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Strategies for Downtime
By Janelle Thompson
Posted: May 19, 2008, from the April 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Nearly every spa experiences downtime, particularly in the summer when people are vacationing or after the holidays when consumers curb their spending. Finding ways to bring in business during the slow seasons is a challenge for most spas, but learning to market effectively to your clients during this time is simple and necessary in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.
Many spas don’t take the time to plan out a complete marketing strategy and instead engage in one-off marketing efforts. A systemized marketing plan will prove more effective and will help you learn more about your customers than a one-time marketing effort that usually results in frustration from not seeing a return on your investment. For example, if you are going to send out direct mail, instead of one letter, send a series of letters. Take the time to experiment with several marketing strategies.
Make sure your marketing plan is in place and ready to go when downtime begins. These strategies will make a difference to your customers and will help to keep them coming back through the slower months.
Be the expert
Many spa employees don’t spend enough time educating their customers. Make sure that your clients know the importance of a particular service and what benefits it may hold for them. If your clients understand spa services, they will be inclined to visit consistently for skin care maintenance throughout the year, not just during the busy season. For example, help them understand why a deep-tissue massage is therapeutic when performed on a regular basis and that it shouldn’t just be reserved for times of high stress. If you have a spa newsletter, make its content educational in nature. The idea is to educate readers so when they think of skin care, they perceive the spa as the expert. You want your clients to feel confident that they will always have a good experience at your spa, so that when they receive marketing promotions from you, they will be more likely to use them.
Tie services to seasons
Nearly 50% of spa sales in the slow season are for gift certificates. Take advantage of this. When customers book appointments to redeem their certificates, offer them a slight discount or a free upgrade on a second service that is valid only during your slow months. This will prompt your client to return, and your goal is to turn that new customer into a repeat client.
To extend sales beyond gift certificate transactions in the winter, marketing expert Darlene Fiske of the Austin-based Fiske Group recommends tailoring product and service offerings to the season. Create season-specific treatments that your clients need. This includes anti-aging treatments, seasonal makeup lessons, bikini waxes, exfoliations and sunless tanning. For example, Fiske says, take the time to market and explain hot stone massage when it’s cold outside; don’t assume that your customers know its benefits. Providing a greater understanding of this service to your clients can make it very appealing during the winter months.
Customization is essential to create a need for your client to use your spa. Fiske says it is important to make the experience relevant to the customer. Once you develop a relationship with clients and demonstrate that you understand their needs, you have a better chance of turning them into year-round clients, not just seasonal customers.
If your Web site isn’t up-to-date or comprehensive, take the time to make it so. Your clients should be able to read about
every service that the spa offers. Your business cannot afford not to have an engaging online presence. Consider this a business investment and do not go for the lowest bid. Your home page is generally the first impression that a consumer has of your spa. According to a study conducted by Rochester, NY-based Harris Interactive Inc., a market research company, 172 million U.S. adults—that’s approximately 77% of the adult population—report Internet use. Your spa’s Web site should be professional in appearance and should list, in detail, all of the services that your facility provides. People don’t want to have to call a spa to get this information. If possible, sell your products online as well, as consumer trends show that people are increasingly seeking to purchase spa products online.
Web presence doesn’t just stop at having a good Web site. “If you aren’t leveraging the Web, you are leaving money on the table,” says John Uhrig, CEO of Vancouver-based Monochrome Marketing Solutions. According to Uhrig, Web sites are a good way to build a subscriber base—he recommends making the sign-up process prominent on your home page or even soliciting information with a pop-up message. Capturing customer information allows you to communicate with your clients via e-mail, but remember that you must get permission from your clients to send them offers electronically.
Another good way to capture e-mail addresses is on your intake form or on a separate card that clients fill out at check-in or check-out. Include a simple question asking if they want to receive notice about upcoming offers and promotions. Susan Smid, spa manager at Zazu Salon in Hinsdale, Illinois, sends clients e-mails on slow days suggesting services such as a polish change or mini pedicure and offers coupons that are redeemable if the service is booked and performed that same day. The
e-mails are sent only to clients who provide their e-mail addresses to the spa.
“We want to make it a special offer and we want to make it somewhat exclusive,” Smid says. “If they don’t give us an e-mail address, they don’t get the offers. It’s an incentive to give us their e-mail address,” she says. According to Smid, her spa tries to send the notices out the night before so clients can see them first thing in the morning.
