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Why work with a Spa Developer?

22 June 2009
Surely with your competencies, you are capable of developing a spa?  You are up to date on spa know-how and you understand what is involved so why spend a fortune on a spa developer?  What are the risks in creating a spa without using a developer?  And that is the real question: do you know exactly what you stand to lose by working alone on a project of this nature and, on the flip side, what you stand to gain if you recruit a professional developer?  Jean-François Dumaine, CEO of Luxinov elaborates.  

Article published in Les Nouvelles Esthetiques & Spa Magazine - Issue 36
For more information or spa articles, visit:

Who enlists the services of a spa developer?

Let's start with those who are not from the spa industry at all.  They come from all walks of life: accountants, legal assistants and the like.  Usually between the ages of 40 and 50 and engaged as professionals in their industry.  It is often around this time that one decides to do an about-turn.  Often these individuals have had a frustrating history with the beauty industry and may have even been told, “You will never be a beauty therapist.”  One day, once they have earned enough money and it may not necessarily a huge sum of money, they feel free to follow their desires.  By applying a little psychology, one notices that this often happens around about the time that their parents pass away.  There is no longer any need to live up to expectations or answer to anyone else.  These people need a spa developer to help teach them about the spa industry and to hold their hand throughout the project.

Amongst those potential clients of a spa developer, you also encounter investors who are simply looking to put money into a spa.  There are not that many people who fit this profile, simply because the spa industry is relatively new and a business model does not yet exist.  Financing a project without a  business model is extremely difficult.  If a backer invests in this kind of project, it is typically because they are willing to take a risk on the venture or because they are enabling someone they care for to open a spa.

Of course, there is also you, the beauty therapist who regularly updates her equipment and her treatment offering.  You are the kind of person who travels, reads Les Nouvelles Esth
étiques, attends the Les Nouvelles Esthetiques Spa Conferences, is constantly meeting new people and keeps up to date on what is going on in her industry.  So one day when a spa opens up in your town, your own customer catchment area, what are you going to do?  You can either take heed and react or you can throw in the towel! But isn't it already too late?  Well, if the newly opened spa has taken all of the ideas you had in your mind and incorporated them into her spa, then perhaps it is too late.  But if, on the other hand, all of your ideas have not been reflected then there is, without doubt, room for both of you.  This is the big advantage of running a spa as opposed to a traditional salon.  A salon responds to a client's direct and specific need while a spa goes beyond that and approaches the client's needs from a more global perspective.  In one town, you can, quite conceivably, have four spas the same size and offering similar treatments but because they have been developed according to a different theme, they can cohabit quite easily.  Take a restaurant as a parallel example.  In a single road, there may be three restaurants offering similar quality food, at a similar price but they can coexist because the style of the food and the atmosphere is different in each. You have been in operation for a number of years and are ready to take your  business to the next level.  You have thirty, forty or fifty square metres available.  You have earned a decent living up until this point and now wish to re-invest in a larger surface area.  You understand your industry and you are familiar with your clients' needs and desires and those services which you have been unable to offer them.  It is important that you decide if you want to maintain your current clientele or attract a new clientele. Typically whilst your clients have a high regard for your facial treatments, you have been limited in terms of the body treatments you have been able to offer.  Going forward you will be focusing on expanding your body treatments.  Is this do-able in an area of only thirty square metres?  The answer is usually no, which means you will need to consider an extension. Generally, the surface area of a salon ranges from thirty to fifty square metres.  It would be an impossible task to try and incorporate a hammam, sauna and jacuzzi into an area of only thirty square metres, unless you piled them one on top of the other...  There isn't really a minimum surface area because if you are simply wanting to add some body treatments to your existing offering, an additional ten to fifteen square metres may suffice.  However, if you want to create a spa, it is a different story altogether.  Even a hundred square metres is pushing the limit.   This is because it allows very little space for relaxation areas.  If you want to be able to offer two to three treatments, space is essential!  The concept of offering a progression of treatments, a ceremony or ritual of sorts, with a rest or relaxation station inbetween treatments, dictates that a larger space is required.  You possess all the industry knowledge required to administer your treatments but may not have the know-how required to develop your premises.  It is therefore often advisable to work with a developer to ensure that your ideas have taken all factors into consideration and to ensure that your project is economically viable, what the expenses will be and if the end result will be a profitable venture. 

Remember, your spa or salon needs to be a representation of you.  The skill of a good developer lies in the ability to present you with a product that tells your story.  

