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Designing for Dollars

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: January 30, 2009, from the February 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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If you are a spa owner who has always felt like one of the ants—not the playful grasshopper—in the classic Aesop’s fable, toiling away while others sang and had fun, now may be your time to shine. “When the slump is over, the momentum will be regained and people will be looking for spa facilities,” predicts Hugh Jones, president and owner of HUW Enterprises, Inc., a design and operations consulting firm for national and international high-end spas and fitness facilities. Now may be a good time to make sure they will want to come to your spa first by dipping into that savings account and making some design enhancements that will put you ahead of the pack when the economy improves.

“You can get some good deals and rates with consultants and tradesmen right now, as well as quantity discounts on materials,” says Lyn Falk, registered interior designer, sustainable design advocate and president of Retailworks, Inc. and Solterra Studios. Sylvia Sepielli, founder and owner of SPAd, Sylvia Planning and Design, a company that specializes in spa design and operations, agrees, saying, “Contractors and tradesmen are able to get in and do some renovations during this time because they have more availability and lower costs due to the screeching halt of the housing market.”

In order to get a good idea about the enhancements you want to pursue, it is important to enlist some help. “Have professionals come in to assess the current situation and make recommendations,” advises Jones, and Clodagh, founder and owner of Clodagh Designs and a leading designer committed to the green movement, agrees about getting a fresh set of eyes to help you make the right enhancements for your space. “If you don’t have a good visual sense, don’t do it yourself,” she says. “You can’t be sensitive, and you have to see yourself as others see you. Have a stylist come in and offer a boost.”

After considering a professional opinion, begin bargaining. This may not come easily to those who aren’t natural hagglers, so be prepared to get outside of your comfort zone. “Say you’re shopping around, and make sure any trades you work with know you have alternatives,” says Falk. “Tell them upfront that you’re on a budget and you have to be smart about your decisions. That’s when the person on the other line is going to start sharpening his pencil. Often, if you are working with a vendor that you have an existing relationship with, you can say that you know what the going rate is for something, but your budget is set and ask if they can do anything for you with that amount of money.”

Not only is now a good time to get discounts, but the economic slowdown may also have decreased the amount of client traffic in your spa—which can be a good thing when doing work on the space. “If you are running at high occupancy, it can be difficult to get workers in to do work. But if you have improvements that need to be made and business is slow, this is a gift because it is the best time to make improvements,” explains Sepielli.

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