Nusta Spa

Sometimes the success of a business hinges on one key insight, such as finding a new application for technology, creating a concept that lowers prices for consumers, or noticing a market that is underserved. For Elizabeth Snowdon, founder and president of Nusta Spa, it was the latter of these. Although she hadn't lived in her hometown of Washington, D.C., for 12 years, she moved back after getting her MBA from Duke.

 The spa's high-concept design, reflected in the pedicure and nail treatment areas, combines a modernist aesthetic with environmental responsibility. "People  come inside and say, 'It feels so healthy and pure.' And that's because it really is.
The spa's high-concept design, reflected in the pedicure and nail treatment areas, combines a modernist aesthetic with environmental responsibility. "People come inside and say, 'It feels so healthy and pure.' And that's because it really is.

Snowdon had always loved spas, and she began thinking, "How do I take something I personally love and turn it into a career?" And so Snowdon, using her business school background, started looking at how to get involved in the industry. "What I saw was a basic supply and demand imbalance in D.C.," she says. "There weren't a lot of particularly good places, and the ones that were good were really, really booked."

The bright white Vichy shower hydrotherapy room has a crisp and clean look.
The bright white Vichy shower hydrotherapy room has a crisp and clean look.

Specifically, there were hair salons that offered spa services, fitness centers with spa treatments, and hotels that catered to guests. But those who live in the area wouldn't typically call a Hilton to book a massage. Full-service day spas existed, but they weren't in downtown D.C. Spa-goers had to travel to the suburbs. "I wanted a place where you could get the robe and slippers," says Snowdon, "sit and have a cup of tea, and get that restful retreat feeling in an urban setting. And there just wasn't a place like that at all." That is, until Snowdon opened Nusta in May.

Wood-faced lockers give the women's changing area warmth.
Wood-faced lockers give the women's changing area warmth.

The spa is located a couple of blocks south of Dupont Circle, a hub of law firms, lobbyists, nonprofits, and government agencies. Also within walking distance is the West End, a well-to-do residential area. "You have people working eighty hours a week or more in these places," says Snowdon. "They can't necessarily get out of the office at six, but they can maybe at eight, or they can come in [to the spa] on Sunday morning—so we really try to cater to their needs." Nusta is open seven days a week and every mid-week evening until 9 PM.

The lounge area is furnished with that modernist icon—the Barcelona chair. In keeping with the eco-friendly design, the wood wall is made with salvaged beams from an old barn. Custom carpet is made with 50 percent recycled content.
The lounge area is furnished with that modernist icon—the Barcelona chair. In keeping with the eco-friendly design, the wood wall is made with salvaged beams from an old barn. Custom carpet is made with 50 percent recycled content.

Snowdon has differentiated the spa not only by its extended hours but also by creating a service concept based on simplicity and customization. Customers schedule a general service, such as simply "massage" or "facial," and leave the details to be worked out later between the client and therapist. Snowdon spent $1.25 million to design an eco-friendly spa setting that is modern and hip without being over-the-top or intimidating. The design's sustainable techniques include using recycled building materials; energy-efficient lighting, heating, and air-conditioning; and a sophisticated air-filtration system.

An elegant towel display greets clients on the way to the treatment rooms.
An elegant towel display greets clients on the way to the treatment rooms.

Clients can customize their experience on many levels. Each of the seven treatment rooms has individual music and temperature controls, the latter being unusual at a day spa. There are also L.E.D. colored lights in the treatment rooms, which themselves are very simple: white walls, plain bamboo cabinetry—not a lot of decoration or artwork. "The idea is that there is no universal spa experience," says Snowdon. "There's a dial so a client can pick a color that stays on during the treatment, or the color can be phased through many hues. If the client doesn't have a preference, the therapist can use his or her discretion to figure out what's appropriate."

 Nusta Spa (Washington, D.C.)
Nusta Spa (Washington, D.C.)

For now, Snowdon's marketing focus is on building new traffic through mailings and partnerships with hotel concierges who are an important source for leads. Long-term, she plans to keep her business vibrant by giving the existing customer base incentives to keep coming back. "It's much more expensive to attract new clients than it is to expand existing clients," she says. "If ninety-nine point nine percent of D.C. has never heard of us, but the one-tenth of a percent who has heard of us is loyal and come in and love it here, that would be perfectly fine with me."

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