What makes a successful pre-opening?
Gary: Planning, planning and more planning. Unfortunately, many spas are launched without it. It can take months or years to recover from a poor launch, yet not enough time and effort goes into this process, compared with that spent in the concept and design phases.
What’s your approach?
Gary: Each pre-opening task should be outlined in a timeline that describes the item to be delivered and the date of execution. A pre-opening timeline should serve as a roadmap for the opening, but often this is never used and the attempt to open and promote the spa lacks direction and focus.
Without the roadmap, the project runs the risk of taking a wrong turn – something which can easily be prevented. More than anything else, this area can make or break a successful launch and to some degree the ultimate financial success for the facility.
Who should be responsible for pre-opening – the spa director or consultant?
Doug: In some circumstances it may be appropriate to handle all pre-opening tasks in-house. However, the pre-opening phase will have a dramatic impact on the financial performance and success of the spa, and merits the dignity of a proper budget.
The fundamental challenges centre around the sheer magnitude of the tasks and the diverse skill sets and expertise necessary to complete them.
WTS and Blu Spas take a team approach, focusing an assembly of seasoned operational experts on the various components of a methodically created, comprehensive task list.
What ultimately makes or breaks a spa?
Gary: The most important factor in determining operational and financial success is quality of service. If your spa consistently offers this, you should expect a dramatic positive effect on your revenue and bottom line.
But there can be a breakdown in service at any point, from when a phone reservation is made, to the first meeting at the front desk, to the quality of the treatment, to the locker rooms, to, finally, the guest’s departure.
It’s critical guests take away a positive and memorable experience. Nothing negatively impacts the financial success of a spa more than inconsistent or poor delivery of the experience at any touch point.
How should spas train staff?
Gary: Well before the facility opens for business, go through every step of the service including training for therapists, aestheticians and nail technicians.
Receptionists, locker room and maintenance personnel, retail sales staff, reservationists and others should also be trained. Too many times there’s not enough focus on these individuals, yet the first person a guest or member typically comes into contact with is the receptionist greeting them at the front desk or by phone and this impression has a lasting effect on the consumer. This training can be given by the spa director or operator, but it’s essential all the staff understand their job responsibilities and how to execute them effectively. Product companies and vendors also offer very specific training for service providers.
Where should spas source staff?
Gary: Finding and selecting qualified staff is one of the single greatest challenges for spa owners. The best sources come from connections or referrals within the industry. Another good source is through communication with schools that have programmes for certification for these positions. The wider your contacts are, the more likely it is that you will be able to source qualified people for both executive and non-executive positions.
For spas located in regions without significant numbers of qualified staff, it’s often necessary to import qualified individuals from elsewhere.
Retaining members of staff is equally
challenging and this is a function of the payment structure and how much education and support are given to these individuals. Staff retention comes through consistent support, good communication, resources and development opportunities. Positively influencing staff career paths also helps to retain employees.
What should spas look for when recruiting?
Gary: The most positive attributes to seek include experience within the field and, of equal importance, communication skills, customer service background, organisational experience, leadership, personality and work ethic. In the interview, try to focus on personal characteristics as well as the experience of the individual.
Gary: Spas need to execute a good marketing plan to drive revenue from both inside and outside the hotel or resort. It’s important to have a separate plan for each to successfully promote the spa to both of these potential markets or the spa will not reach it’s revenue and bottom line potential. Traditional routes include advertising, emails and direct mail to non-hotel-guest traffic from the local community.
Establishing a relationship with a local or regional PR company is usually a good idea but one that is typically overlooked by many spas. Spas shouldn’t underestimate the importance of publicity and articles written about the spa, yet many spas don’t include public relations as part of the operating budget. Having your spa ‘shopped’ by an outside concern or having an occasional operational audit of the facility is an effective way to ensure that the spa is on the right course.
Open house events for local business people and residents can be very effective too.
Also, daily attention needs to be paid to the display of retail products and add-on services around the property.
If the spa is truly integrated into the property, this offers the best chance for consistent financial and operational success. The spa director should be trained in the hotel’s culture so that there’s seamless integration between the facility and the property. It’s particularly important that the spa director establishes a relationship and good communication with the hotel or resort’s sales and marketing department.
Generally, the larger and more intricate the spa, the longer the pre-opening timeframe will be. Spas that are smaller or moderately sized (300-800sq m) tend to need a programme which runs between six to nine months in advance, while larger facilities (over 1,000sq m) take between eight to 12 months to open, with the director needed on-site six to 12 months before opening. Spas in more remote areas often take longer to open.