Spa Ethos – reviving the classical concept in Vancouver
By Vivienne O’Keeffe A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.
Published in Spa Canada magazine
Behind every winning spa venture is a combination of vision, determination, and perseverance. Both fledgling and established spas, that have yet to gain true market share, can participate in a sustainable business upturn by offering a refreshingly genuine and unique service attuned to the sophisticated needs of today’s competitive marketplace. Bringing these elements successfully together and creating a business that delivers an exceptional experience can be simplified when you get sound advice.
Spa Ethos, a high-end day spa centrally located in the trendy Kitsilano region of Vancouver, presents an environment, culture and facility in which clients may renew and restore, using professionally delivered spa services. First opening its doors to business in December 2000 and featuring a luxuriant interior design by J & R. Katz Design Inc., an established Vancouver-based commercial architecture and interior design company who are known for their innovative work, the owners of Spa Ethos, Dr. Peter and Ann Fransblow, found themselves needing greater market share in what is a locally very competitive marketplace. They felt the spa, previously named Patina Spa and Salon, was delivering an ambiguous message to their clients, not clearly branding itself, or defining its place in the market. Understanding the situation, and wishing to bring their business to a totally new level of performance, standards and profitability, they engaged the services of Vivienne O’Keeffe & Associates Inc., an international spa consulting company that specializes in developing unique, market-specific concepts for spas.
“The spa industry is booming and consumers are becoming more discerning.” notes O’Keeffe, “and with the escalation in demand at present across the spa industry, client expectation becomes increasingly sophisticated, leading to a well-informed and discriminating assessment of services on offer. A clear concise business concept, point of differentiation and an ability to imprint a positive experience in the memory of your guests are key business objectives for growth and development. It is necessary to explore new concepts from within secure structures, ‘while still retaining the essence and philosophy of spa’, in order to attract clients through the doors”
Developing her business skills in Europe, before coming to Canada in 1986, Vivienne O’Keeffe’s refined work technique places emphasis on an authentic product being delivered to the spa client, with their immediate needs and wishes foremost in mind. “With people prepared to travel to get the treatment and experience they desire, the future of the industry is in delivering a top quality product, consistently. With this in mind we set about rebuilding the very framework of Spa Ethos’s business, strengthening and streamlining the operation. With our years of business experience, we are very conscious of the bottom line and the often-tight parameters within which businesses must work to succeed.” O’Keeffe has assembled a team of dynamic individuals who share a keen understanding of the nuances of the spa experience. The services of these professional colleagues are brought into play in the development process, as they are required or requested by the client. “Some businesses prefer to utilize their own people on a project” says O’Keeffe, who also mentions that she has no difficulty with this, adding: “We work with some of the finest people in the industry – who share our same high standards, with commitment to the client.” Her experience in all aspects of the spa industry allows her to offer, as an independent consultant, a focused and systematic approach to such business building services as; situational analysis; developing effective business plans and financial projections; floor-plan functionality analysis, facility development; brochure development and scripting; strategic planning; specific marketing plans; staff selection; full spa set up including operational set-up; management goal setting and, an increasingly popular, ongoing mentoring program for spa owners and directors.
The renaissance in Spa Ethos has seen discernible and decisive changes within the operating structure of the spa, most notably in the treatments, services and wellness programs being offered. “Adjusting from a salon to a wellness environment always presents challenges unique to each business’ circumstance” says O’Keeffe, noting that the intent behind the Spa Ethos development was to infuse integrity driven protocols into a core concept that embraced tried and tested pure spa traditions and philosophy.
The first thing the consultants did was to re-brand the spa “in line with the owners’ personal wellness philosophies and beliefs” – developing an image for the spa which placed subtle emphasis upon the culture and philosophy inherent in the essence of the classical notion of ‘Spa’. “With Spa Ethos, it is not so much a change in name as it is a desire to embrace true spa traditions,” explains O’Keeffe, who worked closely with the Fransblows in developing a business model that reflects their own passion in the European origins of the wellness concept. The spas owners are themselves no strangers to European Wellness, Dr Fransblow completing his internship at the Royal College of Surgeons in High Holborn, and at the University of London post-graduate medical federation in England.
