The easygoing days of childhood may be gone, but friends are forever, right? But between keeping up with their careers, families, and homes, photo stylist Mary Ellen Graf and her friends find it hard to get together. When one of them suggested bringing a spa experience to one of their homes – where they could do it together – everyone found the time to make it. And they were glad they did. They chose a ranch outside of Austin, Texas, conveniently owned by one of the women in the group.
“We all went on a Friday night and had a local restaurant cater in low-fat foods.” Graf remembers. “While we ate, we talked about friendship and what it meant to get together.” That night, they all slept in a teepee and told stories. On Saturday morning, they rose with the sun and joined an instructor for yoga and stretching exercises.
“Then we had a kick boxing class set to fun music followed by a spa lunch,” Graf adds. Next came a lesson in aromatherapy, during which each woman created her own blends. Afterward, the group split up for spa services such as massages and facials.
“In the teepee at night we went around in a circle, telling each other why we value each other as friends,” she continues. “It was very friendship-affirming.” After more activities and services Sunday morning, the friends left feeling as great as their memories of the weekend. “I definitely would do it again,” Graf affirms. “In fact, I think we plan on doing it again.”
Dominique Strauss, who has been doing home parties for the past few years, says he’s heard from an increasing number of women interested in creating their own home spa parties, even if just for a few hours in their suburban homes.
“I could do one o two every weekend if I wanted,” he relates. “It’s all part of another trend, which is that friends are wanting to share experiences.”
And what experiences they are. “They invite all their friends and bring in a chef to cook dinner while we give them manicures and pedicures,” he says of a few regular home spa parties he works at. Other times, he says, clients schedule a spa party in conjunction with a wine and cheese tasting or potluck.
Then there’s the group he calls the “Blade Runners.” (“Their feet are in very rough shape,” he wryly comments.) This group of soccer moms gathers each June at one mom’s backyard pool for a pedicure party.
Currently, most spa parties in the United States are being hosted by enterprising practitioner such as Strauss, or by salons or spas experimenting with coordinating spa parties in the home. For example, last year a client of Hands On in Beverly Hills, Calif., called to see if the salon would staff a spa-themed birthday party for a friend in her home.
Nail tech Avis Williams-Cartill says she and her coworkers were set up to work in the TV room. The 35 guests signed up for the services they wanted, then mingled until their group was called.
“We had one person who did paraffin and nail polish changes, one who did foot massage with essential oils, another who did hand massage, and a massage therapist who did chair massages,” she says. “There were also two women doing henna tattoos. It was a very warm atmosphere, and I think the gusts felt more relaxed. There was lots of laughing and giggling.”
Home-Based Businesses on the Rise
A few entrepreneurial spirits already have begun to build businesses catering solely to the home spa party market. In Sonoma, Calif., four friends and former coworkers teamed up last year to form Spa Camp, a Pampered Chef type concept for the spa industry. “I was spa director for the Sonoma Mission Inn for seven years, and my sister, Alison Yoder-Nelson, was wellness coordinator,” Leslie Wolski says. “Jessica Schorr was a manager with us at Sonoma Mission, and Jennifer West worked for Le Concierge, a corporate concierge company in the San Fancisco area.”
All four were ready for a change when Wolski identified a demand for spa parties. Initially, they hosted spa parties at corporations such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Sutter Health, but quickly found attendees wanted them to come to their homes. Wolski had founded Spa Parties for exactly that purpose on her own before partnering with the others on Spa Camp, but she soon realized it made more sense to combine the two companies under the Spa Camp banner. Today, corporate camps are still a significant part of the business, but Wolski says the company’s greatest growth is coming on the home front.
“Women feel like they don’t even have time to go to the supermarket, much less the spa,” Wolski says of the demand for home spa parties in Northern California. Unlike Strauss’ home parties, Wolski and her partners act as coordinators and trainers rather than service providers. “We primarily facilitate because we’re not service providers,” she says. “We provide the format and the tools. If clients want services, we hire independent contractors.”
