Friday, November 23, 2007

Why We Spa and, Why We Don't

By Lesley Michael

After explosive growth in American spa attendance for years, the trend is noticeably slowing. What is valuable about the spa experience and what is holding new spa goers back from taking the plunge?

The figures seem staggeringly positive. In 2003 the spa industry reported an estimated $11.2 billion dollars in revenue as U.S. spas earned an average of about $143 per spa visit. But recent market trend data shows spa growth to be slowing, additionally estimating that spa visits dropped about 13% from 2001-2003. What gives?

Culturally there has been a significant change in the way we view those who pay weekly visits to their prized masseuse and/or esthetician. No longer considered “pampered,” they are deemed “health-conscious”. Though once described as “vain”; they are now applauded for tending to their newfound self-worth.

Spas have become much less about indulgence and much more about healthy lifestyles and learning to pay homage to (i.e. appreciate) the body you've been blessed with. More men are getting their fingernails cleaned (its about time), and more teens are dragging in their modest mothers to try out that new thigh-high endermologie treatment that's all the rage.

Yet if we seem so primed for a spa revolution why the decrease in spa visits? Maybe because nowadays you can buy all the products used in spa-treatments with the bat of an eyelash. Spas and cosmetic companies are giving us tons of incentive to sit and home, light some candles, make a mess of our bathrooms, and experiment with their hot-colored muds and fruit-scented scrubs. They practically bottle the spa experience for just about one-fourth the cost of a facial or massage (plus shipping and handling).

Except at the end of the day, the consumer buying the spa-products at home isn't the reason for the trend decline. They are buying these products either to keep up with a prescribed regimen, or to forgo the weekly manicure only to save up for a tri-monthly massage.

So why have almost 75% of my friends and family still never had a spa treatment?

Surprisingly the core spa-goers making weekly visits to spas comprise the smallest percentage of the consumer market and those who go once or twice a month for basic treatments (massage, facial, pedicure) comprise the largest. The second largest sector of the market base is made of peripheral and first-time spa-goers. These two groups are visiting spas mainly for near-term benefits like relieving stress, addressing problem areas, or for a necessary moment of peace and quiet away from the kids. But most spas are concentrating their time and money marketing a slew of ultra-luxe treatments and holistic services bearing long-term benefits. They seem to be missing the point.

What do spa owners need to know?

If the price is right, a massage or facial is pretty hard to turn down. And indeed research shows that price is the main reason why those going to spas about once a month don’t visit more frequently. It is also why so many are hesitant to try it out in the first place.

After being lured in for a simple treatment there are two things that keep a future customer happy. Pricing and service. Price incentives like series pricing and complimentary add-ons are key. So is personalized service.

While it may take sometime for people to recognize the long-term benefits of spa-services, particularly the less familiar ayurvedic and holistic treatments, it is important to build relationships with customers that translate into care and respect. Make me want to spend my one-hour a week free with you, and then maybe ill me more apt to try your improved hydrotherapy organic-sugar bath soak.

Medical spas are the new day spas, boasting acupuncture, facials, and colon-cleansings all under one roof. The spa experience in the United States is moving towards where Europe has always viewed spas, as necessities to maintaining health and well-being. Explaining the health benefits of spa treatments in legitimate and understandable terms will go a long way to encouraging new spa members to try out the experience.

While it is exciting that the spa industry is increasing preventive and curative treatments, traditional massage therapies, body scrubs and facials are still wonderful ways to brighten up a stressful week even if their medical value has not been quantified. We all yearn for time to relax, seeking some simplification in these chaotic and frenzied times.

But before the average-joes book appointments for the new heated chocolate-peppermint-seaweed body wrap, they have got to understand and appreciate the basics of the spa experience. So greet them with a handy glossary of the dozen or so massage styles you offer, a coupon, and a smile, and ditch the sugar wrap explanation for next time.

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