Seeking Well-being, Millennials Invest in Spa Services

Thanks largely to millennials, Stone Creek Club's spa revenues have grown 12% annually for the past three years.

When members of the Stone Creek Club & Spa in Covington, LA, need a place to relax, the club’s spa area is often their first choice.

Well, of course.

In addition to providing post-exercise relief, a well-appointed and professionally staffed spa can serve as an oasis, a place where people of all ages can enjoy a respite from the accelerating pace, proliferating demands, and many unsettling events that, increasingly, seem to define our lives these days.

The 7,500-square-foot spa, part of a 53,000-square-foot multipurpose facility, is appointed with state-of-the-art equipment, skilled massage therapists and technicians, and a soothing, nature-inspired décor.

“Our spa has the look and feel of a destination resort, even though it’s part of a local health club,” says Katie Santangelo, Stone Creek’s spa director. “Members feel that they can really unplug here.”

There are a wide variety of ways to do so, including 30-, 60-, and 90-minute massages, full-body exfoliation treatments, facials, peels, manicures and pedicures, hair removal, makeup applications, and tanning.

This broad menu of services is attracting a growing number of clients of all ages, and, as a result, the spa’s revenues have grown 12% annually for the past three years. However, the typical patron is trending younger. More and more millennials—adults under 35—are taking advantage of the spa’s offerings. For several reasons:

Many are well-educated and attuned to contemporary trends. They have their own package of lifestyle-related issues, concerns, and challenges to deal with. And they tend to have a stronger interest in their well-being than other generations.

“They view spa treatments as part of their wellness plan,” Santangelo says, “and, so, are more comfortable treating themselves to a service.”

Research indicates that the young people in this cohort will be the principal spa consumers of the future. They’re the largest generation on earth, and have a whopping $200 billion in buying power in the U.S., and $2.4 trillion’s worth globally. And a recent report from the International Spa Association (IPSA), based in Lexington, KY, indicates that 60% of them are invested in their personal well-being, and 56% are already spa-goers. Similarly, 70% say that, if they had some extra time or money, they’d spend it on health and fitness.

For clubs with a spa, or clubs thinking about adding spa services, this cohort is one that needs to be cultivated and catered to.

Inspiring Innovation

Many savvy operators of club-based spas have consciously begun striving to meet the growing demand of millennials, observes Kevin Caldabaugh, the president of the Club Spa and Fitness Association (CSFA), headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Clubs with existing spa components are introducing more services, and the blueprints for new facilities frequently include state-of-the-art, on-site spas.

“Years ago, most private club spas focused solely on massage because that’s what members wanted,” recalls Caldabaugh, who’s also the fitness director for the John’s Island Club, in Vero Beach, FL. But now, he says, members are interested in a host of other services, including facials, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures, salt rooms, cosmetic care, and, even, noninvasive body contouring.

The result? “Today, clubs are designing award-winning spa facilities, providing their members with a desirable and valuable amenity, and seeing dramatic increases in their nondues revenue.”

Another unintended development, but one with broad implications, is that millennials’ greater understanding and appreciation of the concept of wellness seems to be inspiring a change in the way that others view spas.

“Massage, for example, has gone from being considered a luxury service to being recognized as what it truly is—a therapeutic health benefit,” says Caldabaugh. “It can be very beneficial for people struggling with debilitating diseases, even those with cancer.”

Santangelo agrees. “The fact that treatments are offered at a health club promotes the idea that they’re part of a wellness plan. For example, while our massage therapists help clients relax, the service is actually a bit more on the prescriptive side. For instance, they may tell a member with a tennis injury, ‘OK, you got this service today, and I’d like to see you back in two weeks.’”

The approach leads to better results and more repeat bookings.

Natural Product

If there’s one thing that millennials are influencing—perhaps more than anything else at Stone Creek—it’s the items that are displayed on the spa’s retail shelves. The common denominator can be summed up in just two words: all natural.

“Young adults tend to be more aware of what’s in the products they use, and about the long-term effects certain chemicals can have on their health,” explains Santangelo. “A decade ago, it was all about tanning beds and acrylic nails.”

Now, she says—not so much. If they want tanning services, they’ll opt for the organic air- brush spray tan, and, if they want their nails done, they’ll request natural, light-activated nail applications that don’t contain parabens or polymers.

