Evian®. A global brand based on pure spring mineral water, health and vitality which promises to help people ‘live young’. What better fit for a branded spa concept that’s been developed for a global rollout? The first facility has just debuted at the Palace Hotel Tokyo as part of a us$1.2bn (€923m, £745m) redevelopment and there are already more in the pipeline.
It’s an ideal match, says evian’s global brand development director, Laurent Houel: “Evian is a water brand so there’s an obvious link with spas, but it’s more than that. If you delve into our history, evian water has always been closely associated with health and wellbeing. It was discovered in 1789 by a French aristocrat, count de Laizer, who’s kidney pains dissipated after drinking it. This spurred on thermal spa experiences in the French Alpine town of Évian-les-Bain, with the first facility opening in 1824 and in 1878 the health benefits of the water were recognised by the French Academy of Medicine.
“Firstly, we think this move makes sense as a relevant proposal in the spa industry. But secondly, it’s an interesting business opportunity to develop our brand. It leverages our DNA and reinforces our image as a premium brand and our wellbeing anchor.”
Spas aren’t entirely new to evian, as Danone, its parent company, already owns two hotels with spas (Hôtel Royal and Hôtel Ermitage) located in its exclusive Evian Resort – previously known as Royal Parc Evian (see sb04/q1 p45) – in Évian-les-Bains. In addition, the group owns the town’s original thermal baths, Les Thermes Evian. In a one-off venture in 2004, the group also opened its first day spa in Shanghai’s leisure development Three on the Bund (see sb04/q1 p52).
It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that the decision was made to create an evianSpa concept suitable for global rollout. Houel explains: “In 2009, the evian brand was relaunched with Roller Babies, a new worldwide campaign which became a massive success – it’s one of the most viewed web advertisement ever with more than 200 million views on YouTube. For the first time, evian had a real global platform and now we’ve reignited excitement towards the evian brand, it’s the time to deploy it further.”
Houel started at evian at the same time as the Roller Babies launch. Having spent his career working in marketing and business development for FMCG and luxury companies such as Procter & Gamble, Coty and LVMH he was ready for a new challenge. “Evian has a fantastic history and when you come from the luxury business, as in my case, heritage and roots are key. I was very impressed with the brand’s richness, which gives a strong foundation to build on.”
His role is to develop evian in “new categories and services” with a recent project including the MyEvian.com website which enables customers to personalise evian water bottles for special occasions from weddings to business conventions. He’s reluctant to give away details of other confidential areas of expansion – “they’re all very diverse projects and involve other aspects of the brand”. But spa, of course, is another avenue.
Telling a story
Testing the waters, so to speak, the first evianSpa opened in Japan this May at the luxury Palace Hotel (see Info Panel). Houel says: “We found a great hotel partner, or rather they found us via Yoriko Soma, a Japanese spa consultant [from Conceptasia Management & Consultants] acting on their behalf. It offers the utmost in Japanese hospitality and like evian has a long history [originally opening in 1961]. This is the second time it’s been completely rebuilt. Also, Japan is one of the most demanding countries in terms of consistency and quality in overall consumer experience. If you get it right there, you can get it right anywhere.”
Houel is pleased that they’ve created a robust spa offering. “I think our concept is a compelling one because it tells a story and it has something to attract consumers beyond a great facility,” he explains. “We would not have just put an evian logo on a spa and say ‘this is great’. We had to tell an evian story.”
The story takes its inspiration from the 15-year journey that the spring water makes before emerging at the source in the heart of the Alps. The evianSpa menu has 16 signature therapies themed around the water journey – four for each of the stages. First is celestial, the start of the water cycle in the sky, which, says Houel, is represented by ‘let go moment’ treatments; second is mineral, the journey the water takes through the rocks, that lends itself to detox treatments; third is precious, where the water gathers in a reserve, which is linked to anti-ageing; and fourth is vital, the flow at the source of the water, which includes rejuvenating treatments.
