Since it opened its doors in 2006 right before a major a recession, The Lodge at Woodloch (Hawley, PA) has constantly evolved to remain relevant, compelling, and wellness-focused. Most recently, the Poconos destination spa unveiled a large renovation, several innovative programs, and new classes, including a groovy Barry White yoga session. John Kiesendahl, owner and CEO of Woodloch Resorts, shares the secrets of the brand’s success, including its recent renovation. Since Woodloch Resorts, which includes The Lodge as well as the 60-year-old family-friendly Woodloch Pines Resort, took over the management of the property, it has gone from a recession-time occupancy of 20 percent to occupancy levels and profit margins that have quadrupled in recent years. Kiesendahl attributes this to a “dedicated staff with heart-felt service that has had a monumental effect on repeat business and guest referrals.”
What prompted you to create the Lodge at Woodloch more than a decade ago?
Woodloch Pines Resort has been in business for more than 60 years. Back when we were dreaming of the possibilities, we knew that we needed something that was a quiet reprieve from the hectic lives of our guests living in the biggest metropolitan centers in the U.S. Woodloch Pines is an energetic, family-centered adventure, while The Lodge at Woodloch brings a quiet sophistication for personal awakening and relationship rekindling. In short, it just felt right.
To what do you attribute its success?
Our staff members, as I wholeheartedly believe that the level of caring and passion about their careers is something that distinguishes the hospitality at The Lodge at Woodloch. Our team’s passion to stay ahead of the trends, provide our guests with service and amenities above their expectations, and the level of caring that goes into each interaction is a testament to our business growth.
Why do you think the destination spa has been able to succeed where others have failed?
While our timing really didn’t feel serendipitous at the time, with the recession starting shortly after opening, we truly have been able to be at the forefront of the wellness wave. A wellness lifestyle used to be stereotyped for people who were “granola” or vegan or wealthy. Luckily, we have rounded that curve and a wellness lifestyle is now an expectation. People are more educated on what wellness means and how they can incorporate it. They now demand it as part of their lives. Well living is a given. How people attain that wellness lifestyle is what we aim to do—provide new avenues to reconnect guests with their passions or allow them to discover new hobbies to carry into their wellness lifestyles in the future.
What makes the spa stand out from the competition?
Choice. Our team of experts understands that life is about balance, about being human, and about living fully. With that comes the opportunity to cultivate choice. We serve alcohol, and we offer dessert. Some days are for splurges, and some days are for correcting your course. We know that being realistic about your wellness lifestyle is the best way to stay on track. When you steer off a little, it is okay, as long as you steer back. We are also able to stand out, because we stay true to who we are. We have always let nature nurture and taken our muse from the beauty that surrounds us. As long as we continue to look to nature for our cues, we know that we can’t go wrong.
What prompted the recent renovation and update?
As our business grew over the years, we realized quickly that we needed to better maximize our space. When the spa was quiet, it was utilized differently than a 99-percent-occupied day. We studied the patterns of our guests and our services and adjusted our floor plan accordingly. We added new areas for quiet contemplation and increased opportunities to let nature in, such as adding windows to our porches and screens to our outdoor sitting area. We re-configured the walls to provide a better flow and more open space. We also added a room for social gathering (Gather: A Social Suite) so that our post-spa relaxation room (Whisper: A Silent Sanctuary) could remain quiet, understanding that some want to chat and some want to quietly reflect.
How has it been received by your clients?
Our guests have responded with rave reviews. One of our best compliments was, “It didn’t feel outdated before, but seeing the new space makes you feel like they are anticipating our needs in more ways than one.”
What have been the biggest challenges in expanding and growing the business?
Space. You would think that our location on more than 500 acres in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania would allow us nothing but space. But we realize that one of our greatest assets is our intimate size. We want to remain small in size with a personal and cozy feeling—everything in one building—while also keeping the feel of a quiet respite from the hectic world at home. The busier we are, the harder it is to keep that balance. We have accepted the challenge graciously by finding unique ways of balancing the numbers by increasing our class and spa offerings, finding cozy nooks for relaxation, and expanding our amenities on the grounds. We have also continuously purchased more land surrounding our property. We started at 75 acres and are now at more than 500 private acres surrounding The Lodge at Woodloch. While the property is cozy, the space to roam is vast.
How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?
Our favorite way of getting new guests is by word-of-mouth outreach. We feel that treating our guests as if they are guests in our own home is a sure-fire way of wowing them. In turn, they will tell their friends and loved ones about their experience. We are humbled and grateful by our high return guest rate of almost 49 percent year-to-date; 2017 finished the year with a return guest rate of 42 percent. We always measure our guests’ satisfaction by asking them how likely they are to return and how likely they are to recommend it to a friend. These measurement tools provide amazing guidance to us on trends and our efforts. Last year, we had more than 93 percent of people say they would probably or definitely recommend us to a friend. Of course, we also like to jar our guests’ positive memories about their experiences through more traditional advertising, social media, and earned media.
How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?
Digital marketing and social media is a great way for us to truly target our best guest and engage with them on unique levels. We try to balance our digital outreach with meaningful content as well as a few offers peppered in. We are truly blessed with a very engaged group of people who enjoy interacting and keeping the conversation going on social media. Additionally, we utilize data through our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program through our digital marketing and social media efforts to better serve our guests when they are in house.
How do you keep your staff motivated?
Just as we like to treat our guests as if they are guests in our own home, we carry this through with our staff members. We have personal relationships with our staff and often do things just for them to let them know that we are all part of the same family. Our holiday parties are often in a home to share the experience together. We have staff days at the resort so they have the chance to experience the resort as a guest. We also try to have fun together with things like scavenger hunts, barbecues, and surprise ice cream truck days. We are also big believers in recognizing our staff.
What plans do you have for the future?
Our sister resort offers guest homes as an option. We plan to create a few guest homes that carry that spa-like feeling into the design and experience on newly acquired land, but that is a few years away yet. In the nearer future, we are in the process of planning the logistics for expanding our restaurant. The success of our cookbook, the amazing chef and farm team, the popularity of our cooking demonstrations, and the flow of patrons in the restaurant is allowing us to look at the restaurant layout with a new set of goals.