Monday, August 30, 2010

Many in the Spa community have been shocked to learn of the demise of the Spa Chakra company? Probably, because they only saw the illusion of expertise that the principals portrayed! When I first witnessed what they were doing, it was during the Global Summit in New-York; I predicted then, their ultimate failure. And for the same reasons there will be many more to follow. The Spa business is first and foremost a people’s business, a human relations business, simply put it is a SERVICE industry, and all those who think that they will be successful by attending a Retail Sale workshop at ISPA, just failed to really understand what the Spa philosophy is all about and in time will have the same failure result of the Spa Chakra fate.

In the lectures that I give worldwide I very often use the Food and Beverage industry as a comparative, here again the analogy is the same: the restaurant business seems simple and many think that without a great deal of experience they can enter this activity and be successful? Nothing is more wrong! Nine out of ten restaurants that open close in failure within two years of opening! The very same thing is about to happen to the Spa would be experts. Yes, the Spa Chakra example is quite characteristic of the failures by not understanding the importance of the human element but it goes far beyond that. For a while, patrons of spas were uneducated and accepted whatever was served to them and were told that they should appreciate what they were receiving! For a time they did! But the planet is shrinking and travel is easier now than in the past, and as spa clients travelled abroad, in Asia, Europe the Middle East, they soon discovered services that were far superior to what they received at home! Little by little they went from Fast food criteria’s to Gourmet food expectancies, and in the process became more savvy and demanding. Unfortunately the service providers did not follow! And the worst of them fell and will fall through the cracks.

Americans have a cultural problem brought here by the first puritan settlers, they tend to view pleasure as a sin, they have a major problem with touch and with nudity, and these traits affect their behavior and are reflected in their attitude towards the clientele in spas. Massages represent some 82% of all treatment sought in spas worldwide! The average massage delivered in the U.S. referred to as a Full body massage does not work on feet, upper thighs, stomach, chest, buttocks and even hands and face! It is the laughing stock of the international spa community! The draping issue is another aberration! Some spas are starting to allow clients to decide how or if they want to be draped during a massage but most simply impose the Mummy wrap! This would be like imposing a bland curry to the patrons in an Indian or Thai restaurant!

Yes the time of reckoning is fast approaching. The stark and cold demeanor of spa workers will have to change to smiles and warmth, the menus in spas will have to reflect the subliminal desires of well-being and pleasure of the clientele rather than a pseudo-medical approach designed to justify the treatments. Of course this is not going to happen easily as there are too many conflicting interests: the massage schools who are more interested in impressing the students by scientific knowledge which they will never use, refusing to accept that the majority of the jobs for massage therapists today are in the Spa Industry, not in hospitals! And therefore teaching their students pseudo medical attitude rather than a service oriented one. The product manufacturers who are only interested in selling their products and offer “free training”? only designed to increase product sales at the expense of customer satisfaction. And adding insult to injury the many institutions of learning who, claiming an expertise in Management techniques pretend to teach management skills, but shunning the technical aspect of the industry which they feel is below their dignity to get involved in; producing otherwise brilliant young men and women who quite academically become an integral part of the Failure of the system.In what has become a Mutual Admiration Society the sentiments expressed above will rattle many but after objective introspection many will recognize the truth in my comments and take steps to correct the down spiral that they may be in. It is with that in mind that I offer these observations.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Branding: what you do not know will probably hurt you!

What do we mean by branding? It is choosing a brand to identify a service. In the Spa World it usually means picking a well-known brand of cosmetics and associating it to the specific Spa one is operating. There are many as most of the cosmetic brands have jumped on the Spa “band wagon”, so you have Clarins Spa, Decleor Spa, Shiseido Spa, Pevonia Spa, Guerlain Spa, etc. The list is long but I think you get the point. The reasons hoteliers or Spa operators do this is quite simple: first they usually choose a well recognized consumer brand that advertises a lot in magazines, T.V. and other media, so as to garner through the label some notoriety. Ideally, they have chosen a luxury brand and thus hope that the quality of the product, or at least the image of quality that the brand spends millions to project, will be perceived as theirs.

There are markets that are more sensitive to brands than others: North Africa, the Middle East, Asia…but overall it is a planetary phenomenon! Often consumers judge the quality of a product by its brand image. This all sounds good, and one would be tempted to think that this is the way to go and in some cases it may very well be. However there is another factor that one must consider first and foremost and that is: what is the subliminal message of the brand? And they all have one! We all know that subliminal messages are a lot more powerful than straight messages. This is why subliminal insertions of images in T.V. commercials, for instance, are prohibited by law in most countries. For instance, everyone understands the underlying messages of automobile brands: Ferrari’s is speed, jet-set, exotic; Rolls-Royce’s is luxury class, expensive; Volvo’s is solid, safe, reliable, etc. When choosing a brand for a Spa, one must understand clearly the message behind the brand and make sure that that message will be compatible with the Mission Statement of the Spa (if the Spa has one. And that is another issue!).

Most cosmetic brands are associated with women’s products! Male Spa clientele in some countries are 75 to 80 % in European hotels 55% in the U.S. 42% and climbing! A large number of men would probably not patronize a product that is primarily identified as a feminine product! The choice of such a brand will appeal to the female clientele but the Spa will probably only attract but a few men and thus not be as successful as it could be otherwise.

Many Spas in resort hotels in exotic destinations such as Tahiti, Morocco, Dubai, etc., have gone the branding way and yet have also missed the point completely! Clients who choose to go to these destinations are looking for dream vacations and exotic experiences and are not at all impressed by sophisticated French, Italian or even Asian lines that in no way represent the exotic environment of the region in which they find themselves! These Spas will (not surprisingly) not do very well with their retails sales! Do you really think that someone going to the Mamounia in Marrakech is going to buy Shiseido products to bring back home, or Decleor products in Brazil, Clarins from Dubai or Phytomer from the Dead Sea? They are more likely seeking to test and bring back local products. It is an interesting and somewhat fun experience that clients seek when they go to a Spa and particularly when they go to a Resort Spa. Therefore, it stands to reason that a brand that they associate with home is not the one that will make them dream!
Cosmetic brands will tell their potential clients that not only do they bring the recognition of the brand, but they will also provide training for the staff! That sounds good to an hotelier, but in fact the training is mainly geared towards trying to sell the products and not towards client service satisfaction. The bottom line is this: the choice of a brand is more complicated than it seems and it requires a good analysis of the hidden messages as well as the appropriateness of the brand to the business. Few consultants even understand this; Aspen Spa Management has always included such research in all its feasibility studies.