Branding the Spa Experience
Branding is the natural hallmark of a maturing industry. The spa industry is no exception. As it developed and grew, certain brands naturally evolved. There was also increasing interest on the part of investors and owners to brand the spa experience to increase market share and profitability. The first recognized spa brand was The Red Door, which evolved from the original concept Elizabeth Arden established in the early 1900s. Other brands, such as Canyon Ranch SpaClub and The Golden Door, grew out of the strong name recognition they had earned as popular trendsetters.
Deborah Szekely’s Golden Door had become an iconic symbol of spa as a combination of luxury, personal growth, education, and fitness. Not surprisingly, others wanted to copy this model. Resort developers in the mid-1990s wanted to associate with Golden Door to enhance their own properties. They felt that having Golden Door spas in their properties would elevate their quality perception in the marketplace and create added value to each resort with a Golden Door spa. Golden Door expanded by taking over existing properties and bringing their management styles and philosophies into the resort properties. There are now Golden Door spas in a number of locations. All of them offer spa cuisine, a high staff-to-guest ratio with specialized personnel, and individualized programs that include both up-to-date fitness therapies and ancient techniques. This represented the first of many initiatives which sought to marry a particular spa experience with a brand name.
While Golden Door expanded its brand through acquisition, Canyon Ranch expanded its brand internally, opening its second location in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1990. In 2000, their first resort spa opened as the Canyon Ranch Spa Club in the new Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas. In 2005, the brand expanded again, this time to the open sea onboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II. The company continues to expand into a new concept, Canyon Ranch Lifestyle Communities, which takes the brand and the concept of spa into a new realm of spa communities.
As more spas expanded, they struggled with how to keep their founding principles—often based around the philosophies of individuals—alive.
Up to this point, spa programming centered around the founder’s philosophy and the experience was built by those who ran them. When the visionary behind the brand left—either due to retirement or death—spas began struggling with how to keep the founding principles when the actual person behind that vision was no longer there. In many cases, there was a family member who would carry on the dream. In other instances, the founding principles were so deeply ingrained that when a corporation would take over the spa, they could enhance what already existed.
Elizabeth Arden’s spas were owned by three major companies after her death, yet they still managed to have a thread of what she stood for. There are service providers today within the brand who worked for Elizabeth Arden when she was alive. This has kept the tradition alive. While the spa has had to modernize in order to survive and be sustainable, the foundation retains the Elizabeth Arden principles.
Likewise, many hotel spas have a strong thread of legacy. Many hotels began developing their own brands of spa. Fairmont built Willow Stream, Hyatt built Still Water, Shangri-La built Chi, and Starwood developed Heavenly Spas. Other companies, such as Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons, developed spas associated with their already strong luxury branding.