Parks and recreation

Coworth Park spa manager Ann Costelloe on growing your client base, creating successful day spa packages and retaining good staff

"It’s a resort spa, so it has to be different things to different people,” says Ann Costelloe, spa manager at Coworth Park in the UK, about the facility she manages. Part of The Dorchester Collection, Coworth Park is a 70-room boutique hotel idyllically located in a rural setting.

Spanning two floors and comprising eight treatment rooms, including two double rooms, the sleek and stylish spa is a fairly sizeable one for the hotel’s limited number of keys. “I have 10 treatment couches, so it’s probably clear to anyone that I wouldn’t be able to fill my treatment rooms seven days a week from a 70-room hotel,” Costelloe says.

The answer to this has, she adds, been to grow the non-resident business, with the percentage of outside guests rising steadily since the spa opened in 2010. The non-resident to resident split now stands at 60/40, with the spa making a conscious effort to target non-hotel guests with spa days.

“During weekends and holidays, the hotel is very leisure oriented, but outside of that, Monday-Thursday, it can be quite corporate and if your clients are corporate, they are often busy in meetings and might not have time to spend in the spa,” she says. “Which means you have to have your business coming from other places, otherwise you’re done for really. So that’s why we’ve built up the spa day business.”

Juggling act
The spa has an unusually wide range of spa day packages – 11 were advertised on the Coworth Park website at the time of going to press – and Costelloe believes one of the reason they work so well is that there is in-spa cuisine in the  shape of the Spatisserie restaurant.

“It’s almost impossible to provide attractive spa days if you don’t have food and beverage facilities within the spa,” she says. “Because ladies, and it does tend to be ladies, don’t just want to have treatments, they also want to have lunch, afternoon tea or a glass of Champagne, without having to get dressed and go to the restaurant in the hotel.”

coworth park

While Costelloe says the spa cuisine has never been “particularly overindulgent,” the hotel’s new head chef is introducing a new Spatisserie menu, set to launch in March, that is “a bit more on the healthy side than it was before”.

However, as integral as day spa business is to the spa’s bottom line, Costelloe says hotel guests always come first. “We do limit the number of spa days, they tend to be restricted to Monday-Thursday and we never do them on a Saturday, because we know we can fill our treatment rooms with hotel guests on Saturdays,” she explains.

Judgement call
“What you don’t want is a hotel guest not being able to get a treatment appointment,” she says. “They want the full relaxation experience when they come to Coworth Park and we would move heaven and earth to accommodate them, which we usually manage.” Making the right judgement call when it comes to how many treatment slots to hold back for hotel guests and how many to make available for outside clients is, she adds, a constant challenge.

“You can’t always rely on hotel guests to book treatments and you can’t afford to have therapists and treatment rooms with no treatments, so you do need those other revenue sources as well,” she comments. “You constantly have to juggle that; week by week, day by day, hour by hour. It’s ongoing, and no computer system can make those decisions for you. It takes receptionists quite a while to be experienced enough to make those judgment calls every day.”

coworth park reception
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Managing the physical flow of the different client groups that visit the spa: leisure hotel guests, corporate hotel guest, spa day guests and local residents simply popping in for treatments is, Costelloe admits, also tricky at times. The layout of the spa, split over two floors and with the treatment rooms and relaxation area at the opposite end to the pool, sun terrace and other facilities does, however, help.

“The way it’s been designed means that no matter how busy it is in the pool or on the terrace, you don’t hear it on the treatment side of the spa.” And, tricky or not, the balancing act is, Costelloe continues, one worth pulling off. “We are a business and my philosophy is: attract as many types of business as you possibly can,” she says.

Branded difference
This matter of fact approach also extends to Costelloe’s method for selecting the brands used in the spa. “I’m a very practical person, so I like to know that the products are not going to come from too far away, because if they do, I can straight away see practical issues that might cause me difficulties,” she says. The spa at Coworth Park works with Carol Joy London, Kerstin Florian, Valmont and Aromatherapy Associates, and Costelloe explains there were specific reasons for choosing each of the brands.

coworth park relaxation room

Both Carol Joy London and Aromatherapy Associates are UK brands and Costelloe says that: “Coworth Park is very British, so we wanted at least one British brand.” Having worked with Aromatherapy Associates at The Spa at The Dorchester London, for which she did the 2009 reopening, Costelloe says she “personally loves Aromatherapy Associates and can’t imagine working in a spa that doesn’t have the brand, even in a small way”.

Another guiding principle was exclusivity. “That’s something that’s important to the company, the Dorchester Collection likes things that not many other people have got, which applies to Carol Joy London, and to Kerstin Florian and Valmont as well.” Introducing Swiss skincare brand Valmont, which the spa did in 2013, was, she adds, also in keeping with the Dorchester philosophy. “The company wanted there to be more similarities between the spas in the different hotels, and there is a Valmont spa at our sister hotel Le Meurice in Paris.”

Employee relations
In an experience that echoes that of many other spa managers around the world, Costelloe says finding the right staff can be a challenge. “One of my biggest problems is finding the right calibre of people for a five-star hotel spa,” she says. “Not just people with the right technical skills, but also with the right social and communication skills.” More practical recruitment problems also create challenges. 

“We have an added difficulty in that there is no public transport at all where we are,” Costelloe says. “You could have the best therapist in the country at the other end of the phone, who’s interested in working at the spa, but if she hasn’t got a car [it’s not really an option].” Another stumbling block is that the company policy does not permit tattoos that clients can see. “They can’t have any visible tattoos, which narrows it down these days and a therapist with a permanent sticking plaster is not a good look,” Costelloe says.

pool

Once you do have the right staff on-board it is, she emphasises, vital to look after them. “Your therapists are extremely important, so keeping them, and keeping them motived, really matters.” Which, she explains, is one of many reasons to continue to update and innovate.

“It’s not just about the guests, the therapists also need new things coming in; new treatments and training to keep things fresh for them and keep them interested,” she says. “When we did the Valmont training the therapists loved it and that’s important.”

Costelloe also believes in allowing staff to really make use of their expertise and one example of this is the 95-minute Coworth Park Signature Treatment, around which the Signature Spa Day has also been created.

Spatisserie

The experience, which includes a back treatment, a back and scalp massage, a facial and a warm stone foot massage, was designed by four of the spa’s senior therapists. “They put together a head to toe treatment that, based on their feedback from guests, they felt would be popular – and people just love it,” says Costelloe.

Asked if there is any advice she would give young therapists she replies, with a smile: “tell them not to get any tattoos.” On a more serious note, she explains that, “I’m not sure they realise that a tattoo might actually decrease their career options”.

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