Behind The Belfry
New branding and a manager with a passion for developing her team are at the heart of the new-look spa at the iconic golf resort, writes Lucy Douglas
A legendary resort should have a spa to match but for the Belfry, the four-time Ryder Cup host in the West Midlands, that hasn’t always been the case. The hotel and its 11-treatment-room spa have, in recent times, been considered theregion’s “naughty child in the corner that nobody wants to talk about”, according to its managing director Lynn Hood.
After being bought by private equity firm KSL Capital Partners then placed under the management of De Verehotels in 2012, The Belfry received an investment of £26million and is beginning to return to its former glory. And following a £1m, two-month refurbishment project, the spa has just reopened with a new look, new manager and a new identity.
“It had been in the hands of a third party for about five years,” explains the new head of spa and leisure Alex Messham, who was appointed to the role just three weeks before the spa’s launch in June.
In its previous incarnation, the Belfry’s spa had been run as Simply The Spa, the first operation launched by product manufacturer Hive of Beauty. “It was a salon really. They had about six product houses,” says Messham. “For it to be spa-like, I think you need to have the impact of one product implemented really well.”
For Messham, that one core brand was Espa, a decision that she describes as a “no brainer”. She’s also taken on St Tropez tanning, and Jessica nails and Mii make-up from Gerrard International, all of which she’d worked with in previous roles. “I had to hit the ground running. KSL spent £1m, and they will want to see some return pretty quickly,” she says. “I was comfortable with those brands and I know they deliver.”
In at the deep end
Messham was originally brought in to oversee the transition of the spa from third-party operation to centrally run facility, coming over once a week from De Vere’s Slaley Hall hotel in Northumbria, where she was spa manager, before Hood offered her the permanent role at the helm of the Belfry’s spa and leisure operations.
Although its main facilities remain the same, the new-look spa is unrecognisable. When she arrived, Messhamsays, “it was like walking into a cupboard. They had ripped everything out.” The décor now takes it cue from other De Vere spas, with soft silver carpets under foot, muted tones and luxe fabrics in the soft furnishings, and a cosy relaxation lounge packed with day beds. The spa’s impressive Fire and Ice thermal suite also received a facelift.
“You can just be Joe Public outside and pay to use it,” Messham explains of the Fire and Ice experience. “Or you can come in for a treatment or spa day and build it into the package at a very much discounted rate. It’s a great pretreatment experience. Your muscles need to be warm to benefit from the massage.”
The new spa has inherited a customer base from its predecessor, and Messham plans to build up both health club members and day spa clients. “It’s their health club, so the spa belongs to them,” she says. “Day spa users aren’t a massive part of the business at the moment, but they will be, because that’s the target audience I’ll be going for.”
Messham estimates around 30% of the spa’s business will come from members, 30% from hotel guests, and the remaining 40% from spa day visitors, and she is also planning to build up a corporate client base, visiting local businesses to offer treatments. “We’re so well placed for lots of corporate clients,” she explains. “I’ve started the ball rolling with one or two companies; it’s been well received.”
To cater for this market, Messham is looking into offering a forearm massage for office workers tired from too much typing. Although the menu already offers a comprehensive range of treatments, she is also on the hunt for something else to stand out. “I’m keen to find a treatment that not everyone else is doing,” she says. “I’ve given the girls a little task of doing some research themselves and bringing some treatments to me. I would like to have a Belfry signature treatment.”
Messham is also determined that the whole team is trained up in every treatment on the menu. “It gives me real flexibility, and the opportunity to open my columns up to everyone,” she says. To achieve this, the team has undergone Espa’s rigorous training programme in both its Essentials and Advanced treatments. Messham has also introduced weekly workshops, focusing on a particular treatment, covering practical technique and product knowledge. “It’s just revisiting, retraining, and refreshing. It’s all about confidence,” she says. “It’s very enjoyable for me to see someone just grow in confidence.”
At the time of the launch, the team is 12 therapists strong, six of whom had been working at the spa previously, and Messham plans to expand to 22 in the coming months. “But I’m going to take my time about it, because I want to get good quality people who are really excited about coming to work here,” she says.
She explains that she plans to have a mixture of experienced therapists and girls fresh from college. “They will be very closely monitored,” Messham says. “They come out of college well equipped to do good massages and facials. But what they are not equipped to do is conduct themselves in an elegant manner through the room. These things we can teach them; our ultimate goal is to deliver really elegant therapists.”
Messham has already made positive steps in her short time in charge at the spa, and at the end of June, the hotel’s management was taken over by the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin group, a move that she says will affect back-of-house operations rather than the branding of the hotel. “Ultimately,” Messham says, “we want to get our reputation and service delivery so strong that we are thought of as one of the great destination spas in the country.” PB