Spaced Out

Ask any spa operator what's on the top of his or her facility wish list, and most will wistfully sigh, "more space for guests to hang out." Indeed, the spas we are designing today contain more of this amenity than ever before. Lounges, meditation rooms, classrooms, well-appointed locker rooms, and bathhouses—amenities that bewitch and bedazzle many a spa guest—are also known by another, less romantic term: non-revenue-producing space. Around here, we abbreviate it as NORPS.

 Body by Brooklyn (NY) has used non-revenue-producing space to create a hip lounge and a hydrotherapy area (pictured below)
Body by Brooklyn (NY) has used non-revenue-producing space to create a hip lounge and a hydrotherapy area (pictured below)

Along with a higher level of customer service, NORPS is the extra luxury that differentiates a spa experience from a visit to a beauty salon or a massage clinic. A guest visiting a skincare salon does not expect to spend the afternoon lounging about after a treatment, sipping herbal tea, and soaking up the atmosphere. But a guest to a spa, even one offering the same service, may expect exactly that. In a spa, guests come hardwired with expectations of languorous lingering. They want to do this privately—the popularity of treatment suites with en-suite lounge areas is testimony to this trend—and they want to do it with friends and family, as well.

So, how much non-revenue-producing space do you need? The answer is wholly dependent on the experience you are offering your customers. And then there is the cost of the space itself. If you're in a hot retail district and paying top dollar for your square footage, you'll have to be very creative with your use of space. But just because you've got the opportunity for a below-market lease doesn't mean you should go into a square-footage feeding frenzy. As a spa designer, I'm a confirmed pragmatist, fitting as much as I can into every spa I create. For years, I've subjected spa owners with dreams of fabulous NORPS to a brutal assessment of the return they'll get on their investment. When clients begin our consultation with a detailed recitation of the type of water feature they plan to put in their lounge, I know I have my work cut out for me.


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Resort spas have been ground zero for various amenity innovations. Blake Feeney, director of Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian in Las Vegas, knew exactly what he wanted when the spa began its expansion and renovation—more NORPS. "Our guests' expectations have increased over the years with respect to lounges and especially co-ed gathering spaces," says Feeney. According to him, this has changed because spa-goers in resort settings are now much savvier. "Their expectations have risen along with their exposure to other spas," he says.

As most of us know, a first-time spa-goer is pretty easy to delight. But the percentage of spa virgins in the marketplace has dropped steadily, and longtime operators have experienced an increase in customer expectations. So we start with "soft" areas of improvement like customer service and employee development. But there is a moment in which many of us may have to say, "It's the infrastructure, dummy!"

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub team set about creating a spa experience that was less transactional than their existing model. Those of us who have visited large spas in Las Vegas know that feeling of "move 'em in, move 'em out," even when the facilities themselves are extravagant. When dealing with massive volume and chokepoints like the check-in and changing processes, ample NORPS allows the experience to feel luxurious, rather than like a cattle call.

We know that the time we spend touching the guest—both with treatments and hands-on customer service—is expensive. We're paying skilled workers to deliver treatments and paying top dollar for outstanding spa concierges. NORPS is increasingly being used to deliver a memorable experience to the guest but with fewer costly hands. SpaClub is expanding its space with new guest areas—the Conservatory, Wave Room, and Salt Grotto—that deliver differentiated and enticing experiences and account for approximately 3,000 square feet in the body of the spa. The new thermal suite area, Aquavana, will have multiple aqua/thermal cabins. And the spa's lounges are significantly larger, too.

Feeney swallows hard at the $150, 50-minute massage price point, but he's confident that the added value will also add up to more satisfied customers because the SpaClub experience is not a 50-minute product. He's also excited about having something to sell the guest who may not be having spa treatments that day. The right amenity can drive both higher service prices and the opportunity to attract customers who simply want to pay for a day pass.

The outdoor NORPS at Spa du Soleil provides incomparable views of Napa Valley.
The outdoor NORPS at Spa du Soleil provides incomparable views of Napa Valley.

In many luxury resorts, NORPS has shifted into fabulous private suites in which lavish amenities are provided for the benefit of the individual guest or a couple. Elaborate hydrotherapy suites include space to lounge before and after treatments and even their own private gardens, such as those at the romantic Spa du Soleil at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley, CA. Such facilities manage to drive a higher service price point than those with communal NORPS. Packaging these luxuries individually seems to help spa management and customers alike understand that fabulous amenities justify themselves with a higher price point.

The NORPS at Nob Hill Spa (San Francisco), which includes an infinity-edge pool and fireplace encouraged groups to linger so long that over-crowding became an issue. As such, a group treatment suite was created (pictured at left).
The NORPS at Nob Hill Spa (San Francisco), which includes an infinity-edge pool and fireplace encouraged groups to linger so long that over-crowding became an issue. As such, a group treatment suite was created (pictured at left).

