Retail Management for Spas | Chapter 1 | The Art and Science of Retail

During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries numerous European spas flourished and were supported with full medical staffs and professional personnel. Typically spa visitors were sent to a resort spa by their home doctors in order to “take the waters” and “make a cure.” Guests would wake up in the early morning and go to the spa fountains and natural springs where they would fill their special measured drinking glasses with the natural mineral waters and drink several servings of the specifically prescribed waters. The natural waters contained special minerals, gases, and ingredients that would help activate the body to eliminate toxins while stimulating and strengthening the digestive and metabolic systems. In order to further facilitate the internal actions of the waters, spa guests would go on long walks through beautiful grounds, gardens, and forests, alone or with friends. After their walks, guests would likely enjoy additional spa treatments including various types of baths and massages.

In places like Montecatini, spa guests would have brought along with them their favorite novels and poetry, which they would read while sitting at a café table in a beautiful garden plaza, and listen to chamber music for several hours during the afternoon. In places like Karlsbad, Marianbad, Bad Ragaz, Baden Baden, or Vichy, “taking-the-waters” and their effects played a central role and function in all of the spa’s services and treatments.

After two to three weeks of this type of regular, relaxed, and rhythmic experiences, guests were fully rested and relieved of their stresses, both physical and mental. There was and still is a long-established understanding that, as Professor

J. Paul De Vierville of the Alamo Plaza Spa at the Menger Hotel & the Hot Wells Institute states: “it takes time to flush the body and mind of stressors and correct the healthful rhythms of sleeping, dreaming, and wakefulness.”

Compare this to today’s typical spa experience in the United States. While there are those core spa-goers who will devote a week each year to visit a destination spa, they represent a small percentage of American spa-goers. Today’s spa-goers are trying to cram the restorative effects of the historic, time-honored, and long-established two or three-week spa stay into a couple of days at a resort/hotel spa or an hour break from the daily hustle at a day spa. There is even a day spa that advertises its treatments as the “best one-hour vacation.”

Today’s spa may have an opportunity to see a guest for only a couple of days or just an hour or two. And, spa guests still desire the same benefits of a week-long (or two or three) stay, but trying to compress the time it takes to really reduce life’s stress into a stunted experience may, in fact, create more stress.

“We need the true time, timing, and rhythms of nature—not the ticking time of technology and machines,” de Vierville states. “It is certain that time will be increasing faster and faster in the years ahead until we transition into a new dimension of understanding of how to live in and with time. This is really the deeper meaning and higher purpose of spa culture, transitioning and transforming lives into harmony, balance, and wholeness with, of course, some fashion and passion.”

It is for this reason that retail becomes an essential part of the spa experience. If a spa can see a person for only a short time, it is incumbent upon the industry to send them home with the tools to create a spa lifestyle, whether it is a relaxing bath, a cozy sweatshirt, a good book to curl up with, some peaceful music to relax to, or an aromatherapy candle or oil that creates that sense of calm. The spa’s retail offerings help create the spa experience at home to expand the brief visit into an opportunity to live a more peaceful and healthy lifestyle.

In today’s high-speed society, spas have emerged as the new places of tranquility. Day spas have become a refuge from the hectic pace of the world as people steal time from their packed schedules to have a massage, a facial, or simply get their nails done. Resort/hotel spas have become the new retreat centers. Immersing themselves in classes about meditation and exercise and nutrition, people visit for a few days and leave recharged and refreshed back into their day-to-day life with a new-found relaxation and peace.

The sale of spa products—skin care products, massage oils, robes, hair care products, relaxation CDs, candles, and a vast array of others—is also emerging  as the extension of service to spa guests. Savvy spa managers are educating their therapists and technicians on the importance of their retail offerings as part of the whole package and as a means for teaching the spa lifestyle for home care.

This extended service is important as never before. Life has changed. Everything has become faster. Spas see it in the people who come through their doors. Professional people, stay-at-home parents, teens, affluent or struggling—everyone has stress. Even those who are the care providers for others walk around with ever-increasing amounts of stress.

Technology promised us that with the advent of cell phones, laptop computers, and wireless communication devices or personal digital assistant devices, individuals would have more free time. The thought was that people would be able to squeeze more work into less time. But instead, time has been stolen away. Now it is the norm for people to have to check messages on three phones: work, cell, and home. E-mails bombard people at ever-increasing rates. In the time that it takes to get a massage, a person might receive 15 to 20 e-mails. People are being bombarded by information not only at work, but in cars, while shopping, and at home—even on their day off. People are finding it more difficult to keep up with the demands that the world is placing on them. More people are finding that what used to be simple is now hard. Finding the balance between home, relationships, children, work, and taking care of themselves is now an almost impossible feat.

And then people wonder why they are more stressed out, why their lives have become so complicated, why they are in such need for relaxation. Is there really any wonder? And is there any wonder that two common reasons for at home spa care is the need for immediate relaxation and to avoid other people for some quality alone time?

Just as people were not born knowing how to use a computer, the ability to care for themselves is not an inherent skill. As babies, their parents took care of their most fundamental needs. As they grew, parents taught their children the basics of self-care routines (brushing teeth, combing hair, and washing behind one’s ears) but, the basic skills of relaxation and advanced self-care were probably not included in most people’s in-home curriculums. That is where the spa environment can be a powerful resource for improving the lives of its clients. Spas have within their collective assemblage of staffers a broad range of expertise with which they can educate their clients. As they share this information, to help their customers combat both the inner and outward signs of stress, they will naturally be in a position to suggest what tools would be most effective in achieving the customers’ desired personal goals. Spas aren’t just giving a hungry man a fish. They are giving the man the fish (treatment), teaching him how to fish (education) and then selling him the fishing (retail) to fish with!

Spa professionals are not immune to stressed, over-programmed lives. However, they are expected to portray the graceful swan swimming on the perfectly still water. On the surface, it is a beautiful, poetic motion as the swan appears to glide across the water. Underneath, to keep that appearance, feet are moving quickly, sometimes frantically and at a pace that makes it difficult to find and maintain the balance found on the surface.

Spa retailing, with no formal education, training, or background, can trigger frantic, unbalanced paddling to stay afloat. This course is designed to provide retail education and tools that will help spa professionals find an easier way to paddle through the water.

The text explores the art and science of retail and provides essential retail management information by teaching retail strategies and systems. It also uses a variety of case studies, examples, and stories, which help illustrate the concepts and lessons being presented.

Understanding and implementing the planning, systems, and tools presented in this course will help make the life of the spa professional easier and the business run smoother, while also maximizing revenue and the contribution of the retail department.

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