Retail Management for Spas | Chapter 7.1 | Basics of Store Planning & Floor Layout

Once spa professionals have studied how to plan buying the spa’s retail products and learned how to hire and train a sales staff, they can spend some time working on the design of the spa’s retail space. Those who are opening or building a new spa will work with an architect or interior designer to ensure the correct retail space is part of the initial design process. If the spa is already in business and is adding or expanding retail space, spa professionals must carve out some dedicated space within the existing floor plan.

Most retail operations are a part of the spa, many times as an area surrounding the reception desk or waiting area. In some larger resort properties, the retail boutique may be a totally separate space. There is no right or wrong; the key issue is that the retail area is its own entity, not an extension or afterthought of the reception area. It must have its own purpose, which is to suggest to the spa’s customers products that will extend the benefits of a treatment and remind them of their rejuvenating experience at the spa or resort. The retail area must be in a spotlighted area, which will attract customers and be in harmony with the spa’s philosophy and theme. And last but not least, the retail space must be staffed by employees who are trained on the benefits and features of each product line.


a. Looking at the Big Picture

Before beginning the design and floor layout of a spa boutique, spa professionals need to look at the bigger picture. They can start by looking at some of their competitors’ boutiques within spas, resorts, and possibly even some local retail boutiques that are not part of a spa. This should offer a general understanding of how a retail space can look. Points to look for and make note of during a walk-through include areas that draw the customer in and easy-to-maneuver floor plans rather than crowded or claustrophobic spaces. It is a good idea to look at retail areas that are similar in size to the planned boutique. This will help the spa professional envision how much fixturing and merchandise can comfortably fit into the planned or current retail space. Going to look at how a department store merchandises its floor may be less beneficial, as its huge open space can be deceiving.

After reviewing other spa retail areas, spa professionals can return to their own businesses and analyze their retail spaces, looking both inside and outside and making notes of retail focal points. Several areas are particularly important to consider:

Store-Front Windows. Are there windows in the front of the spa that can house visual displays that will draw customers in? Most spas will have the advantage of customers needing to walk in to get to the reception desk to check-in for an appointment, thus pulling them through the retail area. But having great window displays will entice customers to shop while they are in the spa boutique. Likewise, there may be many people who walk by the spa each day and could be drawn in by an attractive display. The goal of a window display is to get potential customers to cross the spa threshold.

It is estimated that consumers walking by make conscious and unconscious decisions about whether to enter a store based on a three-to-seven second assessment. Windows can be the most important location to make a good first impression. Spa professionals can choose some key items from product inventory, focusing around a theme. In general, window displays should encompass as many different categories as possible without looking cluttered. A unique grouping of products is more likely to lure prospective customers into the spa.

For example, a theme of relaxation with an evening bath might include a couple of mannequins displaying apparel items like a robe and some lounge wear, and around their base might be some coordinating slippers. Worked into that same area might be some skin care and bath products related to cleansing and moisturizing before bed. There might be a few books that talk of relaxing away the tensions of the day, possibly some candles, or some caffeine-free tea products that encourage relaxation.

Window displays that are changed approximately every four to six weeks will keep regular customers from seeing the same display and skipping over it in boredom. Window displays can focus on a spa promotion or special event, acting as an advertisement for these specials. If the spa doesn’t have a special promotion or event, the display can focus on a trendy color palette that’s hot for the season, or possibly feature items that relate to a general season, such as summer’s arrival.

It is important to note that merchandise displayed in a window is subject to fading from continued exposure to the sun. Store windows may be treated with some type of UV protection. But if the spa has products in the window for a month and they are exposed to sunlight for several hours a day, chances are the sun will discolor them. Spa professionals plan to mark these items out of stock due to sun damage, but this is an important cost of doing business.

A Welcoming Entryway. What does the entry to the spa’s retail space look like? The entry should be inviting, once again following the theme of the spa. A sign above the door or somewhere in front is key to identifying the name of the spa or spa boutique. The first visual display is usually located just inside the entry door, almost as if it is welcoming customers to the retail area.

