Ode to Wellness

The debut of the Silken Tent (Glenview, IL) last year gave spa-goers in the northern Chicago suburbs something they had long desired: a healing haven based on eco-friendly and organic concepts. Designed to offer denizens of the Windy City a respite from their daily lives, the spa was the brainchild of Sherri Stewart, who first recognized the need for a spa in the area after hosting a party for 25 women five years ago. That day, talk turned to the topic of spas and the fact that there weren't really any in the immediate area and certainly none that offered the comprehensive experience the women wanted.

Although she had established a successful career in corporate human resources, Stewart always knew some type of entrepreneurial venture was in her future. "I wanted to create a business that was focused on wellness, health, and peace—something very different from the corporate world," says Stewart. That simple get together planted the seed that would later become the Silken Tent.

Spa-goers can browse through a range of eco-friendly merchandise in the spa's lifestyle boutique.
Spa-goers can browse through a range of eco-friendly merchandise in the spa's lifestyle boutique.

Just because Stewart was looking to make her exit from corporate life didn't mean she left behind the experience she had gained there. Before venturing into the spa industry, she did plenty of research, such as attending numerous conferences, participating in classes, and talking with industry insiders. It was through this process that she found herself in a seminar on how to develop a spa being taught by spa consultant Alexis Ufland of Lexi Design. Finding that they shared a lot of the same sensibilities and regard for the environment, Stewart eventually enlisted Ufland to consult on the project. She also conducted various focus groups of women living on the North Shore to test and refine her vision of a beautiful, eco-friendly spa that combined a variety of elements, such as retail, an organic café, yoga, and more. "Women were so energetic about the concept of a place that is focused on the community," says Stewart.

Guests are invited to experience the Silken Tent Water Ritual area before or after their treatments (below).
Guests are invited to experience the Silken Tent Water Ritual area before or after their treatments (below).


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The research didn't stop there though, as Stewart wanted to make sure it would be a sustainable business. Concerned about the long-term effect of medical spas and their growing popularity, she researched that side of the industry as well. Once she was satisfied that there was a market for those interested in less clinical treatments, she put together a business plan and set about lining up investors.

Involved from the beginning, Stewart's sister-in-law, Tiffany Cannon, was a guest at that life-altering party five years ago. At the time, she was consulting for Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company. Although the timing wasn't right then, she later left her job in corporate America and came onboard as a partner in the spa.

With a concept in mind, a business plan in hand, and money in the bank, Stewart and Cannon faced their most difficult challenge: finding an ideal location. According to Stewart, they wanted about 9,000 square feet that wasn't in a strip mall or spread out over several floors. It was also important that it be centrally located and offer good visibility. After an extensive search, they finally gave up on the idea of finding the perfect building and decided to buy a lot on which to build the spa they envisioned. As luck would have it, Stewart received a call from her realtor asking her to have a look at one more building just as she was on the way to negotiate the property deal. The 11,000-square-foot building turned out to be the ideal site. The fact that it overlooks a nature preserve with a scenic lake was just icing on the cake.

Stewart and Cannon found not only inspiration but also a name in Robert Frost's poem, "The Silken Tent." "Our mission is to help every guest find the sureness of their soul," says Stewart, referring to a line in Frost's poem. Wanting to make the spa a safe and nurturing environment, the two set about implementing their vision, which also involved making the spa as eco-friendly as possible. In addition to vintage furniture and lighting, the spa also features a mesquite wood wall and flooring. Bamboo flooring was also used in the lifestyle boutique and yoga studio.

Guests can relax in the spa lounge (right) before heading to a treatment room (left).
Guests can relax in the spa lounge (right) before heading to a treatment room (left).

According to Stewart, the spa's eco-sensitive approach also played a role in the product lines that were ultimately selected. "We wanted results-oriented skincare lines that also have a conscience," says Stewart. "It was important to us to include an organic option, as offering organic, sustainable, and eco-friendly options whenever possible is part of our vision." With that in mind, Stewart and Cannon chose to offer Essensa, which fulfilled the organic requirement, B. Kamins Chemist, and Being TRUE.

In creating the menu, the two thought first about their clients and how they wanted to feel during and after their treatments. They then came up with a way to categorize the services based on the outcome. For instance, the spa's massages fall into three groups: I Need to Unwind, Set Me Free, and A Little Magic. Guests wanting the latter would choose among Reiki ($110, 60 minutes; $130, 75 minutes; $150, 90 minutes); Singing Bowl ($150, 90 minutes), a massage designed to promote internal harmony using sound and vibrations; Thai massage ($150, 90 minutes), and Couples massage ($150, 75 minutes; $175, 90 minutes). Facials are categorized as Soothe Me, It's About Healing, and I'm Craving a Change. "We kept the menu short, sweet, and to the point," says Stewart.

Because wellness is an important component of the spa's overall mission, guests can also take advantage of clinical and naturopathic nutrition counseling, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and yoga and Pilates mat classes. There are even psychotherapy sessions to help guests achieve their life goals. Catering to clients from all walks of life, the spa is a refuge for those wanting to reconnect with their spirit as well as friends and family who want to reconnect with one another.

With 19 employees on staff, the spa is able to accommodate approximately 50 clients in a typical day, not taking into account those visiting the spa for retail and yoga. Ultimately, Stewart expects to increase that number over time with the help of additional staff. As for the future, the dynamic duo is looking to expand the spa's organic and eco-friendly offerings and eventually add one or more locations. In the meantime, staffing remains a priority. "Our biggest challenge is hiring, training, motivating, and managing a high-performing team," says Stewart. "We have an outstanding, dedicated start-up team, and as we grow I want to be sure we stay connected to each other and to our customers."

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