Out of the Blu
A Native Texan, I Grew up in a small town around cattle, horses, and football in the Texas Panhandle. I knew at a young age that there had to be places on the planet with trees and water and that travel would be my opportunity to find adventure. Five days after graduating from high school in 1976, I was off in search of adventure. Driving into a fading sunset, I recalled the words that have since become my mantra "remember the saddle, remember to ride."
Blu Spas was responsible for concept and design development at The Spa at Green Valley Ranch (Las Vegas).
Thoroughly unhappy with my first corporate job after graduating from college with a marketing and finance degree, I made a pact with a fraternity brother, which ended up being my saving grace. Our agreement was that if we hated our first jobs, then we would flee to Aspen, CO, to join the privileged clan of ski bums. Fortunately, hating my first job helped fulfill one of my dream adventures and, more importantly, hone my survival skills.
I eventually returned to Texas, and life unfolded. It was there I heard the word "spa" for the first time. In Lubbock, TX, at age 25, I found an investor who gave me the resources to open The Waist Basket, a gym franchise. To secure the franchise, I had to pass an instructor's test for owners even though I had never taught an aerobics class. With no budget, I made a cheap hotel my home for 10 days. I quickly learned that the hotel was a neighborhood favorite for "working girls." While coming and going to my training sessions, I kept seeing these ladies every morning and evening.
After days of intense training, I was up for most of the last night preparing for the final exam. Around 6 A.M., I heard loud banging on my door. Three of my new neighbors barged into the room. Evidently, the sounds of my prancing around the room practicing my instructor routines had created a stir. These ladies believed I had broken my marriage vows to my first wife, and they wanted to know who of their friends was responsible. After a quick explanation and proof that I was virtuously alone, they saw the predicament I was in. These ladies gave me the moves, grooves, and cues that paved the way for a new career owning an aerobic studio and gym. You never know from where a helping hand will come.
During the last days of The Waist Basket, I read an article about the Spa at the Crescent at the Hotel Crescent Court, A Rosewood Hotel (Dallas), which was one of the first hotel spas in the country. Within a few weeks, I was in Dallas meeting with executive director Toni Beck, trying to understand the meaning of spa. I was hired as part of the pre-opening team and retained on the fitness staff. It was at The Spa at The Crescent that I had my first massage, and several years later I married the masseuse, my current wife Kim.
The poolside cabanas at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa, and Casino serve as an ideal place to lounge before and after treatments.
Beck was a mentor and my first inspiration in the spa industry. She is in her 70s now and going strong as the activities coordinator for those 55 and older at the Baylor Fitness Center in Dallas. Beck was responsible for putting The Greenhouse (Arlington, TX) on the map years ago, and she later helped me land the managing director position there. At 29, I was the youngest and first male manager at a destination spa. Overall, no one liked having a man in the house, and as such, it was a short-lived, bizarre, yet grand, experience.
At that time, there were very few spa jobs, as there were very few spas. I did have the pleasure of meeting John and Ginny Lopis, who had just opened The Doral Saturnia (Miami). Today, they own and operate The Lodge at Woodloch (Hawley, PA). They were and continue to be inspiring leaders to many. Thankfully, they did not offer me a job, as there was another path I needed to follow. However, their counsel and generosity has not been forgotten. With no job prospects, I became a spa consultant, although the phone did not ring for a long time.
The Spa at Red Rock (Las Vegas) features an ultra-luxe, modern pool.
The late 1980s were days of hustling, learning, and believing. I had a personal training business and a marketing position for a charity foundation. In addition, I worked for an art gallery and, at times, for a catering company. All of this enterprising work was necessary to support my business card saying I was a spa consultant. When I started getting consulting gigs, it was "Sure, I can do that for you." Then, I had to figure out how to get it done. For the first year, I didn't even have a computer or fax machine.
During these times of failing brilliantly was when I finally found love. My wife Kim has been my best friend, travel companion, butt-kicker, business partner, and co-parent through chaos and comedy, and, overall, my soul mate. She is responsible for teaching me to believe in a vision and the power of choice. I have been blessed to know this woman in this life.
Kim and Cary Collier take a break in Bali.
Finding Inspiration a World Away
It was Kim who earned us the opportunity to live and work in Asia. In 1990, she was offered a spa director position in Hong Kong. Thanks to Tara Grodjesk, another old friend and inspiration, I was given a consulting job with Javana Spa in Java, Indonesia. It was the first destination spa in Asia. A year later, both Kim and I were managers at Javana Spa. Living in a cottage among our staff, we were the only white people for miles. We were surrounded by waterfalls, volcanoes, and neighboring villages that communicated by drums. It was really adventurous stuff.
