Green Glory

Ten years ago, Nusta Spa (Washington, D.C.) made headlines as the world’s first LEED-certified spa. A decade later, the 5,000-square-foot, nine-treatment-room spa is still enticing guests with its sustainable focus and advanced natural therapies. In fact, it boasts a history that includes more than 200,000 services provided to more than 150,000 guests over the past decade, a success due in large part to a team of dedicated professionals, 35 percent of whom have been with the spa for at least eight years. “Our successes can be measured by the facts,” says general manager Allen Hunt. “We are still here, our team stays, we continue to be relevant, and our guests continue to support their health and wellness goals in partnership with Nusta.” Here, Hunt shares the secrets to the spa’s longevity.


Why has the spa continued to succeed?

A. Nusta has succeeded by staying relevant to its guests. Treatments and services are not only clean but also have a high degree of efficacy. We believe in effective, natural skincare infused with only the finest active ingredients derived from Mother Earth. Our selection of professional products includes Ecocert-certified organic, optimal-aging formulas by Naturopathica; marine-based vegan skincare by Osea; cosmeceutical-grade botanicals by EmerginC; handcrafted medical-grade essential oils by Body Bliss; and more.


How has the spa evolved to stay current?

A. Nusta has stayed true to its initial concept of being a clean, green urban oasis. When we launched in May 2004, it was a difficult and expensive proposition to find products and vendors that met our stringent environmental standards without sacrificing quality. We regularly had to educate potential partners and conduct extensive due diligence. Thankfully, the industry and clients have caught up, and, today, it is relatively easy. There are many more environmentally friendly and organic options available, from skincare products to our in-house laundry.


How do you keep fresh and current?

A. We continually ask ourselves how we can improve, and then we act. Most recently, we unveiled a full redevelopment of the menu. We essentially tossed out our previous menu, even though it was well received by clients, because we knew we could do better, and a new one was created from the ground up. We engaged spa consultant Amy McDonald of Under a Tree to execute our goal of a sustainable business model and sophisticated menu. The development process was built around our clients. We reviewed the local market to ensure we understood what was out there, what need niches existed, and then, of course, what our existing client base believed was missing from their wellness regimes. The end result was a comprehensive menu of treatments and services featuring three clean U.S.-based skincare lines. The menu we’ve developed has the flexibility to accommodate seasonal and cameo services, along with visiting practitioners. The offerings more closely resemble those at a wellness destination than what might be found at a day spa.


Why do you think the spa has succeeded where others have failed?

A. Being true to the original vision of Nusta, staying loyal to our client base, remaining relevant, and treating employees with respect have been key. Providing services and treatments that have a high degree of efficacy is essential, but Nusta’s founder, Elizabeth Snowdon Bonner, has consistently valued our employees’ experience as an integral part of delivering the best client service. Her support frequently exceeds that of a boss and more closely resembles that of a family member. The result is a nurturing professional environment where team members learn and grow, which in turn has resulted in an extremely stable workforce. For example, 35 percent of the team’s tenures exceed eight years, and both the lead massage therapist and the lead esthetician rose through the ranks after initially joining Nusta in 2004 as junior service providers. Nusta is able to provide an enviable and rare level of consistency in an industry that typically suffers high rates of turnover. 


How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?

A. Nusta has built a loyal long-term client base. We see 75 percent repeat clients monthly. Word of mouth yields our new clients. We encourage guests to stay engaged. For example, we offer a Wellness Incentive discount of 10 percent when a guest books his or her next visit upon checkout and a rewards program where clients automatically accumulate points that can be redeemed for treatments. We believe word of mouth, real results, and recommendations are still the most effective way to attract and retain new clients.


How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?

A. Nusta relies heavily on digital marketing to engage clients and boost business. We often use targeted email marketing to segment our guests based on birthday, last visit, preferred service provider, and other data that helps customize our outreach. This tool also allows us to track conversions so we can better refine our marketing efforts over time. We also employ email marketing and social media to share seasonal and holiday offers, special events, and other promotions. Forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest allow us to reinforce our brand message through content marketing while offering a platform to field guests’ comments and questions. We find social media marketing to be one of the most effective tools for reinforcing our brand message of effective, natural beauty and wellness. 


What measures do you use to keep the spa financially successful?

A. We are certainly a customer-centric business. However, we also understand the need to maintain an unwavering focus on the P&L. We share financial results daily with all members of the team, tracking to budget, comparisons to last year, and average spend. Our budgets are developed based on the previous year’s results and industry standards, so we have a very clear understanding of what we have to spend on what and what revenue we need to bring in on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.


What have you learned from the recent recession, and how do you plan to incorporate those lessons in the future?

A. The most important lesson we learned was to be true to the brand, be true to the client, be true to our team, and not try to be all things to all people. Understand who your guests are, and listen to what they want. Their needs will change, and the business needs to be nimble and flexible enough to react to those changes. Consistently provide value for money, and maintain a workplace where people want to spend seven or eight hours a day. Above all, whatever we do here at Nusta, we do through the eyes of our guests.