The Spa Evolution

Since appearing in the mid-1980s, day spas have changed -- and so have their clients.

Although U.S. day spas began to develop in the mid-1980s, spa services are much older than that. The term spa comes from the Latin term “salus per aquam,” meaning “health from water.” It is also the name of a small village in Belgium where the ancient Romans discovered hot mineral springs that relieved soldiers' aches and pains after long marches and battles.

U.S. day spas grew from the destination spa movement, where guests would stay five to seven days to get themselves back on track through proper diet, exercise and then some “pampering.” The day spa is a combination of this destination spa concept combined with the business of serious skin care and an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life — for a day (or a few hours).

Time-strapped urbanites no longer need to set aside days or a week to get away from it all; they can stretch their dollars over a year's time to achieve results and maintain their health for the same amount of money they would spend for a week at a getaway spa.

With the awareness of “holistic health” and the benefit of spa treatments made available to consumers, many beauty salons have jumped onto the bandwagon to cash in on the popularity of spa treatments and have added the name “day spa” to their businesses.

It is because of this trend that the Day Spa Association has set basic guidelines to help the spa-going public to determine the difference between a day spa (such as the day spas found in clubs) and a salon offering spa services. (See sidebar, “Essence of a Day Spa,” page 30.)

The beauty industry has become a driving force for day spas, turning them into pampering palaces. Whereas day spas originally would not even consider hair or nail care — their goal was to provide therapeutic services and reduce stress — these businesses are now almost forced to offer beauty services to meet consumer demand.

Beautifying Spas

Fortunately, the beauty industry has started to develop products that go along with the spa concept (spa hair care, spa manicure and spa pedicure). These spa-friendly offerings address the beauty aspect with natural solutions that avoid the noise and smell of, say, a nail salon.

Although “salon” services have become part of the spa experience, clubs don't necessarily need to include beauty treatments. After all, clubs already emphasize health, exercise and diet — components of a true, holistic spa — so operators will have a much easier time eliminating the beauty services that seem to govern the rest of the day spa industry.

Then again, club operators may want to include these beauty services, as they have contributed to the growth of day spas. In the beginning of the day spa movement, there were just a handful of facilities. However, the number of day spas has exploded over the last decade. Nowadays, most day spas have come from the transformation of beauty/skin-care salons, which have added spa services to their menus and converted to a “day spa.” And this transformation will continue.

At the moment, there are approximately 6,000 day spas/salons in the United States — most of which are also among the country's 11,000 skin-care salons. Of these salons, another 25 percent will eventually start to offer day spa packages (i.e., convert partly or fully to a day spa/salon). Growth will reach another 2,000 to 3,000 day spa facilities before it levels off.

In terms of true spas — that is, day spas that fit into the guidelines set by the Day Spa Association (again, see sidebar) — there are approximately 450 to 500 stand-alone facilities built upon the spa experience. Not only do these spas have to compete with the salon-style spas, they also have to compete with resort spas, which have also taken the role of day spas, opening their facilities to day spa guests. The resort spa market is emerging strong, as every resort/hotel being built or refurbished is adding a “spa.”

As for the number of clubs adding spa services, statistics are not yet available — although some studies indicate that clubs make up 7 percent of the market. Furthermore, the Day Spa Association is receiving inquiries that show intense interest within the fitness industry.

Spa Demographics

Clubs interested in adding spa services could benefit from knowing the demographics of the spa market. The Day Spa Association's Web site ( conducted a survey of day-spa-goers and discovered some interesting information regarding age, gender, income and overall interest in spa services.

First off, the survey found that 95 percent of day-spa-goers are female. While there's no doubt that women are the most frequent spa-goers, there are probably more men using day spas than this survey indicates. Most people who visit the Day Spa Association's Web site are women, which is why females dominated so strongly.

In reality, reports suggest that the percentage of male patronage has increased over the past seven years to about 20-25 percent — with some spa facilities claiming 50 percent male clientele. Some spas have introduced special treatments for men, many offer separate lockers, wet rooms and/or treatment areas, and still others are training their therapists in the psychology of the male guest.

Despite this, men remain a relatively untapped market. To gain the loyalty of men, spas need to learn how to deal with them. Spas must market to men and train personnel on how to treat them. (Men don't go to spas for pampering and conversation; they want to get their services and get out.)

A New Age

In addition to examining gender, the Day Spa Association has looked at the ages of spa-goers. The Web survey found that the average day-spa-goer is between the ages of 25 to 35. However, this age group is more technically savvy and mobile, open to e-marketing and e-commerce, which may explain the lack of response from older clientele in the Web survey.

That being said, studies suggest that the age of the spa-goer has changed. The beginning of the '90s showed spa clients in their late 30s to early 50s; the age of today's spa-goer ranges from the early 20s to the mid-60s, with geriatric treatments entering the scene to prepare for the aging population that will influence the marketing in the next decade.

