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Building a Luxury Branded Spa

2 December 2009

Building a Luxury Branded Spa

By Lydia Sarfati, CEO Repechage

Featured in Les Nouvelles Esthetiques Spa Magazine.  To subscribe: visit www.lesnouvelles.co.za
One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to travel the world, witnessing first hand the development and influence of trends in the global beauty industry. One of, if not the biggest trend impacting our industry today is the explosion of luxury beauty goods and services. In the September 2006 article, "Luxury: Skin Care's New Growth Serum," Women's Wear Daily reported, "Although the super-priced products account for only 3% of the market, those priced at $70 and above-or twice the market average-have more than doubled volume in the last three years to $380.2 million, growing from 11% of the category in 2002 to 22 percent by year-end 2005. At the same time, products under $70 dropped from almost 90 percent of skin care sales in 2002 to under 80 percent in 2005, and generated less dollar and unit volume last year than they did three years ago."

Statistics such as these quantify the changes I've been noticing for some time in the industry, and among the broader consumer market in general. Demand for high-end goods and services are present across all socio-economic groups. Whether it's denim, sneakers, sunglasses, handbags, or cosmetics - designer labels have permeated the mass market.

Marketing gurus call this consumer trend "the Affluent Attitude." Today's consumers are more educated with more disposable income than they were even a decade ago. They've grown accustomed to media blitzes, flashy advertising, and an endless array of options and customization for any kind of product that is on the market. Remember the days of renting a rotary telephone? Your choice was black or beige. Nowadays, you can buy a cell phone in your signature shade of pink that takes pictures, plays music, and dials phone numbers with voice command.

As an industry we need to be innovative and we need to be observant of shifting attitudes and the evolving wants of consumers so that we can respond. As for the consumer's appetite for luxury goods and services, spas need to focus on building a brand image that focuses on quality, service, and is experience-rich.

Branding is a concept for all spas- not just national names like Canyon Ranch or Elizabeth Arden. Branding is about developing an identity for your spa, whether you are Target or Tiffany. Consider what successfully contributes to both mass-market brands and high-end brands. On the low-end of the market, Wal-mart welcomes shoppers with greeters, Costco delights customers with delicious samples, and Target offers great style at great prices in bright, clutter-free spaces. On the high-end of the market, beautiful packaging of purchased goods, best-practice customer service, and personalization of experience are hallmarks of brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Nieman Marcus, and Tiffany. What standards and practices do you need to incorporate into your business to build value into the brand that is your business?

First, I believe that every spa should strive to provide the ultimate spa experience. Whether you are a one-woman show or have a chain of day spas, the tools for delivering the ultimate spa experience are the same. Your customer is your number one priority as soon as he or she walks in your door. Greet your customer like a VIP, hang his or her coat, offer a beverage in a nice glass or goblet, escort them to the changing room and give explicit directions for disrobing. (Clients forget where the disposables are stored or may be embarrassed to ask if undergarments should be on or off.)

One of the biggest mistakes I see over and over again are spas that treat regular clients like old friends. "Hi Lydia; you know where the closet is. I'll meet you in facial room 3 after you change!" I guarantee you that I would not be returning to the Ritz Carlton if the front desk manager said to me upon check-n, "Hey Lydia! Here's your key. You know where the elevator is!" I stay at the Ritz and your customers go to your spa because we are paying for an experience that makes us feel special.

The experience is in the details. It only takes a customer 7 seconds to size up your business. It should be clean, your facial cart should be immaculate, lighting should be flattering, and music should be tailored to the customer's experience. Linens should be warm and soft. I suggest experiencing your spa from your customer's point of view and be honest with yourself? You need to know if your aesthetician has coffee or cigarette breath. You need to know if the detergent used for laundering the linens is too harsh. Be your own worst critic and you will have raving fans.

The appointment-setting, the treatment, the sales transaction, the experience from start to finish should be planned and executed. This is how you standardize your spa experience and build an identifiable brand for consumers.

Finally, you must hire and train the right people. A business' employees, especially a service business, are your biggest asset. They are not just a receptionist, a manicurist, and an aesthetician. They are your Brand Ambassadors and every interaction they have with a customer reflects on your spa.

They are your most important resource and you need to spend money in developing your team. Certainly, they should be licensed, knowledgeable and skilled professionals. However, I also suggest investing in their communication skills, interpersonal skills, and appearance. I assure you the Front Desk clerk at the Ritz Carlton does not chew gum, wear a rumpled uniform, or use slang when they speak with customers. To be the best, you must raise your standards and put your best face forward.

We are operating in a very competitive environment. Our customers are changing and we need to change with them to meet their demands. However, by upping the quality of the goods, service, and resources employed, spas can build value into their brands and deliver the ultimate spa experience.

Lydia Sarfati is the CEO of Repechage International and contributing writer for Les Nouvelles Esthetiques since inception at 2002. For more information on Repêchage® and the treatments, please contact Anástasi Distributors CC on (012) 430 6506 or 076 880 1585.

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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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