Guest Column - March 2007
Find a printable version here

Great Expectations

Planning your spa for a successful launch

By Gary Henkin

Determining design parameters

Spa design should begin with discussions and meetings between the owner, the architecture and interior design firm(s), a qualified spa consultant and others on the project team. The spa business is management-intensive, and operational decisions should be incorporated into the design process. A clear vision as to how the spa will operate and what treatments and services it will offer are necessary to develop an optimal facility design.

Treatment rooms are the heart of any spa facility. A basic treatment room is typically 120 to 140 square feet and includes appropriate lighting, a hand sink, a countertop and storage cabinets. All treatment-room walls should be constructed to minimize the impact of sound, vibration and odor from neighboring spaces. The basic construction cost of a massage treatment room ranges from $40 to $55 per square foot (excluding the specialized furniture, fixtures and equipment); wet rooms are more expensive.

Massage rooms will be the most numerous since this treatment normally accounts for about 55 to 65 percent of spa services. An FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) package costing between $2,500 and $3,500 should be sufficient to make a treatment room suitable for massage.

Beginning with the basic treatment room template introduced above, a facial room can be created with a slightly more expensive treatment table and specialized equipment to administer skin-care treatments.

Other services such as herbal wraps, mud treatment and hydrotherapy require a greater investment in both construction and equipment. While room size will remain unchanged, these rooms will require floor drains, ceramic tile floors and walls, and more extensive plumbing. Construction costs for these rooms approximate those of restrooms and locker rooms-roughly $90 to $110 per square foot. Equipment packages for wraps, mud and other body treatments can cost from $3,000 to $4,500, depending on what specific treatments the spa offers. Hydrotherapy equipment packages are the most costly. They usually include a tub (with pumps and a water purification system), Vichy showers and a Scots hose. An equipment package such as this can cost from $20,000 to $30,000.

Manicures and pedicures are commonly offered in spas and require a dedicated space. Depending on the number of stations, the nail center can range in size from 300 to 500 square feet. A manicure station occupies about 30 square feet and a pedicure station about 50 square feet. Typical equipment packages for these services range from about $2,000 to $3,500.

Hair services are a variable that should also be considered as a part of the spa's strategic business planning. This may include several styling stations at 35 to 45 square feet each. The hair-styling needs of a typical vacationing spa patron are modest. Three to five stations for shampoo, blow-drying and makeup application should be sufficient for most hotel or resort spas.

Locker rooms and administrative areas

Locker rooms with changing areas, toilet facilities, showers and the like are also important components, since spa treatments usually leave patrons with little desire to travel any appreciable distance before they have had a chance to recuperate and clean up a bit. Comfortable locker rooms with a quiet area and ample bathing facilities will be necessary to complete the "spa experience." Such areas usually cost between $85 and $100 per square foot to build (including fixtures), but can cost significantly more if high-end finishes (e.g., marble, water features) and lavish furnishings are chosen.

Sanitation and housekeeping are also crucial to a spa's success. Spa treatments require a steady supply of fresh linens, sheets, pillowcases, towels, slippers, bathrobes and so on.

Further, your spa should also include a reception area, retail display areas, adequate laundry and storage areas, a dispensary, an employee break room, administrative offices and a robe/relaxation lounge.

Other critical factors

Aside from planning and design, there are a variety of other critical factors that impact the overall success of any spa. These include the quality and experience of the spa staff, training, product selection, operating procedures, promotion and marketing, maintenance, financial controls and the consistency of customer service to name just a few.

The pre-opening process should proceed under a detailed timeline, which should outline each step and a time for completion. It is critical to plan for the acquisition of required licenses and permits, product selection, the treatment menu and budget finalization, standard operating procedures, a marketing plan and a detailed organization chart for staffing well before the spa ever opens.

Appropriate planning and design, concept development and consistency in the delivery of quality treatments and services are crucial to success. There are many variables to consider in the design, construction and equipping of a spa. The capital investment must be justified by the projected financial performance of the facility and by the more "intangible" impact that the spa will have, for example on hotel occupancy levels, competitive advantage and property delineation.

Spas are important magnets for hotel guests, club members, residents, meeting and conference groups and local day-spa patrons. An aesthetically pleasing spa that delivers a relaxing, memorable experience can be extremely profitable if operated and promoted correctly while offering an opportunity to delineate the property from others.


Gary Henkin is president of WTS International Inc. Based in Rockville, Md., WTS is a spa, fitness and leisure consulting and management firm, with clients including hotels and resorts, luxury condo and condo hotel sites, day spas, master-planned communities and private golf clubs worldwide. For more information, visit