What Makes a Floor Plan Flow? Making the floor design flow well will guide customers through the retail space, and will visually encourage them to enjoy the experience of shopping. The goal is to entice them to purchase some items that will help them prolong the effect and memory of their spa visit. Bumping into other customers or fixtures while trying to shop is not a relaxing experience. While spa professionals want to use all of their space to maximize retail profitability, they don’t want to make it too crowded. To prevent over-crowding of the floor space, retail designers realize that walls are key areas for merchandise, building in shelves, hanging bars, and cube or cubbyhole type fixtures.

To keep customers moving all the way to the back of the retail space, spa professionals can place enticing displays on the back wall, high enough for customers to see from a distance. Placing the cash/wrap area and the dressing rooms toward the back will also keep customers looking and shopping throughout the entire retail space.

Cash/Wrap Counter. Where will the cash register/wrap area be and what does it need to accomplish? If the retail space surrounds the spa’s appointment desk, will the two areas share the same desk? This is an important decision. If it is to be shared, is it large enough? The counter should also look enough like a retail counter that passing shoppers are not intimidated by the idea that they may have to talk with the staff at the appointment desk if they just want to come in and browse. A cash/wrap station for retail needs space for a cash register as well as storage for bags and tissue wrap to put customers’ purchases in. The countertop space needs to be large enough to lay out and fold large items such as a robe. The counter is an ideal place for impulse purchases such as lip balms or small cards to accompany gift purchases. It may also require some storage for small items like price tickets, vendor catalogs for reference, a booklet to keep track of special orders for customers, etc. If this space is properly planned, it will be easy to keep it neat and organized.

Dressing Rooms. A dressing room is a good idea if the spa sells apparel. Ideally this needs to be part of the retail store or very close by. An unused treatment room down the hall is not a good choice for a dressing room, because the customer may need assistance while trying on clothing and it will be challenging for both the customer and the retail consultant to make repeated trips from the retail area to a far-away dressing room. The overall size of the retail space and the amount of apparel the spa carries will help determine how many dressing rooms are needed.

The dressing room space will typically be a minimum of 3′ by 4′ and will include the following items:

  • A mirror—at least one-sided, but three-way mirrors are the best for seeing the back view
  • Hooks to hang hangers or garments on
  • A chair or bench for placing personal items or to sit down if shoes need to be removed
  • Good lighting
  • A door or opaque curtain that covers the opening from side to side

Guests will appreciate finding a neat, clean dressing room—not one that holds garments tried on and rejected by the previous customer. Spa staff must be trained to clean out a dressing room as soon as the customer is finished.


b. Enhancing the Basic Space

Within each focal point of the retail space, and in fact, in the space as a whole, decisions about key elements such as décor and lighting will make a huge difference in the way customers perceive the spa and its retail offerings.

Overall Décor. Color and décor are vital to the impression the spa boutique will make on customers. They need to harmonize with the rest of the spa. Spa professionals who are designing a retail space will choose a similar color theme for the walls and similar flooring materials such as wood, carpet, or tile, but preferably not vinyl flooring as it may cheapen the appearance of the retail space. The environment is a continuation of that experience in the treatment areas.

Fixtures are also selected for their ability to blend well together and with the spa environment. The décor will decide the direction of fixturing—for instance, light-colored wood versus dark wood or black finishes on fixtures, or shiny chrome versus brushed aluminum metal finishes. Spa professionals can collect brochures from fixture and display companies to help them make decisions. Some of the spa’s selected vendors may offer fixtures that complement their type of merchandise. However, they need to blend with other fixtures in the spa, otherwise they may not be desirable to use.

In a new spa, the architect will work with the spa professional to build walls with a flexible system. The best system will allow the staff to change out shelves for hanging bars or cubed fixtures, depending on what product will be placed in a designated area. Flexibility is the key as the retail floor will change month after month, depending on product quantities and varieties. Doing their homework at the beginning of the process prevents spa professionals from being locked into something that isn’t flexible enough to fit their needs.

