It’s often said, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” That is certainly true for Bergamos Retreat (Friendswood, TX), the largest day spa in the state. Founded by Marylyn Reed, great-granddaughter of the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, the $6.5 million, 22,000-square-foot, two-story spa is a greater and grander version of its predecessor, which was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. With 21 treatment rooms, the elegant, state-of-the-art spa brings a taste of old world Europe to Texas. It features a therme water-therapy circuit, a Himalayan salt cave, a nail salon, a blow-dry bar, a yoga studio, and soon, a spa café and wine bar. According to Reed, the new spa has experienced a 25 percent increase since opening and is continuing to grow at a 2 to 3 percent rate each month. Here, she shares how she and her team rebuilt the business, which has emerged stronger than ever.
What prompted you to create Bergamos Retreat?
I was raised with the business philosophies of my great-grandmother, the beauty industry icon Mary Kay, embedded in my DNA as well as a love of beauty products and treatments. However, it was actually a visit to a spa while I was touring Europe at age 17 with an aunt that changed the course of my life. Family vacations often brought us back to Europe where I was able to experience even more spas. Then in 2001, after having mediocre spa experiences in my area, I decided that opening a spa would be my contribution to the beauty and wellness business. We chose the community of Friendswood, TX, outside of Houston, not far from my great-grandmother’s birthplace in Hot Wells, TX. And I was inspired to name the spa Bergamos and build it in a bit of a Renaissance style after visiting the Italian city of Bergamo, situated northeast of Milan. I knew that one thing that made my great-grandmother so successful was her belief that people are a company’s greatest asset. Turns out, I was also able to follow her example in starting a business that created new opportunities for employees to achieve financial success—the majority of which, like Mary Kay’s employees, are women.
To what do you attribute the spa’s success?
We never take anything or anyone for granted. We expect the best and work hard to deliver the best, and we build community. For instance, our lead facialist, Donna Savelle, is frankly one of the best estheticians in the country, and her business shows it. She has a loyal clientele that schedules a rotating selection of high-tech facials each month that average about $400 each. She takes skincare very seriously, and as the bookings show, the results inspire her clientele to do the same. Also, a well-crafted business plan helped me get funding for my business. I followed it carefully for the first years of my business, especially when it came time to hire new staff and expand. And, I still apply the skill of reading and understanding accounting reports, which over the years have saved the company thousands of dollars. Today, I still do all the basic skills in my business, like accounting, marketing, management, and system development—all learned in college and on the job.
What impact did Hurricane Harvey have on the spa?
In 2015, we began working on plans to expand the original Bergamos Spa, which was successfully serving its second generation of clients. Then, in 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit. The new spa building was drenched in 22 inches of water. A mere seven days after the catastrophic flood hit, my staff helped us reopen in a temporary space. I’m proud to say that just under a year later, we were able to open our newly expanded and reborn facility for a soft launch.
What were some of the lessons you learned from surviving a natural disaster?
After any natural disaster, it is important to get back to work and help get the community back to normal. And now when we look back, we see how far we’ve come together. We all share a sense of pride. A personal philosophy that I’ve tried to share with the staff is when something goes wrong, don’t just get stuck in the “why me?” syndrome. Acknowledge it, grieve it, then pull yourself up by your bootstraps and move on.
How did you and your staff overcome the disaster to come back bigger and better?
After we made sure all of our families were okay, we reached out to our vendors and asked for donations. Many of them sent us necessities, such as sunscreens, body lotions, and more. We packed those in bags and used social media to share with anyone who needed it. We ended up giving out more than 300 Relief Bags, even delivering some ourselves. We also went to grocery stores and purchased toilet paper, paper towels, water, and more and just drove around, handing out supplies to subdivisions in need. Many people in the neighborhood needed help moving and removing items from their flooded homes, and the Bergamos team did that too. We also offered 50 percent off to all first responders for a few months. On those days, we sold out each time. I think the upside of the tragedy is how our entire team bonded around a shared purpose. Our staff saw that we cared about them and together, in turn, we could use our energy to help the community. I noticed that through the hardship, they were inspired to work even harder than before. And now, all of us take great pride in sharing the new space that we built together with our clients.
What makes the spa stand out from the competition?
At a cost of $6.5 million, and a size of 22,000 square feet, our two-story Bergamos Spa Retreat is the largest freestanding day spa in Texas, and it’s arguably the largest in the U.S. In fact, we call it a destination-day spa. Not only did we want the building itself to be elegant and welcoming, but we also worked hard to make our customer service be just as top rate. And, because our clientele is very discerning and 70 percent is repeat, we need to keep raising the bar on our offerings. I made a conscious decision to add more bells and whistles than other spas in the area. That’s one of the main reasons we have more Gharieni equipment than almost any other spa of any kind in the U.S. I also keep in mind that failure is inevitable during some stage of business, so learn and move on quickly. And, as the owner, I realize that I am both the big picture thinker and the protector of the business. People management I think is the hardest element of the business, so I make it a point to read, read, read and learn from other professionals.
What have been the biggest challenges in expanding and growing the business?
Of course, Hurricane Harvey put a wrench in our expansion plans, but even if the hurricane hadn’t happened, there is always the challenge of project managing a remodel and expansion, making sure you first of all keep your clientele happy and excited about what is to come but also keeping on budget, in spite of construction and delivery delays. And, then there is the constant of keeping employees inspired and on track and monitoring growth. You can add more employees, but that’s not efficient if you don’t take the time to train them one-by-one and help them individually build their clientele.
How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?
We’re really not about discounting services, but once a year on Small Business Saturday, we do a Gift Certificate Extravaganza to say “thank you” to our loyal clientele. We give dollar-for-dollar reward points for each dollar they spend. So, if they spend $100 on a gift certificate, we give them $100 towards a treatment. And we don’t advertise it to the public, we just email existing clients, and let our social media followers know about it. Each year, the line is out the door and down the street. We also work hard to upgrade our products and services and keep them on the cutting edge. We have special events in our Apothecary when it comes to a new skincare tool or makeup product. We also put a priority on public relations for the reopening. And we do have a monthly budget for donating to charity events, but they need to match our clientele and our brand. I also often pay for college courses and books for our entry-level employees, because I know I’m making an investment in our spa’s future. We prefer to offer our help when it can make a direct impact on people.
How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?
The truth is, we have so much to say and so many different offerings that social media helps us whittle it down to individual features. Our goal is to keep our brand in front of everyone, but honestly, the best reactions never come from posts that are too sales-oriented. Sometimes, we post a motivational quote. Sometimes, we promote a special event at the spa, but mostly, we just try to keep the conversation going and engage.
How do you keep your staff motivated to sell?
You need to realize that your employees are just as important as your customers. In today’s workplace, it is so important to find the balance between a structured work environment and the happiness of your employees. Overcorrecting without coaching can be disastrous. I work hard to put in fair systems and stick to them, and then coach with the goal of building and nurturing good habits in my staff. Cultivate a culture of trust and help guide your employees to success. We make it clear that our core values are: Integrity, Intentionality, Education, Respect, and Communication. In fact, our employees are encouraged to be aware of each other’s needs.
What plans do you have for the future?
Our first order of business is to get our spa café open and operating. When folks know they can have meals with us and even enjoy our robust wine bar, they know they can relax and spend an entire day with us here at Bergamos. We also need to get our Event Center rockin’ and rollin’—from date nights to bridal showers to charity luncheons and more. We have an expansive creekfront property, so our phase-two plan includes an exercise pavilion, a full outdoor pool with bar, and some overnight accommodations. I’m thinking it will all be done in about five years.