Changes Salon and Day Spa in Walnut Creek, CA, has been a market leader for almost 25 years. Due to her experience in the quick-changing spa marketplace, owner Bonnie Waters knew that what wowed her customers in 2006 wouldn't have the same impact in 2008. As such, she is currently undergoing expansion number nine. As a 25-year tenant with a steady appetite for additional square footage, she has negotiated an excellent lease. Her rent has comprised just 5 percent of her total sales, a very nice number indeed, but one that is also driven by a robust annual sales-per-square-foot of $500. Sales-per-square-foot is a critical number in the retail industry, but there's a reason you don't hear much about it in the spa world. With our voracious appetite for square footage, most spas can only dream of numbers like Changes. When the 2,300-square-foot space adjacent to her spa opened up last year, Waters decided to evolve her model with some strategically designed NORPS. Tipping the scales at 10,000 square feet, with increased lounge and amenity space, Changes now serves corporate groups and parties, one of the fastest growing customer categories. Waters expects that to translate into higher sales and greater utilization on weekdays.

Spas are looking to create space to produce differentiated experiences. Spa director Jenean La Roche of Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel in San Francisco found her NORPS to be so alluring to groups that the facility was often overrun by celebrants. The Sylvia Sepielli-designed spa boasts a common area that includes an indoor infinity-edge pool, fireplace, whirlpool, and magnificent panorama of the city. Guests seeking a serene escape were being tormented by noisy bridal showers. Without the ability to add or create separate amenity space in the building's restricted urban envelope, Jenean convinced the hotel to turn over one of the property's most prized corner suites to be converted to a group treatment venue. The suite now includes two massage stations, two pedicure stations, and an elegantly decorated parlor and dining area. The suite overlooks one of the city's most beautiful small parks and the magnificent Grace Cathedral, offering a bird's eye view of its labyrinth. It's a resourceful solution to the increasing demand for amenity space.

The outdoor space at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, CA, (pictured here and below) provides guests with picturesque places to relax.
The outdoor space at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, CA, (pictured here and below) provides guests with picturesque places to relax.

At our Preston Wynne Spa at the boutique Hotel Los Gatos (CA), we routinely utilize hotel suites for parties, enabling us to accommodate groups without compromising the spa guest's experience. With the added benefit of privacy, we're able to charge for the use of the space, something we'd be unable to do within the spa itself. In Freestone, CA, Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary is a spa with a quiet Japanese-style simplicity. Its famous enzyme baths are complemented by a meditation garden and creekside massage pagodas. Its country setting has afforded the spa an abundance of outdoor space. Michael Stusser, the owner and founder, used the oversized lot to create the spa's authentic Japanese garden, which has become a draw in itself at this day destination.

With all the emphasis on the experiential spa, it's important to remember that spas, like restaurants, range from "fine dining" to "casual dining." The amount of NORPS in a spa is a direct reflection of its service product and pricing strategy. While the International Spa Association (ISPA) squirms at the idea of including businesses such as Massage Envy, which has multiple locations around the U.S., under the spa rubric, the general public is less finicky about its definition of the category. A place where you have a massage, to most consumers, is a spa, even if its amenities are limited to a comfortable waiting room.

Ahmos Netanel, a spa business consultant, cringes at the thought of day spas taking on more NORPS to keep up with the Joneses. He works with many clients who are highly profitable without it, focusing instead on results-oriented services that deliver straightforward value. One modest but bustling facility I visited drives revenues more than $800 per square foot, even in the intensely competitive Los Angeles market. InSpa, a regional chain from the Pacific Northwest now expanding into the San Francisco Bay Area, promises to demystify the spa experience for customers, offering cleanliness, simplicity, and solid value. The square footage in these highly efficient facilities is optimized. Sorry, you'll need to look elsewhere for a salt grotto—with prices averaging about 20 percent below those of luxury day spas and a no-tipping policy, this is a business model designed to hum happily along at a high volume.

Properly deployed, NORPS can add value and generate revenue. Having said that, I think it's time to discard the term. Different spa businesses have differing needs for amenity space, and that space may be critical in delivering your product. Here's the thing: you have to charge for it, and you have to be able to get a lot of people to pay for it. Let's take a page from the retail industry and focus instead on revenue per square foot. Now, that would be an interesting conversation. —Peggy Wynne Borgman

Peggy Wynne Borgman is the CEO of Wynne Business and the director of two Preston Wynne spas. Borgman is a principal consultant and seminar leader for Wynne Business and author of Four Seasons of Inner and Outer Beauty: Spa Rituals for Well-Being Throughout the Year (Broadway Books, 2003). She is also a member of the Day Spa Association’s advisory board. You can reach her at [email protected].