Spa treatments go minimal

In the recent Los Angeles Times article, “Spa treatments go minimal,” reporter Andrea Chang writes about how many spas are going “minimalist” in reaction to the recession. “Gone are many of the extras such as bathrobes, slippers and saunas,” writes Chang. “In some cases, private massage rooms are sacrificed for thin curtains or communal rooms.”

The article points to “no-frills massage boutiques” and daily-deals websites such as Groupon and LivingSocial offering deeply discounted treatments. Massage Envy, which has 663 locations nationwide, increased its membership by 29 percent last year to more than 900,000 members.

ISPA’s latest research shows that 63% of spas introduced discounts and incentives to attract first-time clients and 18% introduced membership programs. To compete with low-cost massage chains, Los Angeles-based Burke Williams day spas launched its own membership program in 2009. For $79 a month, members receive a 50-minute massage or facial; for $109 a month, they can also use the spa facilities throughout the month.

Chang quotes ISPA president Lynne McNees: "Consumers just aren't willing to go back in time even though the economy has picked up,” says McNees,"The mentality has changed. We're not willing to pay full price for anything anymore."

As we all know, spas operate on thin margins after the cost of labor, facilities and amenities. Is the trend towards heavily discounted spa services sustainable? Are core spa-goers losing interest in fancy amenities in favor of a good treatment in a humble setting? Have daily deal sites trained “spa newbies” to get a massage only when it is heavily discounted? What are the ramifications for our industry when spa treatments are devalued in the eyes of the consumer?

I look forward to your feedback on this important topic!