Wellness programs position day spas as community hubs for physical, mental and emotional fitness.
The local day spa has become more than a place to receive a relaxing massage or tackle skincare concerns; it is now increasingly charged with nurturing the whole self. Many day spas are moving toward a holistic health approach and proving this commitment to total well-being by offering a plethora of wellness programs to address clients’ most common health concerns: weight loss and maintenance, stress management, energy challenges, mind-body balance and general fitness. Long a staple of destination spas, these programs can be provided without benefit of massive budgets or weeklong stays. Moreover, they not only enrich clients’ lives, they transform entire communities—and create some of their own.
By working with local like-minded individuals and businesses, engaging guests and spreading the word, the four spas profiled here have shown that wellness programs needn’t be lengthy, expensive or complicated to deliver maximum impact for day spa clients and businesses. —Tracy Morin
Meditation was literally built into Rasa Spa: Architectural blueprints for the building included a meditation alcove. So when yoga/meditation instructor Anne Marie Cummings approached spa director and co-owner Rachel Hogancamp about offering weekly guided meditation, the fit was natural—and four years later, the program is still going strong.
“I was inspired to bring meditation to a spa environment not only because I love the atmosphere at Rasa Spa, but because spas, in general, inspire relaxation. And since meditation is often difficult, particularly for beginners, the spa environment is more conducive to helping individuals separate themselves away from the mindset of everyday life and toward taking care of themselves,” says Cummings. The meditation classes include guided visualization, 15 minutes of formal seated meditation, and 10 to 15 minutes of reading and discussing the meditation book that the class is studying. But Cummings incorporates spa-esque perks, such as heated hand towels and aromatherapy spritzers, into the proceedings.
Participants sign in at the front desk and pay a $5 drop-in fee for the class, which funds the meditation program; Cummings and one other teacher receive a small fee. Rasa also offers meditation guests a 50% discount pass to enjoy the spa’s cedar saunas, showers and tranquil space before class. Even the boutique supports these efforts, with books and meditation cushions for sale, and the staff has even created a meditation library, where guests can donate and borrow meditation books.
“Setting the price at $5, extending a discounted day pass and keeping the program casual makes meditation available to everyone,” enthuses Hogancamp. “We think meditation, as a timeless tool to nurture physical, mental and spiritual health, not only ties in with Rasa’s mission but creates joy for our staff, community and space.”
Word about the popular classes is generally spread through word of mouth, though Cummings maintains a blog tracing the class’ growth and Rasa prints postcards to help promote the program. People who are seeking to escape stress, find community or better endure major life changes, or those who simply crave a place to quiet their minds, have flocked to Rasa for meditation and the inner peace it provides.
Though there have been challenges—introducing intimidated guests to the practice and sharing space with treatment-receiving spa guests, for instance—a planned spa expansion will allow for more dedicated meditation areas, assures Hogancamp. “Meditation, for Rasa, lays the foundation of our commitment to cultivating peace, practicing thoughtfulness and ensuring that we’re offering real wholeness,” she says. “In effect, meditation helps Rasa meditate and flourish in its own intentions.”
When Jennie Gunnerson bought Thousand Waves Spa in 2006, she already knew what was most special about the spa: its program to provide free support to women with cancer. Conceived by the original owner in 1991, the program began as a way for women dealing with this serious medical issue to receive touch in a positive way and reap the psychological benefits of relaxation to help counteract doctor’s visits, body changes and often-unpleasant treatments to control the disease.
The program, which is available three days per week, allows women who have received a cancer diagnosis, are in treatment or have finished treatment within the past year, to use the spa’s facilities (which otherwise requires a $20 fee) up to five times for free, and to receive five free massages. Women typically hear about the program through doctors, support groups or general word of mouth, then call the day spa to learn more. In turn, spa staff members are prepared to request information from the potential guest and ultimately have the client complete a detailed intake and inform her doctor.
During appointments, these clients can enjoy the spa’s eucalyptus steam room, sauna, hot tub and relaxation area before getting a massage. Given the positive guest feedback, it isn’t surprising that the program has been in effect for so long.
“So many women go out of their way to express to me how meaningful these services are to them,” relates Gunnerson. “And, because we’re a women-only spa, they’re more comfortable taking off their scarves and wigs and being themselves—it’s a beautiful thing.”
