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Resorting to Retail: The Spa Retail Advantage
By Julie D. Taylor

Why, you might ask, should you dedicate precious space and staffing power to add a retail element to your spa? Well, spa architect Robert D. Henry’s intelligent approach to spa design has made him one of the foremost spa experts in the world. In this exclusive interview, we asked Mr. Henry to share some of his insights on how to make a retail component successful and worthwhile.

R+R: Why is the retail element so important to the resort spa?
RH: The retail shop can be your best source of marketing. Let me explain: Your guests are enjoying the total experience of your resort—the site, the treatments, the food, etc. When they purchase something from the spa, they will bring home a piece of the experience. Every time they use that product—especially if it’s a private-label product—they will be reminded of the experience. The more chances to bring back that experience, the more the guests will want to come back, and tell their friends, as well.

R+R: Why is the spa retail, in particular, so connected to the marketing?
RH: If your guest doesn’t have a favorable experience in the spa, she will have a bad memory of the whole trip. (I say “she”, because most of the spa-goers are women and are the ones that most often book the trips.) The spa is where she lets go, is pampered, and gets more personal attention than anywhere else in the resort. She experiences luxury and TLC that she doesn’t get in daily life. When she uses that product—feels the lotion on her body, smells the unique fragrance—she will replay the great experience at your resort. The product is the strongest perceptual connection back to the place. It’s that repeat subliminal seduction that will bring a person back to the resort.

R+R: What about the return on investment?
RH: On the bottom-line orientation, your retail should out-perform, per square foot, any other segment in the spa—and perhaps the whole resort. But, it has to be presented and marketed professionally.

R+R: How so?
RH: For the spas we design, we have patrons experience the spa product three times during their visit. First, we bring them through the retail area upon entry, where they can browse as they wait to check in or check out. We may also commingle the retail in the waiting area. Second, the therapists explain the products being used?before, during, or after the treatment. They can even offer suggestions and give a list of products, especially if they’ve just done a personalized regimen. Some therapists may be uncomfortable with the notion of “selling,” the products. A subtle, non-obtrusive way of suggestion should be worked out with the staff so that they don’t feel like salespeople and patrons don’t feel taken advantage of. The third experience is at the spa check-out, where the retail is. At check-out, they can be asked if they would like to bring home their experience.

Another advantage in the resort environment is that most things are signed to the room. Psychologically, if they don’t have to pull out cash, it’s a more seamless sale. Again, a soft-sell approach is the best—tell them they can come back anytime in their stay, if they’re unsure about purchasing at that moment.

R+R: What about other, non-product, items?
RH: These are important as well, and can encompass everything from robes and slippers to art and accessories. These lifestyle elements contribute to giving the patron an entire experience. If they just bring home a lotion, it’s not the same as bringing home the experience of a healthy, luxurious lifestyle that they’ve experienced at your spa. You can even create a package with robe, slippers, and product so that they have the necessary tools to maintain the feeling they’ve just experienced. Your spa retail sales staff should be able to help them integrate the products and processes to their daily lives.

R+R: Should there be dedicated staff for the retail?
RH: If you are making the commitment to it, go all the way. The best retail ventures we’ve been involved in all have a dedicated staff. You want a personable, product expert who can show the effectiveness and uniqueness of the products. Just providing the space and not a person will backfire. With the added personalized effort, the products will really raise your revenues.

R+R: How much space should be allotted to the retail?
RH: There really isn’t a formula for how much space should be devoted to the retail operation. It has more to do with how much the resort wants to dedicate to the retail. It could be as large as 10 to 15 percent of the space, or a very small boutique that’s 5 percent of the space. The key is the right staffing and attractive displays. The displays are as important as the staffing. Make sure the display area is different from the stocking area—too much product lined up is too overwhelming. Artfully arrange the products and have them open for the patrons to touch and sample—never behind glass.

R+R: Should the same designer do the spa and retail?
RH: Yes. Both areas should be conceived as part of a greater whole. There are so many areas of a spa—retail, waiting, treatment rooms, dressing room, locker area, staff areas, storage—that need to be coordinated to make it work perfectly. You also want the interiors of the spa and the merchandising to relate to each other for the full experience. Because it is such a s specialized practice, you may want to bring in a spa design expert—different from the resort designers—who has experience in all these areas.

R+R: If there’s a gift shop in the resort, why have retail in the spa as well?
RH: Again, to make it work, you need to be committed to doing the retail correctly. The resort gift shop may have one or two spa items, but the spa shop must be very directed toward replicating the spa experience and promoting the lifestyle. If spa product were only offered in the main gift shop, then you would lose the opportunity for the sale by redirecting the patron to another area. As well, when one emerges from the spa, she is blissful, meditative, and happy. Entering the main gift shop could bring noise, newspapers, and the ring of cash registers—just the things to break the mood.

R+R: How can the spa products be promoted throughout the resort?
RH: If spa products are used for in-room amenities, you have an even better chance of selling more of them through the spa. If someone is using the product everyday, and receiving the benefits, they are going to seek that product out. Again, you go for that seamless experience.