Lighting. In the theater, good lighting generally goes unnoticed. If the designer gets it right, the performers and scenery are illuminated in a way that clearly reveals all of the subtle details the viewer needs to see to follow the actions and emotions as they unfold. If the lighting is too dark, unfocused, or simply inconsistent with the mood of the play, the overall experience will be compromised.

The same can also be said for lighting the retail “stage.” This aspect should be an important part of the design process and not an afterthought. Lighting can prove disastrous if not thoroughly addressed with a comprehensive lighting design. Many beautiful, mood-evoking fixtures can perform inadequately in casting light on the featured attraction—the products. These types of fixtures are great for creating the desired ambiance, but smart spa professionals always counterbalance their placement with brightly focused lighting that makes the packaging and signage easy to read.

Retail lighting must be designed to facilitate the tasks of buying and selling. It attracts customers to the retail space, helps them evaluate the merchandise, and helps the salespeople complete each sale quickly and accurately. Research has shown that lighting installations that are carefully designed with these three factors in mind will actually increase retail sales.

When dealing with lighting that is problematic within an existing retail space, it would be best to consult a lighting designer who has extensive experience with retail environments. When selecting lighting for the retail area, spa professionals (or the contractors with whom they are working)            consider several issues.

The first is lighting with a high color-rendering index (CRI). Retail areas need lamps that make colors appear as natural as possible. A CRI of 80 or above (on a scale of 1 to 100) will render colors most accurately. There are standard and halogen incandescent, fluorescent, and metal halide lamps that meet this CRI value.

Next, lighting fixtures should limit glare. For customers to comfortably examine merchandise and employees to work without eye strain, contractors choose lighting fixtures carefully and install them properly. For the retail area’s general lighting, fixtures are chosen that limit the shopper’s view of the lamp itself, such as louvers, baĝes, and lenses. This cuts down on the glare of these fixtures. For accent lighting that is aimed directly at merchandise, lamps with narrow beams (often called spotlights) can be selected, as well as fixtures in which the lamp is recessed or set back from the fixture’s opening. The contractor should ensure that this lighting is not aimed directly toward aisles or doorways, where it could shine directly into shoppers’ eyes.

Lighting for vertical surfaces, such as wall displays and shelving, requires adjustable fixtures than can be aimed where needed and can direct some light to the sides rather than directly down. Lighting within display cases or shelving units can also provide needed illumination.

The wrong lighting—such as too many halogen reflector lamps used as spot lighting—can create visual clutter and confuse customers. The retail area needs both general lighting in areas where people need to walk and move, as well as accent lighting. It can be very effective to light important displays and sales counters to a higher level (sometimes as much as five times brighter) than the general areas of the retail space. If the contractor limits accent lighting to these two areas, it will be much more effective in catching a customer’s attention than scattered accent lighting.

A particular concern in the spa environment is the heat emitted by retail light fixtures. Spa professionals need to ensure that cool lighting is used, because some spotlights can be too hot and can damage spa products with ingredients that are sensitive to temperature.

Sound and Scent. What customers hear while they shop is another consideration when thinking about the overall space. Music is an important element in any retail store and spa. Background music can create energy, excitement, and mood. It should coordinate with music played in the spa, not be too loud, and should be available to purchase in the retail area. Never play a radio as background music.

Scent is another important element for association and helps bring back memories. It, too, should not be too strong or overwhelming. Scent can originate from an aromatherapy diffuser or scented candles; however, scents must not compete with one another. Again, the products scenting the retail area should be available for purchase.


c. Floor Layout and Product Positioning

No matter what its physical appearance, the retail space needs to address the needs of its customers. It has to maintain, enhance, and continue the benefits provided by the spa service.

The retail layout should entice customers to move around the retail environment to purchase more products than they intended to. If the layout is too cumbersome and disjointed, guests may find it difficult to locate the merchandise and decide just to walk out. The trade-off between ease of finding merchandise and providing a varied and interesting retail space is determined by the needs of the customers’ shopping experience. For example, grocery store shoppers typically have specific items they want to buy, so these retailers need to place an emphasis on the ease of locating certain types of merchandise. On the other hand, department store or specialty store retailers can place more emphasis on exploration.

