Hawaiian Day Spas Focus On Niches To Survive

Despite the state’s more than decade long economic slump, compounded by the tragic events of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, day spas in Hawaii have managed to not only survive – but to also thrive.

Using a keen mix of aggressive and innovative strategies, the day spa industry here is a paradox in a volatile economic climate rift with budget cuts, unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Hart-Felt Massage & Day Spa, Kauai

Carol Hart, owner of Hart-Felt Massage & Day Spa at the Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai, started the business in 2001 shortly after 9/11. Hart notes Kauai residents are survivors and that she is grateful her staff is seasoned and tuned in to the mantra of going with the flow.

The focus of Hart’s business is to encourage people to enjoy the spa’s services. Hart relies on a solid base of residents to survive. Because Hart-Felt was the first massage establishment – let alone spa – on the west side of Kauai, Hart has been busy educating people about the benefits of wellness.

Hart has sponsored free promotions in the community. She has sponsored a health fair, a four-day Hawaiian cleanse, stress management workshop, and a chair massage for functions and the health care employees at the local hospital.

Hart has scheduled a Lomilomi (Hawaiian massage) four-week intensive training session. The classes attract people from not only Kauai, but the other islands, the Mainland and Europe. She noted that word of mouth is the best form of advertising.

Most of Hart’s therapists are independent contractors, with other commitments as well. “I recently printed rack cards, which were distributed throughout Kauai,” says Hart. “The cards have been somewhat successful, although they were distributed soon after the Iraq war. I’m optimistic about the cards, because we’re marketing and old Hawaii approach, offering a unique experience in a plantation setting.”

The total number of Hart’s client base is around 200 (local residents). She attracts qualified employees because of her reputation in the community and word of mouth. Hart doesn’t advertise in the classifieds.

“We pride ourselves on therapeutic massages, not just what I call fluff,” says Hart. “Clients come out of here changed, and many times, healed from things that have been bothering them for years. The wraps we offer clients are made on Kauai and are unique. Massage therapies include the Lomilomi, using forearms and elbows as well as hands.”

Spa treatments include the Mango Kukui Salt Scrub, an invigorating exfoliation using Hawaiian sea salt, mango butter and kukui nut oil. Products include Keala, which blends the aroma of salty ocean breezes with lightly fragrant tropical citrus energized by bougainvillea and pakalana flower essences.

Hart uses Quick Books Pro because it’s a good fit. Using spa-oriented software will happen as the business grows. “I want to control the growth of the company, and not let it get out of hand, so that it ends up controlling me,” says Hart. “I’ve had the same employees here since I started the business. I started with three employees, and today I have seven employees.”

Hart’s client base has expanded over the years. Hart believes in treating all clients as family. Everyone is treated with love, aloha and respect. Hart has found that the coconut wireless (word of mouth) has been the most effective form of marketing. Her mission statement is that she guarantees no stainless steel or granite.

“My vision is to create a wellness center with all types of modalities,” says Hart. “Of course, we sit on the edge on Kauai, with hurricanes. People are going to be traveling domestically, other than to Europe and the Caribbean, and that they’ll be coming to Hawaii. Spas will have to offer clients unique services, as well as provide an ambiance that can’t be found anywhere else, to survive.”

Ampy’s Day Spa, Oahu

Nicole Santiago, president of Ampy’s Day Spa in Honolulu, on Oahu, credited her mother, Ampy, for starting the business at the Kahala Hilton Hotel (now the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel) in 1970.

Ampy’s incorporated in 1984 as a free-standing business and 2003. Santiago is integrating the spa into a health and wellness center. Instead of focusing on just skin, Ampy’s is focusing on the body, mind and spirit.

Ampy’s does a large volume of advertising. Santiago has found that print advertising works best. “We’ve awarded prizes,” says Santiago. “For example, the Banyan Tree Veranda (Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel) hosted a mother and daughter tea, and we marketed our spa services at that event.”

Ampy’s has incorporated the Ultrasonic Microdermabrasion and it’s doing well, according to Santiago. With the new technology, Ampy’s uses a sonic vibration to remove dead and damaged skin cells.

Ampy’s also uses techniques such as the shirodara. Shirodara is the pouring of a continuous stream of warm oil over the middle of the forehead to relax the body and bring peace and clarity to the mind.

Santiago incorporates Asian techniques into its European facial treatments in an East meets West system. Ampy’s uses primarily exclusive Parisian products. Santiago wants to develop a larger web site as well as expand her client base to the Mainland.

Santiago feels that she can have more mobility in a spa treatment room, in that it can be transformed from a venue for body treatment, to a venue for facial treatment. The most popular treatment for the face is the Ultrasonic as well as the original Ultra Care Microdermabrasion. Clients get the most effective results in the least amount of time, without the aggressive nature of laser or other kinds of treatments.