“The spa embraces contemporary and traditional spa ideology,” states Dr Fransblow, who has seen his business evolve and grow into a leading Vancouver spa. “We desire to deliver tried and true spa experiences that engage the individual in the intention of self-renewal, well being and restoring a sense of self,” he adds.
The sometimes confusing barrage of information to be processed when faced with the day to day efficient running of a day spa can overwhelm even the most seasoned business people. The spa industry, as we now perceive it, evolved in part from the aesthetic industry and one of the greatest challenges for the aesthetic/salon owner and operator is bridging the gap between delivering a service and successfully delivering an experience. Stressed and time starved urban dwellers are becoming increasingly wellness-conscious and go to great lengths to seek out spa experiences which restore balance and well being.
The spa industry is a force majeure in the hospitality and leisure sector and is therefore competing for consumers’ disposable incomes. It is creating a defined and unique experience for today’s savvy spa goer that can distinguish a spa business from the competition.
As Spa Ethos underwent transformation, so too did the owners find their passion for the business deepen. “We became more focused and developed a greater understanding of our business,” says Ann Fransblow, who now stands at the helm of the operation as Spa Director, utilizing her medical training and experience in nursing to ensure consistent quality – upholding the highest standards of sanitization and sterilization – without compromising the spa experience. This synergy of the mechanics of the operation resulted in the proprietors themselves developing a greater rapport with their customers, “becoming partners in our clients’ wellness.”
Spa Ethos stands in a populous and busy area of Kitsilano, or “Kits” as it is known to Vancouverites, many of whom travel from far afield to visit the spa, which is understandable for, upon entering the spacious foyer a palpable calm and serenity transports the guests through to the heart of the spa where they are nurtured and enfolded in an affirming environment with softly lit cobble-stoned passageways and treatment rooms.
Thematically the spa reflects natural, earthy elements – creating a contemplative retreat for clients – with unique water features, curving passageways and beautiful décor and finishes in the treatment rooms. Creating a complementary suite of services for the spa was undertaken by the consultants who drew inspiration from historical and contemporary spa treatments, all the while considering the bottom line and how best to optimize floor space towards facilitating these treatments, best serving clients’ needs, and satisfying aesthetic and practical requirements.
Ann Fransblow is very proud of her new treatment list describing such popular favourites as the “Spa Pebble Manicure and Pedicures” and the “Aroma Marine Body Wrap” as instant classics.
“Our experience with Vivienne O’Keeffe & Associates Inc. was extremely positive; in opening or expanding a high end day spa, one needs a detailed management structure which encompasses staffing, marketing and utilization of the physical plant. O’Keeffe is capable of all of this, and is very well connected in the industry, across the country, and internationally; a networking advantage that is very useful.” mentions Dr Fransblow.
This well patronized spa now caters to its clients with clear vision, enthusiasm and dedication, utilizing a comprehensive ensemble of traditional spa treatments for men and women. “We are very selective in the services we choose to provide,” notes Ann Fransblow, preferring, she observes, “to deliver to our guests only those spa treatments that can withstand the test of time. True to our motto of ‘Upholding true spa traditions’, we wish only to provide to each individual guest an exceptional quality spa experience with select and refined therapies in an environment conducive to the guest’s own participation in the process of self renewal, well being and a restoration of the sense of self”.
Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A., President and CEO of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., has earned an international reputation as an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She specializes in working with owners to create profitable spas. As an international consultant she is highly skilled in developing unique product and treatment lines, as well as training programs. Vivienne has studied and trained extensively in the beauty and well-being arena and is a member of ISPA, Leading Spas of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Achievement Award in 2012) and the Institute of Management Consultants USA (IMC USA). She is also a published author, having written a wide range of articles on developing and running a successful spa. Spa Profits Consulting Inc. is the only SpaExcellence certified consultancy in North America, and is committed to setting the standard for quality, successful spas on a global level. For more information call 604.921.6245 or email