When guests arrive at Spa Camp, they receive a hot herbal neck pillow and a cedar and lavender “stress repellant” mist. After some stretching and dance exercises, the “camp counselors” guide attendees through camp activities – which typically include a foot soak, mud mask for the face, exfoliating scrub for hands and arms, and self-administered foot and hand massages. Attendees use Spa Camp product – which are available for purchase – to do the services. Each party concludes with a mini reading followed by a guided meditation. Because Sap Camp counselors only instruct attendees in how to use the products themselves, Wolski say they aren’t required to be licensed by the State Board.
A Spa Camp party typically lasts one and a half to two hours. In adding to the $25-$50 per person camp fee, attendees typically spend an average of $50 each on retail products. “We don’t do any selling, but as we educate them on how to use the products and the benefits they’ll get, they want to buy,” notes Wolski.
Have Spa, Will Travel
In Canada, Angela Hicks and Lise Nault are betting consumers want someone else to do the work – Portospa’s double-digit annual growth for the past three years is proving the partners correct, at least in their market.
Portospa offers clients in-home esthetic and massage services in the Outaouais and Ottawa-Carlton regions. Hicks conceived the business several years ago when her bodywork clients began asking her to come to their homes and work on them and their friends. From there, the idea just developed. “They asked for esthetic services, so I got an esthetician involved,” she says. As word-of-mouth spread, Hicks hired a hostess and continued growing her stable of independent contractors. In 1988, Nault added her sales and marketing experience and background as a chef to help build the company and coordinate hostess duties.
Currently, Hicks says Portospa hosts at least two spa parties each week that range from four hours to three days. Portospa has a seven-client minimum, but Hicks says they can accommodate as many as 30 guests. Clients can choose from Portospa’s a la carte menu, but special pricing encourages them to book multiservice packages. The prices are very competitive to day spa prices – “The Basics” package includes a one-hour massage, facial, and a pedicure for $73 (U.S.).
For the use of her home, the hostess enjoys 40% discount on her services. However, Hicks emphasizes that Portospa’s party coordinator contacts attendees individually to schedule their services up and clean up. “We generally leave the space cleaner than we found it,” Hicks says.
Just Visiting or Here to Stay?
It remains to be seen whether home spa parties are a passing fad or a lasting trend in what Strauss terms the “experiential economy”. Based on consumer response, Wolski believes home parties are the next growth opportunity in the spa industry. Both Spa Camp and Portospa plan to franchise within the next year.
In Graf’s mind, there’s o question that home spa parties will stay the course. “When I had a full day at a spa. I got bored because I was sitting with strangers and it was so quiet,” she says. “But when I was with my girlfriends, we got to goof off and chat. It was a time to build our friendship bond, and that had more impact and more meaning for me.”
Work From Home
Dominique Strauss views home spa parties as an ideal career opportunity for nail technicians and other salon professionals. “It’s a way to be more financially independent,” he says. “It’s extremely comfortable and very enjoyable for me because it’s a very convivial atmosphere. People are with their friends, visiting and enjoying themselves.”
Marketing home parties is as simple as suggesting it to your current clients. “Start by suggesting it to the clients you’ve had the longest, and to the ones who know each other. Suggest they get together and that you’ll come over and do a pedicure party.”
While you may enjoy the party atmosphere. Strauss emphasizes your role as hostess, at least in regards to your services. You need to be highly organized, flexible in regards to working conditions, and ready to schlep, he says. To keep all of your supplies on hand and in order, Strauss recommends a wheeled suitcase for your footbath and manicure bowls as well as all the other supplies you may need for the services you’ll provide. Keep a supply checklist in the bag, and review it and replenish your stock before and after each party. He also suggests keeping a full complement of linens and a portable sterilizer in a separate bag.
When you schedule a party, discuss with the hostess exactly what services she wants you to provide as well as her overall expectations. If you decide you can only offer mini-pedicures in-home and she and her friends expect the full treatment including whirlpool foot tub, you’ll both end up unhappy. At the same time, discuss with her where in the home she’d like you to work and ask about the lighting and seating conditions you can expect. Be ready to suggest alternatives based on your experiences.
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