Kim and I knew that going to Bali was our next mission. We completed our contract at Javana Spa, moved to the capital city of Jakarta, and for six months, hit the streets meeting hotel owners and operators and spreading the word about the importance of spas. With plans to return to the States for the holidays, we needed to find work in Bali, as our visas were about to expire. The day we were leaving for the airport, we received approval to work in Bali, proving that believing in a vision does work.
Blu Spas used an Italian and Spanish Mediterranean concept at Alvadora Spa at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa (Phoenix).
To the Balinese, Bali is the "morning of the world." It would take many pages to begin to share our adventures there and on other islands of the Indonesian archipelago, such as Lombok, the Gili Islands, Sumba, and more. We were fortunate to live and work on-site at The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay and Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa. Bali became home to our international office for other spa projects in Dubai, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, and more.
I was inspired in Bali and throughout Asia by ancient design principles and considered the possibilities for incorporating them into spa design. The legendary culture, spirituality, and creativity of the Balinese along with the tropical palette of nature, raw materials, and authentic finishes inspired a vision for spa planning. I realized I had the knack for orchestrating design details and for finding that one thing to make a spa distinctive. This knack continues to be my evolving karmic barbeque—perfecting the spa concept recipe for clients.
Treatment rooms at The Spa at Silverleaf (Scottsdale, AZ) feature a French-country theme.
Discovering A New World
Things came to a halt in 1998. Tourism in Asia crashed. Indonesia had a revolution, and President Suharto was overthrown. Plus, the currency crisis wrecked many Asian economies. Within several weeks, we had lost all of our clients. Later that year, we returned to the States not really knowing what to do, as we thought we would return to Asia. However, thanks again to Grodjesk we were able to set up shop in her Carmel, CA, office. Our next step was understanding the universe of spas in the States. This was the second time we had traveled around the world with our daughter, no job, and no place to live. Luckily, we had experience at getting it done and always believed we would find our way.
Our best achievement has been our two girls. Kim and I had decided not to have children, but Bali changed our mind. Our daughter, Cierra, was conceived in Bali, born in Texas, and lived in Bali until age three. After returning to the States, our daughter, Asia, was conceived in Carmel, CA, born in Monterey, CA, and at four months, became a child of Montana. Now some of my best inspirations come from the minds and mouths of these girls.
Collier (second from left) credits the Blu Spas team of Karen Steidl, Ann Emich-Patton, Doug Chambers, Lisa Henry-Jacobs, Brian Lombardi, and Sherroll Scow for the company's success.
Making a New Start
In 2000, we chose the mountains of Montana as the place to raise our girls. We fell in love with Whitefish, MT, where we ski, fly fish, hike, float rivers, and do whatever the season calls for. My consulting business has grown to include other consultants, specialists, and resource partners, and I have been blessed with a talented team who deserves the credit for building the reputations of both Collier & Collier Spas and Blu Spas.
To date, we have worked on more than 160 spas in 20 countries. Now, we have more than 40 projects in five countries. We are collaborating with Dan Cosgrove, M.D., of WellMax to launch multiple wellness centers around the country. Blu Spas has a growing list of management contracts, and thanks to Doug Chambers, we have a strong alliance with Billy and Melissa Chambers Yamaguchi of Yamaguchi Day Spas & Salons. Thanks to Lisa Henry-Jacobs, Blu Spas is partnering with Trevor Tice of CorePower Yoga to boost yoga, nutrition, and personal training for select spas. JAMU Asian Spa Rituals, my wife Kim's company, is also growing. And, more projects are in the works to launch new spa concepts and management infrastructure.
The Spa at Salishan at the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort (Gleneden Beach, OR) provides a tranquil retreat overlooking the scenic Siletz Bay.
Another gem from Texas, the Sanijet Corporation, has also given me the opportunity to create the Cary Collier Collection of pipeless whirlpool tubs. Together, we have designed several bathing beauties inspired by Bali—the Swasana, the Cierra, and the Bali Moon. New designs for a treatment table, heated tile lounger, and relaxation lounger are being launched in 2007 as the collection expands.
Spas still have so many undiscovered frontiers to conquer, and that thought keeps a smile on my face, as does the fact that they serve such a noble purpose. Remember the saddle, remember to ride. —Cary Collier