Ampy’s uses a network system for software called Harms Salon Solutions. It’s user friendly and expandable. Santiago focuses on two different things with regard to her management philosophy – clients and employees. “For our clients, we want to provide the best of everything,” says Santiago. “For our employees, we treat everyone here as family. Our employees have been with me for three to 15 years.”

Santiago started training for the salon when she was 12 or 13 years old. When she was 16 years old, her mother was upset with her, because she came home from work one day and Santiago had brand new Barbie dolls laid out on the bed having facials. She was massaging their hands. That’s when her mother realized that Santiago would someday be in this business.

“We want to retain our quality, so we don’t want to grow all at once,” says Santiago. “We pray a lot, and that has a lot to do with our success.”

Ampy’s started with Santiago’s mother and an assistant. Santiago has a loyal client base, because her business didn’t suffer, even during the war in Iraq. About 98 percent of Ampy’s clients are residents, with a small percentage of Japanese tourists. They are mainly working women between 30 and 40 years old, although Santiago is seeing a surge with women in their late 20s eager to enter the work force.

“We have a large volume of repeat clients, including clients that were seeing my mom when she was at the then Kahala Hilton (now the Kahala Mandarin Oriental),” says Santiago. “We attract a lot of business through client referrals. Many local celebrities have been here, as well as international celebrities such as Cher.”

Spa services are a necessity, according to Santiago. Caring for your mind, body and soul, she noted, is a daily event. Santiago keeps rates affordable, and feels blessed to work with her family at Ampy’s.

The Internet has been an effective tool for Ampy’s. It has boosted business. Santiago sells products from the finest skin care companies, including Darphin and Decleor. Clients can sip herbal teas and refreshments prior to their services. Ampy’s has a Wall of Fame, with photos of local and international celebrities.

Facial treatments include the Ultrapeel Microdermabrasion, the latest in skin care technology. It’s a non-invasive procedure designed to refine and re-texture to healthier skin. This technique evens skin tone and reduces fine lines, scarring and pigmentation.

Paul Brown Salon and Spa, Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii

“I want to clarify that even though two of our spas are at resorts, they are day spas, and they primarily serve local residents,” says Paul Brown, president of Paul Brown Salon and Spa at Ward Centre (Honolulu), Waikiki, Waikele and Hapuna (Big Island). “We have a local identity. We’re doing vertical marketing for our client base in Honolulu, relating to a 3,700 square-foot spa that opened in October 2003 named Spa Olakino in Waikiki.”

Brown will be doing more rollouts with hotel chains with that identity. The business was started in Honolulu in 1971. Brown started spa services six years ago when the operation moved to Ward Center (in Honolulu). It was the first salon and day spa in Hawaii.

Brown emphasizes that service is everything. The most important person in this business is the client. The client is always right, Brown asserts, even when the client is wrong. Brown’s staff is the next most important part of the business. Brown concedes that a mistake he made in the past was not planning adequately. About 95 percent of a successful business is based on planning.

“A major part of our success is our training program,” says Brown. “In five to 10 years I see us in 20 to 30 new operations on both national and international levels. Our client base has increased.”

Heaven on Earth Salon and Day Spa, Oahu

Lora Nakai, owner of Heaven on Earth Salon and Day Spa in Honolulu, on Oahu, started the business in 1990. By 1996, Nakai had six locations. Nakai promotes an outreach program called Martinis and Manicures. Heaven on Earth partners with upscale restaurants here for the promotion, so when someone orders a martini, that individual is entitled to a manicure at the spa.

Nakai has also done group mailings to people who have purchased homes. Heaven on Earth partners with real estate brokers and offers discount rates to the brokers. Once they sell a home, they receive a gift basket in their bathroom with a gift certificate for Nakai’s spa services “We do a combination of radio, television and high gloss print,” says Nakai. “Radio advertising has worked best for us.”

Nakai offer clients unique products, based on aromatherapy. Heaven on Earth also sells Dermalogica and Essential Elements, as well as pottery that is spread throughout the spa’s products. Nakai uses Salon Solutions software, and wants to incorporate online bookings and gift cards into the mix.

“I don’t have a manager who runs the spa. I subdivide responsibilities,” says Nakai. “We do group events each month. One month, we may go on a hike, while another month we may play softball. I’m not looking at growing much more. I want to focus on quality instead of quantity.”

Nakai’s vision for the future includes developing an apprenticeship program. She notes that one of the most profitable ways to keep abreast of the competition, is to develop a product line. Nakai started off alone, and later hired three employees.

With customer service, consistency is the key, according to Nakai. She also focuses on added value, such as makeup touchups after treatments. Nakai thinks small indulgences are what make the difference in services.

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