DermAware, a New Orleans–based line of all-natural, bio-targeted skincare products, is by far the best-selling product, generating 68% of the spa’s retail sales. “It’s a local company, and their products produce results, and don’t contain chemicals that many people feel uneasy about using long-term,” says Santangelo. “This is crucial for our younger users.”

“Young adults tend to be more aware of what’s in the products they use, and about the long-term effects certain chemicals can have on their health.”

Katie Santangelo, Spa Director

Stone Creek Club & Spa

Free Spending on Health

Santangelo acknowledges that, because of the costs involved, she’s sometimes surprised to see someone in their late 20s or early 30s purchasing high-end spa services and products. A 60-minute massage, for example, is $79 ($94 for non-members), and an eight-ounce bottle of DermAware cleanser costs $36.

Such prices might be a little steep for some younger consumers, who, in many cases, are bearing serious financial loads—e.g., student loans, the costs involved in embarking on marriage and homeownership, downward pressure on wages, etc. But they’re often willing to pay the price. “They think of it as taking care of their muscles, their skin, or whatever,” says Santangelo, “so it’s worth it to them.”

Then, there’s the free-wheeling side of this age group.

A 2016 Gallup study found that millennials are more apt to shop for the fun of it and to make impulse purchases than members of other generations. At the same time, they are, by and large, conservative spenders.

When they do make nonessential purchases, they’re more likely to be searching for an experience rather than a material possession.

For them, investing in hobbies, meals, and trips that can be captured in photos and shared online via social media is more worthwhile, and a stronger indicator of status and wealth, than, say, a new car. “And,” notes Caldabaugh, “spending time at a spa is a great way to have a relaxing and rejuvenating experience.”

More Men Indulge

It’s commonly observed that millennials dislike gender-related labels—i.e., what’s considered more or less masculine or feminine—and that notion is reflected in their spa use.

While women make use of these facilities more frequently overall, men visit them more often than one would think. According to ISPA, 52% of millennial men have had a manicure and pedicure, and well over half (59%) have had a facial.

While both men and women utilize the spa to relieve stress, women seem to value this benefit more, with 36% reporting it was the primary reason for their most recent visit—that vs. 27% for men. Likewise, “treating or indulging yourself” motivates more women (nearly 25%) than men (16%) to head to the spa.

Recovery from illness and soothing sore joints is the No. 1 reason that young men frequent a spa, which explains why a significantly higher proportion of men patronize them when the site is located in a fitness or athletic facility.

The figures strongly suggest that breaking down barriers to spa access for men could tap a large reservoir of revenue for club spas.

Taking a Tech Breather

Another label that millennials seem to eschew is that of “tech maven.”

While their penchant for digital technology is disrupting virtually every industry, the spa, whether it’s located in a health club or elsewhere, remains a smartphone-free zone. According to ISPA, less than half of millennial spa-goers enjoy using technology while at the facility, and women express a stronger dislike for it than men. That said, most in this group admit to keeping their phone nearby at all times during their visits.

Curiously, they also don’t seem to have a particularly strong affinity for using their devices to book appointments, preferring a personal touch instead. According to ISPA, 40% of millennials prefer to do so over the phone rather than online—women more so than men.

Hot Buttons Engage

Taking all of this into consideration, what’s the best way to promote spas and their services to these young people? What are their hot buttons?

Research shows that wellness-related marketing references, such as “unwind,” “healing,” and “detox,” are more effective than generic words, such as “package” or, even, “retreat.” Similarly, millennials are more likely to be drawn in by images of people similar to themselves enjoying a high-quality spa experience, instead of stock photos of spa facilities or products.

“Millennials are looking for a ‘community’ and a share-worthy experience,” concludes Caldabaugh. That suggests that clubs, which have capitalized on the concept of tribal relationships in their group fitness studios, should employ it in the spa sphere.

“Facilities looking to survive the rise of this generation have to make sure that they’re offering a high-value, social experience that’s designed to attract members of that peer group,” concludes Caldabaugh. “If you create a valuable experience from start to finish, then millennials will be much more likely to engage with, and make more frequent use of, your spa.”

Lilly Prince

Lilly Prince is a contributor to Club Business International.