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This story first appeared in the January 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
NEW YORK — Some would say serving surf without turf is an omission of an obvious and successful combination.
The same could be said after reading the annual report of Steiner Leisure, an operator of more than 150 international spas located primarily on cruise ships. Steiner Leisure has used those spas to tempt Americans with its prized product brand, Elemis, rather than through land-based spas.
That is about to change.
The first freestanding, U.S.-based Elemis day spa is scheduled to open next week in Coral Gables, Fla., complementing and fulfilling the Bahamas-based company’s long-awaited goal of solidly penetrating the U.S. market.
Seven years ago, Steiner Leisure acquired Elemis, then just a small, London-based product line. Today, the line is a dominant player in spas and salons in the U.K., and is run under the auspices of Elemis Ltd. The opening of the Coral Gables spa will bring the number of Elemis spas to four — joining those in London, Aladdin Casino & Resort in Las Vegas and The Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut, not including a franchised unit in Hong Kong.
Steiner Leisure’s quest to introduce Elemis to the U.S. was tempered by several factors. For starters, it had been aggressively growing its cruise line business, as well as the number of spas it operates in resorts and hotels. For the most recent year, Steiner Leisure operated 106 spas on cruise ships, 52 spas in resorts and 17 luxury day spas. About 30 of the company’s land-based spas offer a complete Elemis menu of services; the balance will be converted this year. Steiner Leisure-owned spas on cruise liners service approximately 1.8 million clients a year. About 2.3 million clients receive treatments each year from Steiner Leisure properties globally, and so far the company’s Web site attracts about 29,000 purchasing customers. Steiner Leisure also operates nine postsecondary schools, teaching beauty and massage in the U.S.
According to industry sources, the company could have ended 2002 with $260 million in sales, up from $194 million in 2001, of which $129 million was generated through sales in spas, and $65 million was generated by both intercompany and third-party product sales. Of that, Elemis generated about $20 million, a 45 percent increase. Distribution increased to 680 spas, salons, and health clubs in the U.K., according to Sean Harrington, managing director and ceo of Elemis.
Overall, the sales ratio of spa sales to product sales was mirrored in 2002.
Steiner Leisure wanted Elemis to have a dominant presence in the U.K. before it entered the U.S. market. Learning as much as they could about the spa brands they would compete against, such as Decleor, Yonkers, Phytomer, V’Tae Spa and Academie Scientifique de Beaute, would give Elemis an edge, too, according to executives.
Leonard Fluxman, president and chief executive officer of Steiner Leisure, believes Elemis is now poised to stand up against the competition.
“Not everyone has the quality or the same brand history as us. The branding we have is very important. We have been servicing cruise ships for many years. And we know [our competition’s] game from our business in the U.K,” Fluxman said.
The new Coral Gables spa, located in the upscale Village at Merrick Park shopping mall, will use every bit of its 7,000 square feet to help develop the Elemis brand. The spa, which is scheduled to open the last week of January, boasts 10 treatment rooms, a salon, a day care center, plus a retail area to display Elemis’ 116 products.
The company’s first goal in injecting Elemis into the U.S. market, besides generating $1 million in first-year sales from the new spa, is to sell these products through third-party channels here. Harrington said getting the products into existing spas is more important than building additional Elemis spas now. “I can get to the consumer much quicker that way.”
Still, the company has devoted a lot of effort into creating original spa services. Elemis products are used for all Elemis spa therapies, such as the herbal steam Rasul, a treatment based on a traditional Arabian ritual. One or two people enter a handmade ceramic chamber designed for relaxation, exfoliation and body cleansing. Medicinal colored muds are applied to each part of the body as steam enters the chamber to harden the mud, which subsequently absorbs toxins from the body. A warm shower of water pours down from the chamber’s dome to cleanse.
Elemis Coral Gables also offers medical beauty treatments. La Therapie Skin Clinic brand — also owned by Steiner Leisure — keeps Elemis competitive by offering popular treatments such as microdermabrasion. Several original treatments, such as the Ionithermie Algae-Detox, a noninvasive body-firming treatment, keeps Elemis on the cutting edge.
The services were created by Noella Gabriel, who was a product trainer for Elemis when the line was acquired by Steiner Leisure. After two years of building on Elemis’ distribution, Gabriel embarked on a mission of intense research to relaunch the product line and to create spa therapies exclusive to Elemis. She began studying different cultural techniques, from Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage to Chinese Tui Na to Thai Massage to Japanese Shiatsu and Reiki, and combined them with her knowledge of touch and Elemis’ aromatherapy heritage. The opening of the Coral Gables location brings Gabriel’s vision — and 24 different spa therapies — Stateside. And she’s still looking for new things to bring to the business.
“It’s not about how I can copy others, but how I can push the boundaries of this business,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Service Station is a new feature, which will run periodically, and focus on spas and salons.