Q. Many of my clients are parents who have expressed interest in bringing their teenagers to the spa. I'm interested in capitalizing on this market but am unsure if it's a wise business move. Will it alienate my other clients? Do I revamp the menu to accommodate this younger clientele? And where should I set the age restriction?
A. The root of your concerns lies in the question, "Will the inclusion of teenagers alienate my existing client base?" First, you need to understand that teenagers accompanied by their parents are a very different target market than teenagers visiting without parental guidance. This is not to say that all unaccompanied teenagers are problematic, but the potential for problems is severely lessened when parental authority is present. Before we get into menu engineering, teen protocol, and more, it is important, first and foremost, to ensure that you are technically and legally allowed to offer spa services, particularly massage treatments and body treatments, to those under 18 years of age. No matter how you do the math, nudity plus underage clients equals potential problems.
In some cities and counties, there is no administrative line that separates the therapeutic massage one might get at a four-star resort from a therapeutic massage one might get at a half-star massage parlor. This is not to imply that all massage parlors are fronts for vice-oriented activities or that expensive linens at a pricey destination resort is the panacea to inappropriate activities. It is important to remember that many laws that govern spa services and massage were written long before the recent popularity of spas. In some areas, spa activity and the like have been historically bundled together with issues related to firearms, alcoholic beverages, and other vices. The restrictions and responsibilities in these statutes are sometimes broad, vague, and, on occasion, unevenly enforced. This is to say that in some jurisdictions, you may be operating outside of the law to offer massage services to those under 18. Before you consider including teen treatments on your menu, do your homework and ensure that there are no legal or administrative barriers to providing spa services to this market. If there are barriers, investigate if you can apply for a variance, waiver, or permit. I cannot stress enough that you must comply with the existing laws no matter how antiquated or unreasonable they may appear. Even if other spas in your market provide services to teenagers, that doesn't give you de facto permission to do the same.
Once you have established that you can offer teen services, ensure that your menu capitalizes on the needs of this market. You don't need to rewrite your entire menu, but you may consider creating parent/teen treatments or adolescent-oriented treatments. These can be developed as an insert or addition to your existing menu. Create treatments and rituals that address their skin, hair, and nails. Allow mother-daughter day and half-day packages. Offer informal classes or treatments that support back-to-school skin, sun-damaged hair, or prom-season nails. Make it natural and fun, and focus on wellness and balance.
I have seen some spas that have taken a large couples' room and turned it into a room specially targeted for mothers and daughters. Adolescents are much worldlier than their mothers were at their age, and access to spas is much more common than it was 20 or 30 years ago. As the trends in the spa industry move towards health, wellness, balance, and perspective, it is relatively easy to make the argument that spa-ing should be a family affair. Helping teens develop good grooming habits early on in their adult lives not only creates a future spa market for you and other spa operators but it can also be viewed as a way to enhance self-esteem. In addition, the quality time that parents spend with their teens at the spa is good for their relationship and good for your spa's utilization levels.
Spa manners and protocol are essential components of the spa experience, be it from a 15-year-old spa newbie or a 55-year-old spa veteran. Policing your younger guests should be no different than ensuring that the older ones behave appropriately, as well. Teenagers go to resorts and fine restaurants with their parents. A spa experience should be no different.
The last, and maybe most important, component of including teens in your spa is the training of your staff. Teenagers are at a sensitive and awkward time in their lives. Maturing too fast or too slow, relative to their peer group, can create potential body image issues. Minor physical anomalies that most adults have grown into may be viewed as a significant point of discomfort for your teenage clients. Having a trained staff that is sensitive to these anomalies is necessary in creating a seamless and enjoyable experience for this clientele. And as much as we might not like to go there, sexuality and sexual tension can be all over the board for young adolescents. Hyper-vigilance and candid training of your staff can prevent many problems. Both guests and therapists on occasion have been known to misunderstand the tone, inflection, and body language of the other, sometimes resulting in inappropriate behavior. In the context of teenage clients, it is management's responsibility to ensure that this is never an issue. We suggest relying on therapists with maturity and wisdom to help this process along.
Today's teen spa-goers may be tomorrow's spa junkies. Realize that embracing the teen market creates an opportunity for quality time that parents can spend with their teenagers, instills good grooming habits and self-esteem in teens, and enhances your profitability. I can think of no better way to say win, win, win.
Peter C. Anderson is a principal at Anderson & Associates, a spa consulting firm based in Santa Monica, CA. He is also on the board of advisors for the Spa and Hospitality Management Program at the University of California-Irvine. You can email him at [email protected].