. There’s a reason or a story behind it. I get to share that with them and share my passion, share what’s special about [the products] without feeling salesy," she says.
Betsy Abrams has taken a similar approach, focusing her spa’s virtual events on the guests and what they might be using the event to celebrate. “We’ll engage with the groups about what they’re celebrating that day. We really engage with the people, and I think that’s important. Really, it’s a way to connect and have fun. We don’t want to take over and do a huge sales job,” she says. Instead, she advises using high-quality products that participants will naturally want to use beyond the hour or so they spend attending an event. Dawn MacLellan has seen strong results from her spa’s personalized, education-driven approach. “Each attendee pur-chased a full-sized product following the event," she says. "One even purchased 12 masks as gifts!”
The success these spa leaders have seen as a result of their virtual offerings during the pandemic has led them to look ahead to the ways they might con-tinue to utilize online platforms to ex-tend the spa and wellness experience into the lives of their guests beyond the four walls of their spas. “You know, we’ve created an experience for people that they know is going to bring them and their friends together, says Betsy Abrams. “So I have no doubt it’s going to continue.”