Here are five non-negotiable strategies to adapt and evolve in the new economy.
Marketing is no longer as simple as shelling out some cash to place an advertisement. It is an involved process that is critical to the success of your spa.
Starting a spa business is an exhaustive and difficult endeavour. It takes hard work and long hours to take a spa from concept to reality. Once the spa is built, staffed and equipped, a spa owner can’t just sit back and watch the customers roll in. This isn’t Field of Dreams—if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Your spa needs to get the word out by being as creative as possible with your marketing efforts. Numerous experts agree that marketing is well worth the financial investment, but not all marketing tactics requires you to cough up precious funds. There is much more to marketing than buying an ad in the local newspaper. Perhaps here, in part seven of our Starting a Spa series, you will find an approach you had never considered.
“Marketing is absolutely critical,” says Angela Cortright, owner of Spa Gregorie’s. “Back in the day, when I started doing this about 12 years ago, there weren’t as many spas around and you could do a lax job of marketing while still being successful.”
Today, she says, that’s no longer the case. “There are a lot of strong brands out there now and marketing is important for a bunch of reasons,” Cortright says. “Not just for establishing your own brand, but for answering the simple question that customers ask—‘why would I go to this spa over another?’”
Effective marketing requires you to know your audience. The spa has been built with a certain demographic in mind and your marketing efforts need to reach out to that group. Let’s say you’ve built a high-end spa with pampering treatments and packages that will cost customers more than $150 per visit.
Would it be a good idea to staple flyers to lampposts outside of a few downtown bars?
“You have to really keep in mind who your customers are and advertise to reach them,” says Paula Veenema, owner of Spa Magnolia in Victoria, B.C. “There’s no point in spending money on an ad vehicle that isn’t reaching the type of customer who will come in to your spa.”
Spa Magnolia, for example, is focused on a primary demographic of at least 25 years of age. Many of its customers, Veenema says, are over 40. This means that marketing through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter isn’t on the spa’s radar.
Is Online In-Line With Your Target?
Social media marketing is thriving. Huge numbers of potential clients are browsing Facebook and checking Tweets every minute of every day. Don’t promote the spa on your personal Facebook page. Create a page specifically for the spa. You can register the spa as a local business, upload a spa logo, fill in all the necessary information that visitors might want to know and publish the page for the world (or at least a good portion of it) to see.
“Social media like Facebook or Twitter is all about selling your deals, I think,” says Lisa Gossen, Owner of Inner Balance Spa in Calgary, Alberta.
Cortright believes social media is about more than just selling deals, although promoting a deal lends a hint of legitimacy to the fact that you’re constantly singing your own praises. “We’re marketing junkies around here, and I think that is a big reason that we’re so successful,” she says. “I think the important thing about social media is to keep it relevant and to not go overboard with self promotion.”
Social media, she believes, is an opportunity to create a feeling of community with current customers while simultaneously generating buzz. “Customers can share information about the spa with friends who might otherwise not know about the spa,” Cortright says.
Even if a customer never talks to their friends about the spa, if they join the Facebook group it shows up on their profile page. It automatically shows their friends the client likes the spa. Twitter can be used similarly. Most spas use it primarily for informing followers about current promotions while some use it more actively.
“We have an arsenal of educational information that we have collected throughout the years and posted to our website, which we’re repurposing now,” says Cortright. “Our PR agency is tweeting about us several times per day, everything from hair tricks to skin care and diet. This helps get our name out there and also drive people to our website.”
A great way to drive clients to your Facebook page is to run contests in which prizes must be redeemed there. It could be as simple as asking customers to post about their experience on the spa’s Facebook page to receive 10 per cent off the next visit. It’s all about getting the name out there.
The spa’s website is also an important marketing tool. “We do an intake form with every client who comes through the door for the first time,” says Gossen. “There are really two things people say. They either found us through a friend or they found us through the Internet.”