One method of encouraging customers to explore is to present a retail layout that facilitates a specific traffic pattern. Another method of assisting customers to move through the retail environment is to provide interesting design patterns.

Today’s modern retailers use four general types of store layout design:

  • Grid: This design is best illustrated by most grocery and drugstore operations. The grid layout is also cost-efficient. There is less wasted space and it is wide enough to push a cart through.
  • Racetrack: This design is also known as the ‘loop.’ Typically used by department stores, it entices the customer to visit various departments.
  • Free-Form: This is also known as the boutique layout. It is a relaxed environment, where customers feel they are strolling through someone’s home.
  • Feature Areas: These are areas within the retail environment designed to get the customer’s attention. They include end caps, promotional aisles or areas, freestanding fixtures and mannequins, windows, point-of-sale checkout, and walls.

After reviewing the big picture of what the spa’s retail area can be and deciding on a basic layout concept, spa professionals can get down to the details of actually sketching out the layout design and turning it into reality. Spa professionals designing a new space will likely work with a design professional, using a computer program to lay out various spaces for consideration. Once that space is created, spa professionals can do their own redesigns by hand. Some basic supplies are necessary for layout and design:

  • A copy of the original blueprint focusing on the area designated for retail space
  • A pad of tracing paper, large enough to cover the blueprint area
  • Scotch tape
  • A pencil
  • An eraser
  • A small ruler for sketching fixtures
  • A retractable tape measure
  • A large clipboard or board that will fit the blueprint copy
  • A list of available fixture types for reference
  • A list of the product classifications

The process starts by taping the blueprint copy onto a board with a firm backing and covering it with a sheet of tracing paper. Using a pencil, spa professionals can sketch out different options for floor plans, playing with various designs, using creativity, but always considering the feasibility of the plan. To help with accuracy, floor plan sketches should be done while standing in the actual retail space, not while sitting in an office. Designers need to look at the space, walk the space, and start to think of how customers will enter the space, how they will move through it, and how the layout will get them to walk through the entire retail area.

Some general criteria to consider while sketching out floor plans:

  • Key vendors and products should occupy the key positions in the store. The spa’s key skin care line does not belong at the back of the room in the corner.
  • Consider the profit potential of the merchandise and give more profitable items the appropriate space to spotlight them.
  • The percentage of space occupied by a product classification should reflect the approximate percentage of its contribution to sales. For instance, if skin and beauty products are approximately 40 percent of the spa’s total sales plan, then 40 percent of the retail space will be devoted to those products.
  • Consider various ways of grouping merchandise, examining the pros and cons of each. For instance, is it better to put all skin and beauty products together or to spread them throughout the store, creating a layout that pulls the customer around the boutique? For apparel, should all the merchandise from one vendor be displayed together, or should displays be set by product subclassification, e.g., all robes together, all logo t-shirts together, etc.?
  • Impulse merchandise displays are typically found on the cash/wrap coun ter. Usually these are made up of smaller items, such as a bowl of SPF lip balms, or possibly a basket of CDs that encourage meditation. These little displays promote unplanned purchase decisions that occur while the customer is standing at the cash/wrap counter waiting to pay.
  • Each product category needs some displays to catch the customer’s eye. The stock of these items must be close by the display on the sales floor. Other than window displays, if there is a display in the spa boutique, the stock must be near it so that the customer doesn’t struggle to find it, eventually losing interest.

Throughout the planning process, spa professionals ask themselves many questions as they sketch and erase various retail layouts. Where will I put skin care line A, skin care line B? What areas are best suited for apparel? Possibly this wall and a few floor fixtures in close proximity will work. My book and CD vendor fixture will fit perfectly here. This small niche area of my store will be perfect for candles, eye soothers, etc.

Visual merchandising is an art, not a science, so there is no right or wrong. Wall layouts are less flexible, because they are semi-permanent. The floor layout can be adjusted more easily when the staff physically begins placing the fixtures in the space, but it all starts with a plan.

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