The work of a Spa Developer, step by step
 The Initial Concept  

You approach a developer with some specific ideas in mind.  As an example, you may have just returned from a holiday where you were exposed to an amazing massage technique in an idyllic location and now you want to incorporate these ideas.
 Or as is often the case, you recruit the services of a developer because you have a suitable location and wish to open a salon or spa.  The developer then helps you to unveil what is possible given the space available.  It is then up to you to decide exactly what kind of services you wish to offer your targeted clientele. So there are two typical profiles: the person returning from a holiday, having experienced a magnificent spa consuming 2000 – 300 square metres, which they now wish to replicate in an area of 150 square metres.  That is the classic case.  And then there is the beauty therapist who has kept updated with industry trends and who has a desire to incorporate some new equipment and needs to make space for it.  In this instance, it is really more about adding value to her current offering rather than changing it completely. However, before you start planning any renovations, think long and hard about it, especially if all you are doing is simply adding a new treatment!  Your plans obviously hinge on the type of treatment being introduced.  If the treatment is not going to generate a significant revenue, it may not be worth doing the alterations.  On the flip side, if the goal is reposition yourself in answer to a new competitor, it may be worth considering.  But do not embark on this road if it simply an attempt to copy cat what others are doing. 

The Project

Luxinov's method is to start by doing a global analysis of the proposed project.  The goal is to determine whether your idea has economic merit and if it will be financially viable, taking into consideration your current situation and your budget.  You are basically finding out whether your dream is economically viable.  The answer will come swiftly and you will know what your business will be capable of in 3 years time.  You may decide to cease your interaction with the developer at this point.  He has helped you to see that your project is viable and you decide to continue unassisted.  But you should know that it is from this moment, that a developer's true purpose comes into play.

The Plans

The second phase involves the layout for the new space, which includes a floor plan, electricity and plumbing.  With Luxinov, if you so desire, we can create a 3D animation of the establishment, which you can move through, room by room.  It enables you to do a virtual tour of your new space, just like a video game.  The only things missing are the sense of touch and smell!  This can be very helpful as it is often difficult to visualise a space from a 2D plan.

The Materials

Now, it is time to choose the raw materials and thereby marry design and desire, two very opposite notions.  Your developer will present you with a range of materials that suit the technical specifications and functionality of each area.  Be careful not to base your decisions on what is trendy now. Rather select materials that have longevity and that are durable.  If you choose a very vivid colour, it may be fashionable now but you may rest assured that in two years it won't be any longer!  Never follow a fashion trend when designing a spa.  A successful spa is one which is not in desperate need of an update in 5 or 6 years.  Just as with clothes, design trends come and go and cycles last two or three years.  There are definitely risks associated with making your spa look completely Oriental or carrying out a strong Zen theme, for example.  A good spa transcends trends.  Some spas have opted for a completely white backdrop and have relied on lighting to decorate their space, which is a really clever idea.  The lighting, offers different ambiances in the morning and evening.

The Equipment

During this phase you will be selecting all the apparatus used in the running of your establishment: from furniture to accessories to the  actual equipment.  It is absolutely crucial that suppliers deliver according to their original quotation otherwise you are going to run into some nasty surprises!  A developer like Luxinov has access to over 450 products and machines.  They will be able to advise you.
 When it comes to the treatment tables the ultimate fundamental, there are three or four families of tables, ranging from metallic to hydraulic to wood to electric and within each family, there are about 50 different types of products to choose from according to budget, type of treatment, ambiance, robustness, elegance etc... The cosmetic range you intend to use will have been decided when you first embark on your project as it is a crucial aspect of your spa.  The decision is really based on personal preference.  You can continue to use the brand you have been using up until this point because you believe in it and are familiar with it. The advantage is that you already know your product well and it has an existing clientele at your establishment.  It is not necessary to change brands, thereby introducing further risk factors with a range you are unfamiliar with.  If you do want to change brands, you can introduce this at a later stage. 

The Location

You would like to keep your existing clientele but, by changing your location, you run the risk of moving out of their “comfort zone”.  It is rare to find a suitable location that is double the size just up the street!  Usually one migrates to a space that is 200, 300 or even 500 square metres, which is pretty big, and if it is in the middle of town, it is considered enormous!  A developer like luxinov would intervene, by visiting the site.  He will advise whether it is viable, in terms of various criteria and particularly the technical aspect.
 Is your dream possible in this exact location?  This is not a detail.  A site may not be technically viable because, for example, the co-owner of the land refuses to allow certain activities and if you have not done your homework properly prior to purchase, you may find yourself in a sticky situation.  These days, health and safety regulations are very strict and you will have to abide by access laws, fire and sanitary regulations and so on.  Having to spend 20 thousand Euros ensuring that your spa is fitted with handicapped access ramps everywhere, would be important for your handicapped clients, but it would be disastrous for you, especially if your budget is only 40 thousand Euros! 


