Keeping it simple is a way of life for Laura Henzell, the founder of Driftwood Spa at Jake’s in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, and she is busy building a solid spa business while focusing on the simplicity and sincerity of embracing her roots and offering value to clients. Always a lover of spas, this self-proclaimed “city girl” found herself far from an urban area after marrying her husband Jake, who owns Jake’s, an Island Outpost hotel in a relatively undeveloped area of the island. Because she is a people person, Henzell regularly found herself chatting with guests at the hotel’s bar and discovered a common bond between them. “In one way, shape or form, most guests were coming here for a reconnection. Many were getting over a family tragedy or divorce, and were looking to get away from it all,” Henzell explains. “This is a simple fishing village and people keep coming here to spend time with their families, and for reflection and introspection.”
Because of this need for an unhurried escape, Henzell felt she had the perfect growth opportunity that would assist guests in meeting this need. “I thought, ‘What a perfect location to build a spa,’ so I brainstormed the idea of opening one at Jake’s,” she says. Although her husband wasn’t crazy about sharing prime beachfront real estate for the facility, Henzell insisted upon having the spa front and center on the water. “I suppose people think since you’re having a treatment, you’re not focusing on your environment, but I feel it is part of the process,” she explains, and so, in 2008, with the help of spa consultant Linda Hall, she opened her two-room spa on the rocks in front of the hotel, featuring sticks commonly used to make lobster and fish traps as the walls. And in an effort to embrace the innate wonders of the location, Henzell insisted on natural ventilation—no air conditioning—as well as natural light. “I feel like a lot of spas in the Caribbean haven’t embraced the resources we have here,” says Henzell.
Two years later, the spa’s official home was built, still on the beach, with four treatment rooms—all couples-sized—as well as a manicure/pedicure room, relaxation room and yoga area on the roof. Although the region has been through its ups and downs economically, Henzell just sees this as support for the idea that simplicity and affordability are the secrets of spa success. “It’s a time to tighten your belts and look at your menu. What are your best sellers? I would rather go to a restaurant that does four dishes deliciously than have a huge menu to choose from. You really need to treat people well and focus on customer service, consistency and quality,” she says.
Although Driftwood Spa is just starting its retail area, Henzell is putting a lot of thought into the future of her treatments and retail products, with the intention of sourcing strictly from Jamaica in order to showcase the treasures of the area. Currently, the spa uses Essie and Caribbean Essentials, a local line. Henzell has plans to change her line to Island Botanicals, a naturally sourced Jamaican line that uses farmer-grown ingredients for fresh prep treatments; those that are made on-site in the spa. “There are so many healing properties in Jamaica. I want to use local farms to create scrubs and wraps that can be found in Treasure Beach. I want to use fresh prep in treatments, and plan to flesh that out this spring,” explains Henzell. “I feel like Caribbean spas are at a tipping point, where we are going to begin embracing what we have—our traditions and our histories—and present our treatments in that manner. I believe that it is a very sincere way of doing business.”
Capitalizing on the bounty of the area and working to maintain a focus on value are goals Henzell has for the future. She advises, “Whatever works for your spa, keep doing it. Assess it. Does it need to be fine-tuned? Can you add value to it? Also, don’t spend so much; that’s what works for us. Keep in good standing with the clients who love you and discover your unique selling point; what makes your spa different?”
Henzell’s unconventional combination of business smarts and a love of the land have resulted in a Caribbean spa that will stand the test of time, and that serves as an example to other spas that embracing sincerity and indigenous aspects of the area can provide clients with a reason to visit ... and a reason to return.