The Land of Milk + Honey
New beginnings are sweet for milk + honey (Austin, TX), which recently opened a flagship spa and salon in downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District following several years of success with smaller, more fragmented locations nearby. The new space consolidates a downtown spa and a nearby salon into one luxe location and now features 12 treatment rooms, additional nail stations, two lounges, and private steam showers in the locker rooms.
The first milk + honey debuted in 2006 with five treatment rooms and a nail station and was expanded in 2008 to nine treatments rooms after space was annexed from an adjacent store. Later that year, the owners opened a salon on the same street. “The spa was fragmented, and it presented management inefficiencies to maintain two separate retail storefronts less than a block away,” says Alissa Bayer who co-owns the spa with her husband, Shon. “Additionally, we knew we could design a better spa and salon, both for our clients as well as for our employees.” All of this and more culminated in the desire to open one centralized location and the discovery of a new, ideally located space, where clients would recognize some of their favorite elements from the original milk + honey, such as lots of wood accents and high ceilings. “Our new spa is the evolution of our original design,” says Alissa. “We have a very clean, modern aesthetic with warm, organic touches. We also referenced many of the same design elements without copying them exactly—all of our spas are ‘siblings’ rather than ‘identical twins.’”
Indeed, this new location certainly qualifies as the younger, hipper sibling. Highlights include hardwood floors throughout; commissioned custom artwork in the treatment rooms, lounge, nail room, and hallways; more wood elements and pops of color using pillows and cushions; extra amenities, such as larger locker rooms, steam showers, and a private women’s lounge; and more. Additionally, the treatment rooms have been soundproofed, and the mezzanine level is now home to an employee break room, offices for the management team, and a call center that handles centralized reservations. The back-of-house has also been improved and includes an employee bathroom with a shower. The 12 treatment rooms were equally well thought out. Five are designated esthetician rooms, and five are massage rooms. Each has wood floors, a custom-built storage console, a sink, and original artwork. The remaining two are wet treatment areas that double as couple’s rooms. All rooms also have a sound system that allows clients to choose from one of four channels of music. Shon says the spa is a “breath of fresh air” and is “more akin to a modern art museum than a traditional day spa. I think that this has made our spa popular with a younger and more affluent demographic, as well as with men.” Also popular is the no-nonsense spa menu. “We don’t have a huge selection of treatments, but instead like to stick to the basics, so to speak, and do them very well,” says Alissa.
While the interior and menu are certainly making guests happy, creating a positive work environment keeps staff members fulfilled, as well. Among the many perks are health insurance for those who work 21 or more hours, a 401K matching program, paid vacation, and educational reimbursement. “When we set out to create milk + honey, we focused first on creating an environment with really happy employees,” says Alissa. “They, in turn, take care of our clients, and our satisfied clients come back and also refer their friends and family. It’s a nice, virtuous cycle, as the more prosperous the business has become, the more benefits we have been able to offer our employees.” So far, this strategy has been a success, with the spa boasting a team of 180-plus happy employees who “do a fantastic job of retaining their clients,” she says.
Also effective in retaining clients is the spa’s sophisticated marketing approach, the first part of which involves marketing to existing customers through the Very Important Partisan points program. It rewards clients for things like pre-booking and referrals. Clients can also redeem points for spa services or products. “This program is very popular with our clients and drives a lot of repeat business and enthusiasm,” says Shon. Another boost comes from the use of the spa’s 40,000-plus email list for newsletters, last-minute deal emails, and other targeted email communications. A strong online presence is maintained through Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). “As much as we focus on good word of mouth, we also want people who search for Austin spas to find us,” says Shon. Finally, the spa features a growing membership program that offers a 15 percent discount to clients who commit to a year of spa services and also caters to groups via a dedicated Group Coordinator and a Bridal Coordinator. “We have found over the years that having one point of contact makes the visit go smoothly from scheduling to check-out,” says Alissa. “Some of our packages include a special price, and for groups, we can arrange for catering and other services to make the day extra special. We also provide off-site services for groups who want to bring their treatments to another location.”
For all these reasons and more, the future is looking bright for milk + honey, with plans for a custom skincare and bodycare line on the horizon, as well as a new location in the works in another Lone Star city. “We have amazing employees, loyal clients, great managers, and a great brand,” says Alissa. “Having a rock solid base is what allowed us to take the calculated risk to expand. We’ve expanded slowly enough that we haven’t had to dilute the milk + honey experience.” All in all, it’s a solid recipe for spa success.