These core signature treatments will be offered at all evianSpas, but there will be the possibility of adapting or adding more therapies according to local cultures. Equally there won’t be a set agreement with product houses, although skincare companies will need to work with the set treatment protocols.
Water is obviously a USP, but while some masks, facial sprays and steamers for beauty services actually incorporate evian water, you won’t find an evian-filled pool or bath. Houel reasons: “The minute you put water in a pool you have to treat it, so it won’t be evian anymore. We’re not planning evian baths because we don’t want to get into extravagant luxuries. Evian is close to the people and nature and an expensive treatment is not in keeping with the brand philosophy.”
The idea is that evianSpa architecture will also take its cue from the Alpine environment – walls will look like the curves in mountains that have been shaped by water, while Houel also talks about sensory stimuli that will “really immerse the guest in the evian universe”. For example, natural sounds – not music – like flowing water and wind rustling through the trees will be triggered when customers get to certain points and there will be a signature Alpine scent.
The majority of the evianSpa concept was developed by Houel and outside designers. But by his own admission, he isn’t a spa specialist: “I’d been exposed to the spa business indirectly in the past at companies like LVMH, so I had a certain knowledge, but I’m not an expert.” So, he started to look for an industry person to team up with. Two months before the Tokyo launch he found Patrick Saussay (see p36) who was previously the managing director and in charge of international growth for the Swiss spa skincare company After the Rain.
With a 15-year career in business consulting for global companies such as BearingPoint, combined with the spa focus, Saussay was the right fit says Houel: “I have the brand and marketing knowledge, but Patrick has the real passion and expertise when it comes to spas, the spa sector and the spa business.” Saussay helped put the finishing touches to the evianSpa concept as well as working on the finer points of its licensing agreement and the overall business plan. His role moving forward will be to focus on the commercial model and development of evianSpa via hotel partners. In order to do this, Saussay set up a consulting and management company in March called Global Project and Spa Advisory, with evian as its first client.
So, why hotel spas and not standalone day spas? “Licences are easier to set up with hotels and there’s the potential for more success from a business and revenue standpoint,” says Houel. “We don’t want to be alone and we’re happy to partner with a hotel and to benefit from its history, location and marketing – as long as it’s the right fit – just as the hotel will benefit from having an evianSpa as an extra revenue stream and a boost for occupancy and, potentially, room rates.”
Evian is also ruling out the idea of running spas too. “The overall mission at Danone is ‘health through nutrition for all’ – evian belongs there clearly, but spas are not part of our core business,” he says. “We’ll provide a complete concept and full logistical support for implementing the license, but we’re happy to join our forces with experts in the field [in operational terms].”
As the location for the launch of the concept, evianSpa Tokyo has been a success that Houel says he and the hotel partners are “very happy with”. But now the idea is to grow the concept in the right markets and countries with the right hotel partner. “It’s not a question of going massive for us,” says Houel. “It’s a question of being relevant.”
With evian distributing to over 150 countries, Houel says the priority will be on those where the brand has a “super premium image”. Typically these are countries in Asia, such as Japan, Korea, China and Singapore where distribution is focused on hotels, restaurants and other high-end businesses. The UAE and Russia also show promise. In comparison, the distribution in markets such as France and the UK is larger and more ubiquitous. “In Asia the brand is more linked to luxury which makes it a better fit for spas,” says Houel. “But we’ll obviously look at potential projects in other countries where we have a strong image and awareness though.”
The goal will be to target five-star, urban hotels which have enough space – at least 800sq m (8,611 sq ft) – to do the concept justice. In France, the priority will be to create a flagship evianSpa with the imminent renovation of the Hôtel Royal. But it’s too early to disclose details of other possible developments: “We’re still in the process of meeting various operators,” Houel says. “We’ll be very happy to identify a handful of projects by the end of the year and then go from there.
“It’s really exciting to deploy a brand in a new category. We think the spa concept we’ve developed is a distinctive one. But at the same time we’re humble. We know we’re not the first ones in the market and we know we have to learn. But the initial reaction we’ve had from potential partners has been positive so far.”