Grand designs

Cheryl Patella, spa director at Williams Island, The Florida Riviera and managing director of spa industry course providers Spa Innovators, shares her tips for a successful renovation 

Spas will usually renovate about every 10 years. There are many reasons: expansion, new ownership, a facelift of the facilities, to meet changes in the industry, and to stay current and successful.

Whatever the reason, there is a formula for success, which includes steps that can help the project run much more smoothly. 

As the spa director, it’s critical that you are a part of the process and that you think through the final plans you have been given, making sure they work for you. Because regardless of what the final outcome is, good or bad, you will have to work with it.  

The success of your job, as part of the renovation process, will depend on your ability to meet the budgetary projections and to satisfy the needs of guests, members and residents. It is important to realise that expenses have to be justified by the potential return on investment. Deborah Smith, principle of consulting firm Smith Club & Spa Specialists, has this advice for spa directors:

The US$14 million (£9m) renovations of Spa Internazionale on Fisher Island in Miami, Florida, where I at different points served as fitness director, interim spa director and assistant spa director, was one of the largest and most complex renovations I have experienced. It also had the added complication that it’s on an island and everything comes over on a barge. 

You learn from each project. Here is an example from Fisher Island that I hope will help other spa directors going through a renovation: We were in a meeting with all the project’s key players. I realised there were no plans for wet treatment rooms, no access to showers, and that all treatment rooms would have cork flooring.  

I brought up the fact that we were on an island and water was our focus, so that to be competitive we would need a variety of treatments. I also pointed out that flooring must be considered in treatment rooms, due to potential product spillage. Flooring must be carefully chosen and should be resistant to stains and damage from wax. The chief executive of Fisher Island at the time, Larry Brown, backed me and plans were altered to correct the situation. In the end, it is the spa director who is on the front line on a daily basis.  

fisher island
Image: The Fisher Island spa 

I asked the current chief executive of Fisher Island, Bernard Lackner, to share retrospective insight from the project. He commented that: “It is crucial to get the input of your employees, as they are the ones experienced in the operation.”

Key takeaways 
Every project requires a budget, an architect, a construction company, a designer, a timeline and a person who will have the final say, and who will take the heat on failures as well as the applause on successes. Often a committee can also be established to handle some of the responsibility. The spa operational team must be included in the decision making process and the spa director should have internal meetings with staff and service providers, to get their insight and their buy-in, to help make the project a success.

Many companies you work with during this process can be wonderful assets. Two of my projects involved Technogym, who brought more than equipment to the process. Jay Muller, national sales manager, hospitality division at Technogym said: “Renovations can be challenging for everyone involved and we work to help decide the right equipment, quantities, and layout to suit the space and traffic flow.” 

Some of the key things to consider in a renovation project are: 

Complete your standard operating procedures and staff training just before you open: every member of staff needs to know where everything is and how the daily flow will be accomplished. However, wait until the project is almost completed before writing the SOP, or you will be making numerous changes.

Practical points 
In 2002, spa and fitness centre renovations began at The Biltmore Hotel in Miami, Florida. In order to service our hotel guests and our 2,000 outside members and avoid losing their business, the fitness centre remained open during the renovation process. We worked on one half of it first, before switching to the other half, sectioning of half of the facility for construction and half for operation.

Hotel rooms were used for changing and showering during the year we carried out the renovations – a year during which we had four hurricanes. Each hurricane interrupted delivery and construction and anyone working on a similar project in South Florida should take into consideration the delays that could occur should a storm hit. The spa was relocated to the seventh floor, gutted and redesigned.

Image: A couples' suite at the spa at The Biltmore

Charlotte Prescott, spa director at the Biltmore, says of the spa today: “The business has changed and evolved quite a lot in the last 13 years.  As we explore options to continually grow business in the spa and salon, I am also very mindful not to have a higher volume of guests than the public spaces can comfortably support. There’s nothing worse than a crowded, noisy relaxation room.

Recently we introduced a second amenity bar with fresh fruits, infused waters, teas and so on, placed in a different area for our salon guests. The intent is to minimise the traffic floating by the relaxation room, so spa guests can have their peaceful experience, but our salon guests can still enjoy the amenities.” 

There are many aspects to keep in mind when it comes to spa renovations. Cassandra Sessa, spa director at the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa in Palm Beach, Florida, where a renovation was just completed, says: “Dimmers need to be included in the specs for the treatment rooms; lighting in the hair salon needs to be thought through, and the flooring should be durable to oils, products, wear and tear. [Our] designers initially selected limestone, which absorbs everything.” 

Image: The spa entrance at The Towers of Quayside

In my previous role as spa director at The Towers of Quayside, the luxury residential community in South Florida, I was involved at the planning, budgeting and bidding stage of a renovation of the property. Now 34 years old, the waterfront property was in need of a facelift and I will continue to assist the team at Quayside in completing the renovation, making the process as smooth as possible for them.

When you are deeply involved in a renovation you add many of your own ideas, based on your experience, the residents’ needs and the budget, personality and usage of the property. So there is a piece of you in every project and you want to see it through.