There are plenty of ways to promote your spa. But many still stand empty throughout the week. Catherine Whittle explains how to give your spa the treatment to work your profits in the right direction
Increasingly hotel guests consider a spa experience an important element to a hotel stay, which is encouraging hotels to invest in a bid to enhance their proposition and attract more leisure business. But with increased competition and the high cost of continued investment in existing spas, continually finding customers and maintaining a profits is no easy challenge.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of opportunities for hotel spas to promote themselves both directly and via the many third-party websites, discount and voucher schemes, there are plenty of beautiful empty spas out there - especially on a Tuesday.
Marketing strategy So what is the secret of a thriving spa seven days a week? First of all, it is essential to have a marketing strategy - and to review it regularly. Too many spas are left out of the wider marketing mix. Any analysis should revolve around your customer, your business and your competition. Done properly in the first place, this is a very powerful exercise. And there is always help at hand.
Put simply, you must know your customers. Any spa manager should know who they are, where they come from, how they book and what packages they are buying. This information can then be applied to understanding how you might persuade them to return. Essentially, you need to segment them into groups and then you need to look at each group's buying behaviours and come up with a plan to target each group.
There is also a need to reflect back on the previous year's business and analyse the peaks and troughs. It is important to understand the lead time for bookings in the short, medium and longer term and what the busy days of the week and months of the year are. If you offered promotions, did they work in terms of last-minute bookings? More importantly, were these promotions profitable? It's easy to be seduced into deal-a-day offers to increase footfall, but unless they deliver real profit, or at least full-price repeat business, they may not be worth the administration.
Obviously spa owners should also take a good look at the competition. Who are they and how does your business stack up against them? List your strengths, what you do well and where you can improve.
Above all, a spa must establish what it does that is different from and better than the competition. The key to successful marketing is to find ways of differentiating your spa from the competition and then highlighting these differentiators at every opportunity in order to appeal to the customer.
It is not rocket science. Spa managers need to think creatively, put themselves in the shoes of their target audience and ask: What would make me want to come to my spa as opposed to the one down the road?
Differentiating your spaThe key to making a success of your spa is coming up with about three key differentiators, as well as a good strapline that can be used as a promotional hook relevant to each customer group, taking into consideration existing and new customers.
For example, if your clientele are mainly local, you could introduce a signature treatment which uses locally sourced ingredients - it is now relatively easy for a spa to offer its own branded products and treatments. The Vineyard at Stockcross, for example, has always offered a range of treatments reflecting its wine heritage.
Consider theming your spa, â¨too. The Spa at Dolphin Square, â¨in London, is winning lots of awards for its innovative Moroccan theme.
When a spa is recognised in this way, the award-winning status should be shared with your customers. It is a great way of telling them that you are not only different from but better than the competition.
Customers love to read not only good reviews but like to try award-winning treatments.
Once the marketing strategy has been formulated, it is time to implement a sales and marketing activity plan that incorporates all these differentiators. They should be highlighted on your website (and those of any third parties that you work with) as well as in all of your marketing collateral and reflected in your PR strategy. They can also be incorporated in your e-marketing.
Right now, a spa should be anticipating when their customer groups might book and thinking about where the gaps will be in the coming weeks. It will then be time to address summer promotions and target those customers who visited the spa in summer last year.
August can be the trickiest month to predict. Most corporate hotels will be looking for spa customers seven days a week throughout August, and there is the potential clash between the family market and the spa clientele. But with careful planning it's possible to keep a spa busy and all customers satisfied.
Ways to avoid having a beautiful but empty spa
Strategise Decide on your key customer groups and concentrate on marketing to them effectively.
Differentiate Be different from the competition. Create a theme, strapline or hook to draw the attention of your target audience. You want the customer to stop and look at you.
Train your team Be better than your competition at answering the phone. Make sure the team are clued up and fully trained to close a sale. This is where many spas fall down. Capturing the eâ'mail addresses of enquiring customers is one of the most effective ways of building your database.
Target E-marketing and SMS messages should always be targeted at the right customer groups. Make the messages relevant, timed, creative and with a strong call to action. Expect an instant reaction - within 24 hours.
Promote On your website there should be packages for immediate purchase and packages for the future. Ensure there is lifestyle photography which appeals to your target audience - if you want couples, show a romantic image of a couple enjoying a treatment together.
Benchmark Benchmark your spa against your competitors and set targets to improve on your KPIs (monthly treatment and retail revenue, average selling price of treatments, etc).
Experiment Lastly, don't be afraid to try something new, something different - try coming up with a new and creative idea each month.
Revving up the spa experience at the Morritt hotel
The Garage Spa at the Morritt Hotel, â¨Greta Bridge, County Durham.
At the traditional 18th-century Morritt Hotel, Greta Bridge, County Durham, a new luxury spa has been created that was clearly designed to differentiate it from the competition. Since opening in December 2012, the aptly named Garage Spa has certainly caused a stir.
The 26-bedroom Morritt Hotel offers an exciting eclectic mix of traditional comfort and class with modern amenities and style and it was looking for a spa to match its colourful character.
Blue Spa Consultancy was tasked with the creation of a unique spa concept. Its mission was to come up with a new and inspirational spa experience - moving away from the clinical spas of yesterday into a new era which prioritises the unique, individual experience of the customer combined with bold and integrated branding.
The spa has been a great success, thanks to its quirky garage themed branding, laid-back style and innovative treatment areas. It features the Paint Shop Nail Station, Forecourt, Body Shop and accompanying garage-themed zones, creating an integrated branded spa experience.
From the decor to the spa packages; which include The Country Lane (starting from £190), The Scenic Route and The Coastal Path, the unfaltering theme offers guests a complete experience, which carries on long after guests have journeyed home, with products and signature treatments from sister company the Natural Spa Factory, including Unleaded Shampoo and Wheelie Good Cleanser.
Dealing with endless discountsThe last thing any operators want to do is succumb to "busy fool" syndrome and end up with lots of customers but no profit.
In the same way that the high-street restaurant chains have resorted to reduced-price deals and "2 for 1" offers to entice customers through their doors, the spa industry has also been seduced by footfall, with third-party websites encouraging spas to extend off-peak deals to their large customer databases. National newspapers have also been advertising spa days for as little as £5.
Certainly, over the past couple of years, this has diluted the value of a spa day and now the industry is trying to find ways to build back up the perceived value. This is where creative ideas and best practice marketing need to kick in.
Operators must concentrate on building a database of full-paying customers - including those enquiring - and upselling to those who have booked a special deal. It's important to encourage those who have visited your spa at a reduced price in the past to come back again - but to pay more the next time.
If you work with third-party voucher websites, ensure you structure the right deal - essentially, one that doesn't mean you are paying for the customer. All the packages on offer must generate profit. Read the small print and make sure any commission can be comfortably absorbed.
Assuming you negotiate the right deal, draw customers in by advertising your spa with a "hook" or "lead-in price". There should also be other higher perceived value packages on offer with an equally compelling call to action to book.
Lastly, all spas should operate best â¨practice revenue management, as you would do with a hotel bedroom, closing out to special offers on a Saturday or when you don't need them and turning on the tap on a Tuesday when you do.
Catherine Whittle won the Catey for Best independent Marketing Campaign in 2008, one year after successfully launching the spa at the Donnington Valley hotel, near Newbury, Berkshire.
She now runs Spa Partners, a specialist spa marketing consultancy. Among other disciplines, it offers spa revenue benchmarking and mystery shopping and sales training programmes designed to improve enquiry handling.www.spapartners.co.uk