Luxinov delivers the naked product but you need to take charge of the décor.  We can offer some advice.  Be aware that a magnificent space can be ruined by thoughtless or unpolished décor finishes.  You may also benefit from advice relating to the placement of posters advertising the cosmetic brand you stock.  Does this space belong to you, or the brand?


Right from the beginning of your business plan, you need to allow for an advertising budget with direct marketing activities.  We will talk you through all the pitfalls and what to avoid.

Set-Up, After-Sales Service and Training

This refers to purely technical training with the drawing up of maintenance books.  You are a beauty therapist and it is not expected that you will need to turn into a grease monkey and spend your time fiddling with the jacuzzi pumps.  The maintenance books we will supply you with, will explain the daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly actions that you will need to undertake to ensure the longest life span possible for your equipment. 
You can contract the services of a maintenance person or you can get your developer to return on a set date to look over the equipment to ensure that all is in order. For the 3 weeks following your grand opening, you will find this training invaluable.  You will not feel like you have been abandoned.  This training period can be very reassuring for a new spa or salon owner who does not come from a beauty therapy background but it is also important for owners who are beauty therapists, to help reveal any bad habits, which may have set in over the years. 

The Budget

Your developer will be able to tell you what is feasible in terms of your budget and what is not.  You will need to meet with your developer fairly regularly during each phase.  This is so that you can confirm all the decisions made.  You do not always have to go over budget.  The aim is to keep costs below your budget.  When we go over budget, it is invariably because the client changed their mind about something.  Something that the client approved, something for which he accepted a quote in writing, suddenly he no longer wants.  When you interrupt, modify, re-think, re-do your renovations in mid-swing, it is going to have an impact.  It is crucial that once a project has commenced, you allow it to run its scheduled course from beginning to end.  Understand that the margin for adjustments is small and you cannot change everything en route.  The creation of a salon or spa is like working with Lego.  Every modification has ripple effect on all the other pieces of the puzzle, and this in turn has an effect on the final cost.  In other words, when there is an overcharge, it is as a result of the owner changing his mind. 
 Depending on the contract negotiated, if the original budget has to be increased as a result of incorrect estimates supplied by the company's economist or if the plans have been poorly thought out, then, legally, it is the company's responsibility.   

The Time Factor

The difficulty with undertaking such a big space is the time taken to complete the project, with two scenarios: l  If you own the land: the duration of the alterations is not that importantl  however, if you are a tenant, you cannot afford to pay rent for a space that is not generating any cash flow. The fundamental difficulty lies in completing the work within a given time frame so take into consideration the fact that an area of 150 square metres will take approximately two and a half months to complete.  Demand that your developer enters into a contract with you, which indicates the duration of the project. 

Why hire a developer?

OK, it's been decided, you are moving ahead with your plans!  Do not hesitate to contact a specialist, at the beginning, to offer wise counsel and to ensure that your establishment adheres to regulations.  A number of businesses these days are being forced to close because they were not built according to regulation.
 The reservation most people have when considering getting a specialist to consult to them, is that it is going to cost them a fortune.  But if done right, it should save both time and money!   Luxinov often receives SOS calls from people who embarked on such huge projects, with the help of their cousin, who is a painter or a friend who is a plumber...  These are the people who phone us up one day when they discover that one of their treatment rooms has been flooded by the hammam across the passage.  You may have a handle on your job but it is very difficult to also manage the construction of your new space, the regulations governing it, sanitation issues, the washing cycle, staffing issues and so on... Luxinov tries to intervene and salvage the operation wherever possible but about a third of these SOS clients are beyond help!  They have to actually start over! So I would suggest that you do not even think twice about enlisting the services of a specialist, whether it be an architect who is well versed in building regulations, or a spa developer, who is familiar with both the spa industry and the regulations governing the spa industry.  In this day and age, very few people have the luxury of an unsuccessful first attempt so by recruiting a spa developer to assist you in the implementation of your dream, you can focus on other areas to ensure that your project is a success. 

How does one choose a good developer?

Go out and visit other sites that they have been involved in and soon you will get a sense for what you like.  The best idea is to uncover the story that each place tells and decide whether it works as it should, or not.

Article published in Les Nouvelles Esthetiques & Spa Magazine - Issue 36
For more information or spa articles, visit:
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For more information contact the SA Spa Association on 011 447 9959 or e-mail: info@saspaassociation.co.za


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