Thousand Waves Spa for Women has dedicated a room for these services only, but little funding is required, as the massage therapists work on a volunteer basis. Gunnerson admits there are more clients than volunteers, and that clients may wait a couple of weeks during busy periods, but no one is turned away. The spa solicits volunteers not only from current staff, who come in to help on days off, but also from massage therapy schools and clients who are massage therapists looking for volunteer opportunities. And because so many people have been directly or indirectly touched by cancer, they often welcome the chance to do their part.
Gunnerson would love to receive a grant to help attract more volunteers, but for now, this small spa business is creating a big difference in the lives of others. “To see the effect of what we do is so touching,” she reflects. “I see the difference it makes in both clients and the therapists who are volunteering. It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever been involved in.”
Angela Cortright, principal at Spa Gregorie’s, has always believed that a spa needs to offer more than pampering—it should promote balance, wellness, healthy living and proper lifestyle choices to help clients live better long after they’ve left the spa. That’s why eight years ago she launched the day spa’s Wellness Rocks! program, an initiative that incorporates everything from yoga on the beach outings to nutrition seminars to tips and videos on the spa’s website. “A spa might be someone’s first portal into a healthier lifestyle; concepts such as nutrition or meditation might not be on her radar until she goes into a spa,” says Cortright. “Therefore, it’s our obligation as spa owners to introduce healthy options.”
The spa frequently partners with other professionals and businesses, such as yoga teachers/studios, juice bars, nutritionists and fitness centers, to present a wealth of education and experiences to participants. Efforts can be online- or location-based, and have included videos on super-foods; a blog series on lifestyle choices for acne sufferers; special offers from partnering companies; kayaking excursions on the bay; and classes on detoxification. The onsite events are promoted in the spa and through newsletters, advertisements and social media, and guests are charged a nominal $10 fee to help defray costs. Though Cortright admits the events do not constitute a profit center, they do wonders for community relations and provide great PR in the form of TV spots and articles devoted to the spa’s efforts. Staff members are encouraged to participate—and often do, since the exposure also helps them promote their own services and build clientele. Though the events aren’t held on any preset schedule, the spa offers six to eight Wellness Rocks! events per year.
For day spa owners looking to enact a similar program, Cortright advises due diligence: Conduct a background check and ensure that community partners hold the same values. Also keep in mind that these programs appeal to all ages; Cortright says that most participants are 35 and older, but she’s also amazed by her younger guests’ knowledge and interest in self-care. “A program like this is a creative way to promote yourself and separate yourself from the competition by showing that you go beyond just body services,” she notes. “Most importantly, it’s a form of community service; you’re improving the health of the entire community.”
Last February, inspired by the success and popularity of the TV show The Biggest Loser—and well aware that women are always interested in boosting their physical fitness regimens to gear up for summer—Spa Lady launched Powerball Biggest Loser, a 12-week program in which registrants could compete for the greatest body fat loss percentage. For a one-time fee of $59, participants attend two weekly classes specifically geared toward supporting weight loss, aimed to provide them with something close to the personal trainer experience, minus the hefty price tag. The more people who register, the bigger the monetary jackpot becomes for the ultimate winner. Registrants weigh in each week and keep food journals.
The concept proved an immediate hit; despite advertising only within the facility, nearly 40 people signed up for the first effort. “We’ve found that people are really motivated to complete the program, and that this program is self-sustaining,” says owner Ted Mayer. “After we pay our staff, the remainder goes in the pot; this time, the winner will receive about $300—a great motivator!”
After the program is complete, Spa Lady encourages the newly trimmed-down participants to join its nutritional support program, which combines coaching, accountability, exercise and nutrition—leading to further success for guests and an ongoing client base for the business. Mayer also promotes the facility’s other services to these guests, such as cellulite reduction treatments and body wraps, to complete the transformation, thereby boosting revenue for additional Spa Lady services.
Mayer says the Powerball Biggest Loser competition has helped to strengthen Spa Lady’s mission and values in the eyes of clients. “For the next challenge, we’ll advertise more in the community; our goal is to get 100 people to sign up,” he says. “And, because we’ve had so much success this time around, we know our participants are going to be well-prepped to refer their friends and family!”
Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, MS.
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