While e-mail is a popular way to communicate today, some people still prefer a telephone call. Fiske recommends asking your clients if they would prefer to be contacted via telephone. When they sign up for your e-mail program, ask by which means they would prefer to be reached.
“You cannot go too far in personalizing your communications with guests,” Fiske says. “Know your guests and use your reservation system to keep detailed notes of their preferences, health conditions and favorite services.”
Deborah Barnes, president of Turtle Cove Spa in Mount Ida, Arkansas, sets a goal to make a certain number of phone calls to clients each day. “It’s the personal phone call that makes a difference,” Barnes states. “It takes a little bit more effort to do it this way, but it’s worth it.” Barnes has sold more gift certificates over the phone than through any other method.
Washington, D.C., skin care and beauty guru Kimme Chu adds a sentimental touch by occasionally sending cards to her clients mentioning that she hasn’t seen them in a while. Chu says her clients respond that they appreciate her notes and enjoy the personal relationship she has developed with them.
“Postcards are a good way to get clients to come back,” Chu says. “You can send them a coupon or something a little more personal. That may prompt them to return because they remember how much fun they had or remember how much better they looked after a service.”
Differentiating your business means communicating to clients that your service offerings are unique. Use this distinction to draw customers during slow seasons. The key is that your message must be credible so your audience will embrace it.
Involve the media
The slow season is a great time to invite members of the local media to sample your services. Make sure your marketing department is working in tandem with local and regional media contacts to generate stories about the spa. Keep in mind that your story has to have a news angle that will interest the media.
Since your slow season also is a time to expand your target market, consider marketing your services to men by enticing them to get pedicures in the summer, sports massages after a game, or “executive” massages for relief from stressful days at work. Pitch these stories to the media. The number of men who are going to spas is increasing. According to a recent study by the International SPA Association (ISPA) based in Lexington, Kentucky, men represent 31% of spa patrons. Since patterns show that men typically are not comfortable in spas, your downtime is a good time to bring them in for services. Fiske says other segments of the market to consider targeting are mothers and daughters, couples, teens, moms-to-be, and corporate or social groups.
Chu says that she and her colleagues also occasionally participate in blogs or enter chat rooms online to spread the word about their spa or find out what people want. She also seeks to get publicity in the Washington Post when the paper offers its regular “Best Buys” column for all personal services, which includes spas.
Changing your pricing structure to attract customers during slow times may seem attractive, but Fiske advises that bundling your product and service offers is a much better strategy. Restructuring prices may require reprinting brochures and making changes to your Web site. This could confuse the client, she says. The customer also may come to expect some sort of regular discount. Instead, Fiske recommends packaging a few services together and offering a percentage off the full price, but doing it in a way that adds value, rather than detracting from your current offerings. This includes offering upgrades to clients that are of no cost to the spa. Turtle Cove Spa, for example, offers its customers an upgrade to special rooms that normally would cost the client more, but don’t incur any additional expenses for the spa.
Fiske also suggests if you notice you have many short time slots open, consider adding a complimentary scalp massage to a signature service or give the client a take-home amenity or coupon to use toward a future visit within a certain time frame. The expiration date should fall within your spa’s slow season. You also can create a series package that gives clients a discounted rate on multiple sessions of a particular service.
To give downtime a boost, think about how you can tap the client bases of neighboring businesses. If you operate a spa near a hotel that doesn’t offer spa services, make arrangements with the hotel’s management that allow you to supply spa services to their guests. This way, you are drawing from client bases other than your own during a slow season. In return, you can recommend that hotel to your clients. Be creative with joint ventures—do business with other professional services that complement your day spa. You can work out deals to commission a specific dollar amount back to other businesses or just agree to trade clients by sending them customer leads and referrals. Uhrig recently was involved in a spa’s joint venture with a local BMW dealership. In each BMW that was sold, a promotional spa package was placed on the passenger seat when the car was delivered to the buyer.
Finally, an easy, low-cost way to get clients is to ask for them. According to Uhrig, most people in the industry don’t ask for referrals, but you can build your client base by developing a referral program. You’ll want to reward your clients for sending your spa a referral guest, so send your client a direct mail piece offering a discounted service for every new referred customer and indicate that the person referred will receive the same service, as well. Keep it simple so the referral program is not an inconvenience to your clients. You don’t want your client to have to do anything but make a simple handoff, Uhrig says.
Learning to market effectively to your clients during a slow season does not have to be difficult. A well-planned strategy can successfully fill treatment rooms that would otherwise be empty.