“Your website is really important,” agrees Veenema. “I would forego putting an ad in a newspaper if it was between that and making improvements to the website. The spa’s website is a smarter investment than a one-time ad.”
An elegant, pleasing website gives visitors the impression that your spa is equally elegant and pleasing. “You have to keep your website current,” says Cortright. The design of your website has only a few seconds to catch a user’s attention. If the website looks dated and neglected, chances are you’ve lost a potential client.
You also need to position the spa as high in search engine results (primarily Google) as possible. Many web design companies offer Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services. Using keywords and fancy programming, your website can be made to show up higher in Google’s search results.
If you’re in Toronto, as hundreds of spas are, consider choosing keywords relating to your neighbourhood. A Google search for “Toronto Spas” may not turn up your spa for 10 pages, so choosing those as keywords could be a bad choice. Somebody looking for a spa in the area of Yonge and Lawrence would be quite happy for your spa, right around the corner from their office, to show up at the top of Google’s search results. For your spa, Yonge and Lawrence Hydrotherapy and Massage might be a better choice of keywords to help potential clients find your website.
“I pay for everything that will get me high up in search results,” says Gossen. “You have to have a good Google presence. In fact, I’ve stopped using yellow pages completely because it was no longer worth it.”
Spa Magnolia is connected to the Magnolia Hotel, which pays for a sponsored ad on Google. “That helps us get our web hits up,” says Veenema.
Most spas also participate in online discount programs like Groupon. “Everybody’s doing that,” says Gossen. “You don’t make money off of it, but it gets the name out there and because most other spas are doing it, I have to do it.”
“One of the very best marketing practices that we use is something I like to call leverage marketing,” says Cortright. “An example would be to partner with a local yoga studio. They’re doing a promotion, you’re doing one, and you can make your dollars go twice as far by working together.
Recently, Spa Gregorie’s ran a promotion called Eat, Pray, Spa. It partnered with a local health-food restaurant and a yoga studio, and capitalized on the buzz from the movie of the same name. “You can plan promotions around what’s going on around the world, not just the spa world,” says Cortright. The promotion included a yoga class, coupon at the restaurant and massage for just over $100. “With all three of us promoting it, it really worked,” Cortright says.
There are all sorts of partnerships that can be developed for something like this. Photographers, wedding planners, gyms and salons are just a few examples. “You have to be strategic. You can partner with charitable organizations too, but you need to know that the charity will give the right kind of exposure to your business,” says Veenema.
There are also the tried and true methods like radio, print and television ads. “We do it all, the traditional methods of advertising like in newspapers and on the radio,” says Cortright.
This approach is financially draining and while it does pay off, according to most, many spas don’t have the finances to spend so much on this kind of marketing. A solution is to market your expertise. “I try to do a lot of radio interviews, talk with magazines for any articles that I can offer expertise in,” says Gossen.
In order to keep a marketing plan from growing stale, you need to continually evaluate it. “Every quarter we reevaluate our marketing strategy,” says Veenema. “Every quarter I also look at what we’re booking most, least and think about what we can do to get the average amount per hour per room to go up.”
At Spa Gregorie’s, the self-professed marketing junkies evaluate the strategy regularly. “We have regular marketing meetings about once a month where we discuss what’s working and what new opportunities there are,” Cortright says. “We also plan six months ahead, so that we know what promotions are coming up and how we can prepare for that.”
Word of mouth is a huge marketing tool. You can get your spa out there by getting yourself out there. Your spa can also generate word of mouth by offering excellent service. So in a way, what you do in the spa can be a good marketing tool outside of the spa.
“Give your customers a very positive experience so they can be your marketing tool and go out and talk about you,” says Veenema. “Clients are coming in and paying you, but you can still have them out there doing something for you.”
Spa Magnolia presents each client with a small gift bag as they get ready for a service. “The bag has a little shampoo, a bar of soap and a card thanking the customer for choosing us,” Veenema says.