The Secret Weapon for Designing a Spa

From design, esthetics, and operations to product and equipment selection, menu creation, and staff training, spa consultants bring an array of skills to the table, whether they are for opening a new spa or getting an existing location up to snuff. In the months and years before a spa opens, there are a numerous things that need to happen, and a good spa consultant can keep you on track. Between crunching the numbers to ensure that your business model is viable and liaising with designers, engineers, and architects to confirm that operations are in order, they can help focus and execute your vision, creating a space that feels right for the location, culture, and experience you want your guests to have.

“Are they building the church for Easter Sunday?” asks Cary Collier, founder and principal of Blu Spas and Collier Concepts. “Is it too big or too small? Does it offer the opportunity to get outside of the spa box and utilize beautiful outdoor areas for treatments? Every square foot becomes precious.” Spa consultants may not necessarily be interior designers or architects, but their role is critical to the initial design process, according to Amy McDonald, owner and CEO of Under a Tree, a wellness consultancy firm. “They ensure that each room and space—whether revenue generating or not, back of house or front of house—is designed with the appropriate plumbing, lighting, HVAC, and general mechanical functionality required to support each area to maximize operational efficiency, revenue, and guest experience while minimizing payroll and building costs,” she says. “It is our responsibility to create flexible, multifunctional space that maximizes utilization and revenue without compromising the guest experience.”

Indeed, it’s perhaps during the design phase that you most need a consultant in your corner. “Design is huge,” says Kim Matheson Shedrick, senior vice president at WTS International. “I spent 15 years of my consulting career on the front edge of pre-opening feasibility and concept design, and you see the darndest things out there in the field: a Vichy shower that floods the spa or a Whirlpool where the bench is so high the water doesn’t cover a client’s breasts. The design of a facility is super-super important, not just from an aesthetic standpoint but also from a profitability standpoint.”

But every project is different, from small day spas hoping to increase their revenues to big brands looking to expand into a new market, and the key is finding the consultant who meets your specific requirements. “What’s really important for the clients to understand, and also for the spa consultants to understand, is the unique expertise of that spa consultant,” says Christi Cano, founder and president of Innovative Spa Productions. “We all have different backgrounds. Some of us are very strong operationally—we’ve been spa directors or spa owners—some of us have worked on the vendor side, some of us have gone through school for esthetics or massage therapy or have management experience in a hotel. Communicating well to clients about where our expertise lies helps for a better match, because no consultant is a perfect fit for every single project out there.”

That said, most consultants agree that conducting a feasibility study early in the process is a given. “In order for the spa client to be successful, you have to know the size of the market, the size of the spa, and the competition,” says Jane Segerberg, founder and president of Segerberg Spa Consulting. “Spas each need their own distinction in the marketplace. The concept for the spa should speak to the guests through the brand, the design, and the programming of the spa.” For Julie Pankey, managing partner at JMPankey Partners, that means providing clients with a free consultation to learn about their spa’s specific requirements and proceeding accordingly. “Once the needs are established, I write a three-step plan, sometimes more, for the spa to review. Step one is the base of the project, step two is the implementation, and step three is monitoring, measuring, and making changes as needed. Each step stands alone, so after the completion of a step, the client can determine if they wish to continue on to the next phase.



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