According to the most recent International SPA Association (ISPA) consumer survey, the No. 1 reason any client hits the spa is to manage stress. “And that’s cross-generational,” notes ISPA president Lynne McNees. “We’re all more aware of the fact that many ailments are stress-related, but baby boomers in particular appreciate that although they may not have the luxury of spending lots of time with their doctor, their spa therapist is there for them.”
If you want to reach the relatively well-heeled 54- to 74-year-old set, says McNees, offer longer experiences and make it easy to book them via phone. “Boomers want to call and learn about the therapist, and they want to unplug,” she says.
Oasis Day Spa has two locations in New York— midtown Manhattan, and suburban Westchester—that serve completely different demographics. Since the latter is a boomer hub, owner Bruce Schoenberg makes a point of promoting advanced antiaging treatments, peels and salt scrubs at that location—and he deliberately features more mature models in those promotions. Janice Nichols, corporate operations director for spa consulting and managing firm WTS International, adds that antiaging peels, HydraFacial and salt chambers are big with this crowd.
Boomers also tend to book back-to-back services with the same therapist, points out Diane Hibbard, vice president of treatments and development of the Burke Williams spa chain in Los Angeles. “They enjoy memberships that let them visit as often as they like, and developing ongoing relationships with staff—they value a sense of belonging.”
Plus, baby boomers have the potential to be the bread and butter of your retail business. They’re loyal to the brands they like, and are more inclined than other age brackets to purchase esthetician recommendations. “They’ll spend heavily to reverse the appearance of aging, and they see the spa as a necessity, rather than a luxury,” says Schoenberg.
McNees advises looking beyond Facebook, that old boomer standby, in your marketing efforts. “A lot of spas offer discounts or specials for clients who ‘check in’ on Facebook, and younger generations love that. But boomers don’t want to tell everyone they’re there—it’s not such a motivation,” she explains. Boomers still read newspapers and listen to the radio, she notes, so do your market research but know that traditional ads may still be a draw when it comes to this generation.
Younger generations see the spa as a place to prevent ailments, but those born between 1966 and 1980 are motivated by rejuvenation, says McNees. This population—many of whom are parents—are truly in it for the stress relief and love tailored treatments. “They enjoy adding on enhancements and custom- creating unique oils and lotions,” notes Hibbard.
In Schoenberg’s experience, gen X-ers tend to be extremely interested in high-tech antiaging options. “They have lots of questions about microdermabrasion and lymphatic detoxification,” he reports. In addition, these 39- to 53-year-olds will spring for couples’ treatments, men’s facials and chakra-balancing massages. “They have unique buying habits; they’re the most likely to purchase skincare devices and antiaging men’s products,” says Nichols.
While this group is well aware that spa services are a boon to their well-being, they can struggle to find time to squeeze it in. “Gen X-ers love getting gift cards and planning their spa time in advance,” notes Hibbard.
According to Hibbard, those born between 1981 and 1994 comprise the first generation that prioritizes wellness over material goods. “It’s a status symbol for millennials, and they often opt for more alternative, less traditional forms of health and medicine,” she says. “They enjoy being on the cutting edge and staying up to date on the latest technology, and they’re always seeking out new experiences; in fact, they like experimenting with different services each visit.”
Talk up specialized modalities like cranial sacral and lymphatic drainage massage, and make it easy for these spontaneous guests to come in for last-minute services—and to spa with friends. “Millennials enjoy the social aspect, especially bridal and birthday parties,” says Dana Buchman, vice president of marketing and PR for Burke Williams. “And they love being the first to experience anything new and different.” So when you’re showcasing your latest treatment launches, make sure this group is invited!
Schoenberg describes the millennial market as the biggest “sea change” he’s witnessed in his decades in the industry. “We’re seeing a major move toward organic products in our Manhattan location,” he says. “And of course the internet has wreaked havoc on our retail business. We might make the first sale with millennials, but Amazon makes the second. So now we tell clients, ‘If you can find it cheaper, let us know and we’ll match that price.’”
McNees points out that millennial women likely grew up going to the spa with their mothers. “In their lifetimes, spas ballooned from 40,000 U.S. locations to 200,000,” she explains. “It’s more a part of their overall well-being; they don’t see sneaking away for a treatment as quite such a luxury.” Meanwhile, “millennial males see spas as a place to recover from injury or illness,” says McNees.
Older generations may appreciate unplugging, but “telling younger clients that they can’t have a phone in a treatment room will stress them out,” warns McNees, as millennials are typically much more connected. “They love Instagram, Pinterest, online booking and spas that support causes,” notes Nichols. Regarding Instagram, McNees points out that posting a picture at a spa is the modern word-of- mouth referral. So, it wouldn’t hurt to create Insta- worthy tableaux in your common areas, and to have signage mentioning your spa’s handles and hashtags.
We don’t yet know much about the spa habits of those born between 1995 and 2012 (7- to 24-year- olds); however, we know a lot about the environment in which these tech-savviest of kids are growing up. “Gen Z-ers are always on the go, and opt for quick and effective services,” says Hibbard. “Self-image and branding are important to them, as well. They want to take care of their well-being in short bursts of time—and look good doing it!”
Gen Z-ers on the older end of the spectrum are earning more money at younger ages than prior generations. “So their purchasing power is not to be overlooked,” says Buchman. “They’ll most likely experience their first spa treatment as a gift, they’re hungry for wellness education and they engage mostly on YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram.” But as Nichols points out, getting through to this generation often involves marketing to their parents, typically members of generation X.
Schoenberg recommends creating different email blasts based on client demographics: “We ask all guests for their birth year and maintain lists—for instance, of clients who’ve only received high-tech skincare treatments—so we’re marketing what’s truly of value and avoid inundating everyone all the time.”
Regardless of which age group you’re targeting, just be sure to have a presence in the spaces that they frequent. “Show up where those clients are trying to find you. Focus on having a distinctive style, tone and voice, and engage with your target audience early and often, building true relationships across the various platforms each generation uses,” advises Buchman.
–by Katie O’Reilly