Baby boomers may account for the broader range of ages found in today's spas. Aging boomers are feeling better longer, and they are bringing their children to spas, who, in turn, are bringing their children. Hence the mix of younger and older spa patrons.

Since the Web survey does point out that younger generations are interested in spa services, day spas should be open to these customers, who will remain clients for years to come. In fact, based on the response to the association's Web survey, spas should consider marketing through the Internet.

Not only does age play a part in spa participation, so does education. According to the Web survey, 61.3 percent of day-spa-goers have a college degree, 21.1 went to graduate school, and 17.6 percent went to high school only. (See chart, page 31.)

Why do people with college degrees favor spas? One explanation is that educated people can appreciate the therapeutic value of spa services — and that they are also more likely to stay informed about the latest trends in alternative treatments, etc. However, the most likely reason is that professional people — in other words, people with college degrees — often have more stress and less physical activity in their careers. Therefore, they are in dire need to find a place to relax, and they are more willing to pay for the relief that spa services provide.

Family Status

Besides asking about gender, age and education, the association's Web survey sought information about marital status. The survey showed almost a 50/50 split: 45.5 percent of spa-goers are married, 47.5 percent are divorced and 7 percent are single.

Therefore, reaching out to couples and giving spa-goers incentives to bring in partners may maximize marketing dollars. This marketing approach applies to the married spa-goer, and, to some extent, the single spa-goer as well.

While a significant amount of day-spa-goers have children (39.7 percent), most do not (60.3 percent). And many of the parents actually have older or grown-up children.

This seems to indicate that mothers with young children have less opportunity to go to a spa for pampering or therapy. However, parents with teens at home would welcome an opportunity to share the spa experience with their children. After all, as previously stated, baby boomers are active in bringing their children (and even grandchildren) into spas.

Services Accessible to All

Club/spa operators who assume that family-based day spa activities would be limited to wealthier customers should know that, contrary to popular belief, day spas don't specialize in affluent indulgence. Spas are accessible to many who seek alternative ways to relieve stress and improve appearance. In fact, the Web survey found that 65 percent of day-spa-goers earn under $65,000 and 46 percent make less than $35,000, indicating that all income levels are interested in spa services.

While interest in spa services may be high, time (or lack thereof) is a concern. Many of the survey respondents see the value of spa treatments when on vacation, but they find it difficult to enjoy these services when at home. Most customers only visit day spas yearly or quarterly. This shows an opportunity to increase client frequency. The value of programmed spa treatments should not be underestimated.

When people do go to spas, they request massages and facials the most. Introducing other treatments to the day-spa-goer takes education, marketing and patience. Consider that massages were frowned upon 15 to 20 years ago, yet today their popularity exceeds all other treatments. This should teach us that, with the right customer education, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, body wraps and other spa therapies could also gain favor. (See chart, “Favorite Treatments (Other Than Massage),” page 29.)

In terms of other services that spa-goers would welcome, respondents showed interest in both beauty and therapeutic treatments. (See chart, “Treatments That Respondents Would Like to See,” page 29.) According to the Web survey, 57.3 percent would like body/skin correction, 6.8 percent are interested in cellulite stretch-mark reduction, and 3.1 percent mentioned nonsurgical face lifts. Other treatments of interest are nutritional programs, meditation, exercise and lifestyle workshops.

With services such as these and an understanding of key demographics, club operators could be on their way to making additional profits through day spa treatments.

Hannelore R. Leavy is the executive director and founder of the Day Spa Association. She can be reached at (201) 865-2065 or [email protected]. The association's Web site is

Essence of a Day Spa

The Day Spa Association uses these guidelines for accrediting day spas. According to the association, a true day spa should provide:

  • A clean, safe, calming and nurturing environment

  • Private treatment rooms for each client receiving a personal service

  • Showering and changing facilities for women and men

  • Spa robes and shoes for all sizes

  • Business licenses; professional, licensed estheticians and therapists on staff

  • Professional spa products for which estheticians and therapists have received training in their use

  • Massages: Swedish, lymph drainage and reflexology (optional: shiatsu, polarity, sports, deep tissue, and deep muscle)

  • Body treatments (one or more on the menu): body packs and wraps, exfoliation, cellulite, body toning/contouring, waxing, home-care program (optional: electrical impulse body toning, heat treatments, aryurveda treatments, laser hair removal, electrolysis, hand and foot care)

  • Face: cleansing facial, home-care program (optional: medical facial, nonsurgical face lift, electrical toning, laser hair removal, electrolysis, cosmetics, makeup consultation)

  • Aromatherapy: personalized for body and/or face

  • One of the following: a) hydrotherapy b) steam and sauna

  • One of the following: a) nutritional counseling/weight management b) private trainer/yoga/meditation c) spa cuisine

  • Optional: a) Hair/full-service salon, scalp treatments and hair packs b) spa manicures and pedicures