It seems that almost everyone is putting in a spa, which is leading to huge growth in the industry. That growth is creating a huge “buzz” about everything from operational methods to new treatments. It also is creating a big demand for something new. Coming from the fitness industry, I encourage fitness operators to focus on creating a new experience for members by creating a total experience for them rather than just giving them another gym experience.

So, what makes for a total experience? Is it programming or treatments? Is it design? How about benefits? And does this experience have an impact on customer loyalty? These are all important questions since getting and keeping customers is the goal for most businesses, right? Let's take a closer look at this.

LOYALTY

Let's first look at loyalty. We are all interested in keeping our customers, getting them to come back and creating brand loyalty, but how exactly do we go about accomplishing all that?

Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration continually posts on its Web site analysis of sophisticated research. The school has published numerous reports about customer loyalty. One way that hotels try to maintain brand loyalty is through their frequent guest programs in which guests receive points for hotel stays and then redeem those points for goodies, prizes, travel, upgrades and complimentary stays.

A recent study by Cornell suggests that hotels should re-evaluate where they focus their resources. Researchers studied 364 guests at two large city hotels. The study revealed a weak connection between satisfaction and loyalty. It also found that design and amenities were the chief factors behind loyalty.

This finding is interesting because it seems to reinforce other findings about how important design and finish are to customers, which suggests that in the club and spa industry we should look closely at where we allocate our resources when building a business.

Look at the success of the W Hotel — the upscale chain of hotels from Starwood Hotels and Resorts (owner of Westin, Sheraton and St. Regis hotels). These business hotels are a departure from the traditional hotel, “providing the personality and style of a boutique hotel with the reliability and comprehensive business services travelers expect,” according to the hotel's Web site. Rooms can run in the $300 range. People will pay that because of the “experience.” Look at what Starbucks can charge for a cup of coffee because of the “experience.” Hence, it is extremely important when developing a spa to have the appropriate level of “build out” and finishes that will create a memorable experience for the member.

While you must remember that customers buy with their eyes and the experience, I wouldn't give up on those other programs that contribute to loyalty. People are loyal for various reasons, such as the rewards, the luxury level, prestige, recognition, the perks, etc. These programs can be quite successful.

AMENITIES

So now that we've established the importance of the experience to members, what amenities are creating a large “buzz” these days when it comes to creating an experience? One is the shower. There are so many variations today: the mist shower, the rain forest shower and the monsoon shower, among others. There is also the Swiss shower, which has anywhere from six to 24 heads. How many of us have a shower like that at home? And if we did, who would ever want to leave the house again? In essence, that's what makes the experience unique, and in the big picture, it is really not that expensive to add these special amenities to a spa.

Another area of recent attention are the relaxation rooms and the chairs or lounges that are used within them. Stress and Motivation, the UK distributor for the Finnish company Next Wave, sells a sound wave therapy chair. The chair has been successful in markets such as Premiership football clubs, nursing homes and prisons. It is now making a foray into the spa market. This physioacoustic chair emits low frequency sinusoidal sound waves through speakers in its structure. The approximate resonance frequencies of the basic muscle groups have been stored in the memory of the chair's computer, which then causes the sound to vary up and down from the fixed pitch, meaning the correct resonance frequency for each muscle is reached at certain points during use, causing the muscle to vibrate. In simple terms, that basically translates to “it feels good.” This is just another example of how you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

To find out more about what the buzz is in products, you can contact Polly Johnson at Spa Equip. Her email address is: polly@hydrospaconsulting.com. She has been tracking and supplying the latest and greatest products and has a Buzz book.


Glenn Colarossi is the president of Colarossi Spa & Health Club Consulting & Management. He has worked on projects throughout the world for five-star clients. He can be reached at 203-357-7555 or www.healthclubandspa.com.