Where Fitness Meets Spa

All spa owners know the challenges and risks of maintaining a successful business—especially within an industry that is in a state of constant flux, with new technologies and trends developing overnight. In New York City, spas and health clubs have consumed a huge chunk of people’s leisure time for years.

It’s not as difficult for industry owners in the Big Apple to find clients as it is to keep them, particularly when competition is often only blocks away. Perhaps this is why two of Manhattan’s biggest names in the spa and fitness industry, Exhale and the New York Health & Racquet Club, now offer both fitness and spa services at their multiple locations. Julia Sutton, chief operating officer for Exhale Enterprises, Inc., and Jeff Bodnar, vice president of operations for the New York Health & Racquet Club, present their views on taking the best of both worlds and making it work for the client and the business.

Spa features

Exhale—which has a number of locations throughout the nation—has been in business for three years, and Sutton has been with the company since its inception. “I had my third daughter right before the start of Exhale, and I feel as though this is my fourth baby,” she says. “It was exciting to work in the spa industry for 13 years and see a need in the marketplace for a destination spa that promotes a safe and comforting environment for consistent change in major cities in the United States.”

With several locations, including one in the Hamptons, New York, and one in Santa Monica, California, Exhale’s philosophy of relaxation, wellness and fitness through yoga; Core Fusion—a combination of Pilates, core conditioning and yoga; spa therapies; and healing treatments has yielded brilliant results. In addition, its list of services seems endless, which means that clients always have the option to try something new.

The New York Health & Racquet Club was founded in 1972. Bodnar joined the team in 1994, after getting into the business through a friend who worked at the club. “I always worked out but never considered making it a career until the job was offered. I’ve worked my way up the company ladder and learned nearly every position firsthand. Twelve years later, I find it has worked out well,” he explains.

The New York Health & Racquet Club boasts 10 locations in the New York City area, all offering saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools. In addition, all but one has a swimming pool, which enables personal trainers to guide clients in the water, and poolside eucalyptus saunas are offered at several locations.

Treatments and services

The environment at Exhale helps to enhance its treatments, as clients enter classes through a 100-year-old Indonesian wood door. Exhale’s unique healing spa services include an Acu-organ Detox treatment, which, according to Sutton, combines vibrational therapy, acupuncture and herbs to promote detoxification. “We also offer high-tech results-oriented facial therapies with a holistic touch,” she adds.

Another of Exhale’s cutting-edge treatments is the Neck and Décolleté Facial, which works on the premise that the neck ages seven years faster than the face. This specific therapy is designed to help slow the signs of aging, and utilizes a purifying and nutrient-rich enzyme peel designed to leave the complexion luminous. Exhale’s Core Fusion classes also are immensely popular and have garnered press attention. “Core Fusion gets results at any level,” explains Sutton. “It is gender neutral, and both women and men love it.”

Although the New York Health & Racquet Club offers limited spa treatments, it features several different massage treatments, including shiatsu and Swedish massage, as well as more advanced therapy treatments, such as sports/rehab massage, deep tissue therapy, medical massage and hot stone therapy. “The sports/rehab massage is very popular because it really goes hand in hand with personal training,” Bodnar says. “We offer the advanced therapy massage because our clientele is so diverse. Everyone comes to a massage with a different goal in mind. They all want to relax, but they also want to rehabilitate an injury, work out a kink or revitalize their bodies. We firmly believe that it goes well with training and really completes the training session.”

The facility’s aqua classes also are popular, and Bodnar says that they give members a great opportunity to enjoy an excellent workout without the impact associated with a land-based class. “People with knee or hip problems are able to keep up with the rest of the class and leave pain free,” he notes.

Maintaining success

In the fiercely competitive Manhattan market, exactly how have both Exhale and the New York Health & Racquet Club managed to maintain such groundbreaking levels of success?

“We’ve achieved success because we delivered on our promises,” says Bodnar. “We don’t oversell our services—we tell clients exactly what they will get and then make sure that the product satisfies. No detail can be neglected—from the cleanliness of the facility to the attitude of the staff.”

The club’s team of professionals is always looking for the next trend, which Bodnar believes keeps the work experience new and interesting for them, as well as the clientele. “It’s not difficult to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ because we are the Joneses. We usually are on the cutting edge with the latest of everything,” Bodnar continues.

According to Sutton, through “great people, as well as a maniacal focus on the brand and what it represents to our clientele,” Exhale has been able to maintain its success in a competitive environment. “I find it easy to keep up with the changes in the industry as long as we keep our eyes open and embrace change,” she says. “You need to remain very involved by talking with your clients and seeing what they are seeking. One of our Exhale mantras is that we constantly are evolving, and we embrace change.”

Although many industry professionals may be considering the option of incorporating fitness or spa treatments into their businesses, for the team at Exhale, fitness was always part of the brand. “The team comes with specific knowledge in both the fitness and spa fields. One does not work without the other,” says Sutton. “It is truly a perfect marriage between our exercise classes and spa services. They are both about results.”

At the New York Health & Racquet Club, Bodnar thinks that it’s more a matter of changing with the times. “We’ve had yoga, martial arts and massage since I’ve been with the company, but we’ve since expanded our horizons into Pilates-based courses, acupuncture, and other New Age-focused classes and therapies as they’ve become available.”

New trend

Overall, Bodnar believes that the fusion of fitness and health club treatments is working. “What do you want to do after you exercise? Relax. We offer that experience, and we encourage it as part of the recovery process. It completes your workout,” he notes.

Bodnar also maintains that the future is bright for those fitness professionals who are ready to embrace the idea of a hybrid health club and spa. “I think that, on many levels, it’s necessary to blend the two,” he says. “Clubs that are not multidimensional run the risk of boring their clients. That’s the greatest sin a health club can commit in this environment. Certainly some clubs can offer one thing if it’s done really well, but when a client can find the same service and more on the menu, the single-service facility could be out in the cold.”

In addition, Bodnar asserts that people want good service from qualified professionals at a fair price. “Clients don’t want to be bored,” he says. “Provide those things, and your club will be a success.”

Sutton concedes that she sees health clubs really struggling with the spa aspect of the business. “This is usually not a ‘core competency’ or focus for them. That is why Exhale is such a strong brand. We have figured out the best way to combine spa and fitness in a healing environment,” she says. “The customer has become much smarter in the marketplace. They are more educated on what is worth spending their money on. They want it all: results, great service and environment.”

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