Heidi Lamar never intended to own her own spa. “I like to call myself the accidental spa owner,” she laughs. Just three years ago, Lamar—who now owns The Lamar Everyday Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona—was a real estate agent in Portland, Oregon, enjoying her job and her life. However, after purchasing a Scottsdale building from an 89-year-old man, all of that changed. “He bought the building so his daughter could have a spa here,” Lamar says. “When she passed away, he was left with a spa that he didn’t really want to run at 89.”
Sensing the facility’s promise, Lamar suddenly found herself considering a career change. “I loved the building’s location and thought it had a lot of potential, but I knew nothing about the spa business,” she says. “It was really the passionate staff that convinced me to take the chance.” So she dove in, working to refurbish what would become The Lamar Everyday Spa—in just one week. “We could only afford to be closed seven days. We had the eighth day fully booked, so we had no choice but to get it done,” Lamar explains. The quick turnaround time gave her a chance to further connect with her team members, solidifying a bond that would prove integral to the success of the spa.
Lamar initially continued selling houses, traveling back and forth from Portland and relying on her team—and the spa manager, Tarryn, in particular—to guide her through the ins and outs of the business. However, when personal issues caused Tarryn to move to South Africa just four months after the opening, plans had to change. “We went to the International SPA Association (ISPA) conference together and had great plans, but we never got a chance to implement them,” Lamar says.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Lamar ran with the opportunity. “I’ve learned almost everything from my staff,” she says. “It’s the most enjoyable and most challenging thing about the job. Having worked alone most of my life, suddenly supervising 25 employees was a little terrifying. I thought, ‘How am I going to control all of these women?’ Then I realized I couldn’t, so I decided to empower them to do their jobs and tried to stay out of their way.”
Because of her decision to trust the knowledge of her employees, as well as her cultivation of a niche market, both Lamar and The Lamar Everyday Spa have flourished. “Although Scottsdale has tons of resort spas, there really wasn’t a spa for the locals here,” she says, “So we chose to focus our marketing on Scottsdale residents instead of trying to compete for the resort crowd. A lot of times, savvy travelers like to go where the locals go anyway.” Lamar keeps in touch with what her clients want by interacting with them as much as possible, saying, “There are days it takes me eight hours just to get from the front desk to my office.”
The spa has also found a market for group offerings, which the business has become known for. “Some of my friends and family were concerned when I told them we were buying a spa in Scottsdale because there is so much competition,” she says. “But we try to find niches with more demand and less competition. Many of the local spas have been referring their larger groups to us, so we added event facilities to make room for them. Our Palm Room is able to host groups of 100 or more with luncheons, team-building activities and spa tastings.” Through this type of planning, the spa has welcomed company gatherings for GE and IBM, and recently organized a pre-Super Bowl party for Pepsi/Frito Lay.
And space isn’t the only unique characteristic at The Lamar Everyday Spa. A recent expansion added more rooms, including a dance studio. “A local instructor provides lessons in swing, salsa and partner dancing at the studio, and is also available for private lessons,” says Lamar. “And during the day we usethe space for things like yoga and Pilates classes.”
“I guess not coming from a spa background, there were things I didn’t know I couldn’t do, so some of our choices might be unorthodox,” she explains. “But we have built our spa on three pillars: satisfied clients, happy employees and a profitable business. All three legs are equally important, so when a team member presents an idea to me, I ask them to demonstrate how it supports these three pillars. If it passes the three-pillar test, we usually implement it.”
Still, people are a large part of what keeps Lamar engaged and wanting more for her business. “I’m always really excited by the amount of sharing that goes on in the industry,” she says. “I have been at a trade show where a spa owner has offered to share a payroll model that she has developed throughout the past 25 years with any spa owner who asks for it. This willingness to share trade secrets to help out the whole industry just doesn’t occur anywhere else in the business world.”
Clearly, it’s Lamar’s willingness to learn and develop relationships that has helped her succeed in the industry, and, with this mind-set, it’s likely that only good things can continue to happen for her and her “everyday” spa.