Tools of the Trade

Think of Golden Door, Canyon Ranch, Auberge Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt Hotels, or the Mandarin Oriental. In bliss-susceptible individuals, the mere mention of these grand spas inspires a swoon of longing for the better-than-heaven delights for which these resorts are rightly famed. Dreamy, to be sure, and I wish I could tell you to put down this article and join me in a visit to one of them right now. But we're here to work. You're reading this to get advice on how to make your business as successful as possible as one of those five-star destinations. My job here is to help you accomplish that goal.


First, since this is what I promised, I will reveal the secrets of the super spas. Ready? Here goes: Super spas are excellent at everything they do. That's it-the sum total of their secrets. This might be rather a letdown, since you probably already guessed that they're perfect and, worse, that you're not. Don't worry. No one's perfect. Not even the star-studded establishments you hope to emulate. They are, however, faultless in one important way: They know whom to call. They flip through their solid-gold Rolodexes and create dream teams of spa wunderkinds whose professional reputations are staked on excellence. (See "Scenes from a Dream Team Session," below left.)

So, you see, imperfection is not the problem. The trouble starts when you fail to recognize that you don't-and can't-know it all. Spa construction projects are multi-faceted, intricate, complex jigsaw puzzles that provide multiple, perhaps unlimited, opportunities to showcase the limitations of your perfection. Of course, everybody's entitled to make a few mistakes, but if you make a couple in the design, another few in infrastructure, toss in two or three equipment blunders, pretty soon you're going to be talking about real money, and no one's going to confuse your final product with one of the cr% de la cr%. This is the opposite of what you want. The lesson is this: The size of your success increases in direct proportion to the number of mistakes you don't make.


Knowing What to Focus On

One mistake you want to avoid making is to spend too much time on the equipment when you should be concentrating on the operations side of your spa development. Remember that equipment is only one piece of the complicated project puzzle. This is an interesting fact because it is almost exactly the opposite point of view taken by many of the people I meet who are embarking on a spa construction or expansion project of their own.


Equipment, while not glamorous in itself, is essential to the creation of a successful spa. The right combination of tubs, showers, tables, skincare equipment, and other tools of our trade enhance the client experience while maximizing revenue space. Obviously, the wrong choices can, and do, have just the opposite influence on the outcome. All too often at the decision-making juncture, spa project developers, owners, and consultants trying to make the choice on their own frequently come down with fixture fixation. Projects grind to a halt while days, weeks, and months are squandered on collecting equipment brochures, "kicking the tires" at trade shows, and comparing incomparable equipment. Often this information overload causes analysis paralysis. While the architects, interior designers, electricians, and plumbers are desperately seeking the amps, watts, PSI, and exact location of each piece of equipment for installation, you're just plain stalled.


It's Okay to Ask for Help

You have reached the moment of truth. Should you:


1) Take a leave of absence and check into a resort-spa to de-stress? 2) Decide to select your equipment by throwing darts at the product brochures you've collected and forge ahead? 3) Recognize the fact that you've exhausted the resources of your experience, and find some help?

If you answered, "None of the above," which wasn't even one of your choices, the problem may be that you're not only unsure what to do, you may not know whom to call for help. You have several choices when seeking outside help, but it's impossible to choose from among them if you don't know what they do. Here's a primer on who's out there in the spa industry, ready to help.


  • Spa concepts and operational consultants While they will cost you money up front, spa consultants can save you valuable time, help you avoid costly mistakes, and introduce you to product suppliers and equipment sources you can trust. Some spa consultants have specialized services (financial, operational, design, technical, retail) while others consolidate and customize their services to fit your project.
  • Spa equipment consultants These companies may represent multiple manufacturers and can consolidate your equipment decisions. They often work alongside other consultants handling the technical details thereby allowing the spa consultants to focus on creative and operational concepts. They may be paid as consultants in the design phase but later rebate their fees towards your equipment purchase. Or, you can simply use a company like this to consolidate your purchase, save you valuable time selecting equipment, offer volume discounts, and coordinate the complicated technical data your architects and contractors need.
  • Product manufacturers Most product companies offer free training as a part of implementing their product lines inside your new spa. You should take advantage of these services to save money and improve retailing. Do make sure their services and cost of goods sold fit your plan.
  • Equipment manufacturers The best equipment manufacturers generally specialize in one type of equipment (i.e., hydrotherapy, massage, skincare). Most sell their products directly and through distributors or reps. When considering different brands, be sure to find out how their features and quality compare.
  • Catalog companies These companies represent a single manufacturer for each type of equipment. They will consolidate your equipment purchase to the level of the products they carry and sometimes offer free training.
  • Online Spa Sources For those handy on the Internet, you can search for any keyword or equipment type and see just about every item available related to the spa industry. There are sites with extensive collections of equipment, products and supplies, chat rooms, and links to research articles.



Calling the Right Pro

Okay, now you know how to look them up in the phone book, but once you get a service provider on the phone, what next? Here are some of the questions, related to your equipment purchase, you need to ask any professional you're thinking of adding to your team: What are the basic services you provide? How much do your services cost? How can I determine which of your services best fit the needs of my project? What if things don't go perfectly? Can I expect your firm to provide back-up support?


So, let's review: The secret of the super spas is to be excellent without exception. And they achieve that remarkable end by following one simple rule: Make few mistakes. True, they have the resources to hire only the very best, but I hope I've shown you how you can lay claim to a piece of their paradise. You don't need a cast of thousands to pull off your spa development. You only need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your own experience and how they match with the requirements of the spa project you're developing. Then, you can evaluate the kinds of resources available to you and make an informed decision about which ones will best fill out your dream team player roster. And after that, you'll deserve a vacation. Go ahead and make those spa reservations today. I'll see you there.