By Peggy Wynne Borgman, CEO Wynne Business and Preston Wynne Spas
Does your luxury spa take itself too seriously?
Recent trends like "Zen temple" décor, meditation rooms, and calling treatments "rituals" suggest that relaxation is a quasi-religious pursuit. But a new study suggests that the spa industry may need to lighten up to become more relevant to the high-end consumer.
In a July, 2006 poll by Luxury Marketing specialist Pam Danziger, "over half of the luxury consumers (52 percent) reported that enjoyment and pleasure was very important when it came to making their most recent luxury purchases, including both luxury goods and experiences."
Danziger points out that brands "which embrace pleasure and joy as a key branding value outrank in overall brand awareness those brands that are more serious and staid. For example, BMW, the top automobile brand based on consumer awareness, promises, "Sheer Driving Pleasure," whereas the lower-ranked Mercedes Benz gives you "Leadership: 120 Years Later, the Legend Continues."
Bliss was the first spa to recognize that guests craved fun along with their relaxation. Marcia Kilgore bucked the New Age trend by offering "decadent" treats like cheese and brownies in her spa lounges, and featured cheeky menus filled with irreverently-named services and products. The results speak for themselves; the brand has achieved iconic status, and was recently sold to Starwood Hotels to become the official spa for its (fun, hip) W Hotels.
Danziger, who advises many of the world's top luxury brands, suggests that anyone appealing to the highly desirable affluent customer must highlight what she calls the "fun quotient."
Fun, of course, is amplified by sharing, and Danziger's findings are reflected in a growing trend in the spa industry: social spa-going. This highlights an interesting operational and design challenge. Many spas are now attempting to provide areas for "fun" as well as relaxation. Not all facilities are able to separate garrulous, chatty spa-goers interested in socializing and those who desire a serene escape from reality. At Wynne Business, our new-facility designs for spa development clients often include "quiet rooms" as well as "lounges."
Fun, too, is an important element of spa product shopping. The tired old "prescription pad" approach to recommending products can come off as too dry. One of our current projects at our spa is a total revamp of our recommendation tools to create a client take-home that is more educational, attractive, and yes—fun.
One of the observations I often make as a guest myself is that spa-wear is peculiar, awkward, and frankly--ugly. In short, no fun! Esthetic gowns, spa slippers--I feel about as glamorous as a burrito when I'm swathed in all those bulky, elasticized, snapped, tucked and wrapped layers. Why can't a manufacturer create functional client wear that doesn't make us feel like we are about to undergo some unpleasant medical procedure? How about something...fun?
A crucial psychological barrier to entry for spa-going is the belief that spas are "intimidating." The Zen Temple or Roman Temple is not generally our comfort zone, let alone our fun zone. Spas that focus on projecting an atmosphere of elegance or exclusivity will find that shifting to an emphasis on friendliness, warmth and fun boosts the top line far faster.
Assuming that the luxury-loving customer desires formality, exclusivity and seriousness is a mistake. Today's affluent and super-affluent clients are different from those of their parents' generation. These clients find more gratification in luxury experiences than products, which has shifted the motivation to acquire luxuries from "status" to "fun." Danziger concludes, "While any luxury brand must work to deliver utmost quality, leading edge design and an impeccable service, they also must be sure all that is done with an eye toward the sheer pleasure, enjoyment and ultimate fun of the target consumers."
FUN STARTS IN THE BACK OF THE HOUSE
A great restaurant starts with a great kitchen, and spas are no different. The energy in the back of the house is where the "fun" begins for your guests. Look for ways to make the work experience in your spa more fun for employees. One of our core values at Preston Wynne is "Build and protect a fun and harmonious work environment."
Periodically, our management team is reminded—the hard way—that we've forgotten we're "in the Happy Business."
Here's an example. In our spa, we often communicate via memos. It's an efficient way to get the word out about something, but no one would call a memo "fun." It's easy for spas, which frequently begin with a warm, familial (fun!) atmosphere, to become more bureaucratic and stiff as we grow. Our memos were sometimes too dry and just-the-facts-ma'am; they often came across as cold. We haven't eliminated short written updates, but our managers have a new directive: find a way to make your updates more fun.
Fun—whether in the guest experience or the work experience--is closely related to flow.
We recently brought Holly Stiel, the wonderful customer service guru, to Preston Wynne to present her marvelous new program, It's All About the Dance, for our entire team. It's All About the Dance expands upon one of Holly's key discoveries as a hotel concierge—how "dancing" through a busy, hectic and stressful day can elevate the experience for all involved. Holly is a big proponent of workplace fun, and one of the models she uses to increase the Fun Factor is dance—an art that combines dynamic movement, freedom, lightheartedness, resilience, and balance. A team that dances through their day is a team that's having fun.
And fun, it seems, is the ultimate competitive advantage!