The foundation of spa success at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, undoubtedly one of the biggest players in the hotel and resort spa industry, was put in place by Elaine Fenard when she came on board as the group’s first VP of spa development in 2001. Fast forward to 2013, and Fenard is the managing partner of Spa Strategy (see SB08/1 p22), a US-based consultancy which she became a partner of seven years ago. Spa Strategy has worked on more than 200 spa projects globally including the brand development of Talise for Jumeirah in the Middle East and the concept for Disney’s Laniwai spa at its Aulani resort in Hawaii. Its focus is on building profitable spas from conception through to opening and, in mid-2012 it launched its business and executive coaching service programmes. Last year, Spa Strategy was acquired by product house Aromatherapy Associates to assist its spa partners, however, the company continues to work on independent projects also.
What impact has the Aromatherapy Associates merger had on your business?
It’s enabled us to reach a wider range of clients and given us access to a wonderfully creative product company, plus our own clients will benefit from Aromatherapy Associates’ consulting and training services. The two companies already had similar visions and philosophies – to operate spas that are aesthetically pleasing, with high quality products and treatments, and that are profitable – so we’ve been able to create synergies while adding new dimensions to both businesses.
Why did you decide to launch your business and executive coaching services?
While we offer support for all elements of a spa business, we’ve found the biggest focus is on the financial aspects, specifically in revenue management.
To help identify good performance areas as well as those that require attention, we’ve come up with SpaVi – the next generation model for spa benchmarking. It’s been created with our financial expert Jonathan Wackett and Claire Way who heads up Spa Strategy in Europe (and has 20 years in operating spas). SpaVi focuses on four key areas – customer capture; sales effectiveness and efficiency; staff performance; and property utilisation – areas we believe need to be reviewed on a regular basis. These areas are then divided into relevant sub-categories with variable benchmarks according to defining factors such as global, regional and local impacts, the number of hotel rooms, the size of the spa, the type of spa and where it’s located. To ensure accuracy, we’ve also created very clear guidelines on how the benchmarks should be recorded and categorised.
How do you use the benchmark in your coaching?
We tailor the SpaVi benchmark programme according to our clients needs. We can assist people at all levels such as:
- Operators who want to compare their business to competitors, identify shortcomings, develop plans for improvement and then evaluate the results
- Owners who are looking to assess the value of their spa, or to select an operator, or who need some help configuring the best format for new builds
- Financiers who need to assess the validity of spa lending or investment opportunities
How are your coaching services delivered?
We provide the necessary tools and an experienced spa expert to guide and mentor the client in the specific areas they need via face-to-face meetings and over the internet. This could include anything a client may want to focus on, from a critical path to opening and reviewing design, flow and functionality plans to avoid costly mistakes, and financial analysis and marketing.
The best thing is that there is no fixed contract and clients only purchase the service when they need a solution. Basically if we don’t add value immediately, the client can opt out.
How popular have they been so far?
We dedicated 2012 to testing and defining the services, but even without heavily marketing around 10 per cent of our customers have benefited from them and demand is growing. So far projects have included a company which is rolling out mammogram centres across the US which wanted a spa feel in the flow and service elements; a city spa which was relocating and introducing new ideas into the design and concept; and an entrepreneur who’s looking for the ideal space for a spa and needed assistance to build the business plan.
What’s the key to running a successful spa operation?
Benchmarking is crucial – how else can you measure how your business is performing?
Accountability is essential. Spa executives should not expect things to just happen, they need to make sure someone is leading and that everyone on the team knows the goals and how they contribute. Also, creating ownership has the added benefit that it often leads to fresh ideas.
Finally, operators should seek mentors both within and outside their circle to avoid tunnel vision. Look at best practices in the industry but outside your area. For example, day spas are far more nimble at getting the message out and using yield management techniques through social media. Hotel spas are better at marketing (especially to groups) and PR as they can utilise the hotel’s resources. Meanwhile, destination spas can offer a wider variety of services, cross train teams and are experts at integrating health and wellness services.
How has your spa career progressed?
I left the UK in 1980 to work on a cruise ship. My intent was to travel while working. Two years later Coiffeur Transocean, which was later purchase by Steiner, asked me to go to its head offices in Miami to supervise cruise ship operations. My foray into the corporate world enabled me to put my own mark on a developing industry.
I went on to Starwood where I feel I had a hand in designing a worldwide spa strategy for a wonderful corporation. Then, in 2006 I moved to a small but growing company in Denver, Colorado – Spa Strategy. Each stop along the way helped me prepare for my next adventure and I’ve never looked back.
Is your life on track?
I love where I live, what I do and those I interact with! I wanted to travel, grow professionally, be challenged, build business, influence and mentor people and I’ve been able to do all of these things.
How would you describe the state of the spa industry?
It has regrouped and tightened its fiscal belt. Some businesses have fallen by the way side and many are reinventing themselves and consolidating. Spa revenues in the USA rose in general in 2012 – while growth is slow it’s still a good sign. The emerging markets present exciting opportunities, although development has levelled in 2012. Overall, I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to see growth globally.
What opportunities are there for growth?
Spas will branch out in many different directions. Certainly there are opportunities for multiples, we’ve seen Dove and Massage Envy both escalate in the day spa arena, but still the spa market is in no way saturated.
The in-house spa model in hotels works best as resources can be shared with the rest of the property, so I believe the growth of hotel spa brands will continue.
There are opportunities for new structures, joint ventures and partnerships and I expect to see more of these in the future.
There is definitely space for a wellness product that can bring together medical screening and alternative medicine, with spa services.
We haven’t seen a good example of this yet – I think it would work best with individual brand names and providers partnering to offer their services in one environment like a healthy marketplace.
Then, of course, cyberspace holds opportunity too for loyalty programmes that will provide value for spa guests while offering spa and wellness educational forums at the same time.
What are the biggest threats to our industry?
One of the threats is complacency – not believing that we have to constantly evolve in order to meet the new demands of our business. As we become more sophisticated, then so do our clients.
Finding and developing talent has to be considered a threat. The next generation of spa leaders think differently and they want instant gratification. We need to guide them to the programmes and the tools that will allow them to grow and be successful in the work place.
Where’s your favourite spa?
Spas offer different things at different times. Cal-a-Vie in San Diego is one of my favourite US spas because of the atmosphere and its imaginative fitness programme which combines team building in a choreographed structure. Yelo in New York is a great city spa – it’s upbeat and I like the nap concept where you can book five minute increments in a pod for powernaps. Of course, my favourite treatments are at the Aromatherapy Associates Boutique in London as they really are bespoke therapies tailored to your needs. In 2013, I'd most like to visit The Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Palm in Dubai as it promises authentic Middle Eastern experiences .
What advice would you give to industry newcomers?
Be ready to continually challenge yourself, set high expectations yet be flexible to new opportunities. Experiment with the many levels of opportunities; don’t limit yourself.