DALLAS — Maybe there really is such a thing as good stress.

The $10.7 billion U.S. spa industry certainly thinks so, as it continues to grow by triple digits thanks to stressed-out consumers who increasingly view a trip to the spa as a requisite tool for staying healthy.

Despite the weak economy, there were nearly 160 million spa visits made in 2001 in the U.S., a 71 percent surge since 1999, according to the International SPA Association, which held its annual conference Oct. 13-16 at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel here.

The number of spa locations has doubled every four years, reflecting an average annual growth rate of 20 percent during the past eight years. The U.S. now has more than 10,000 spas employing about 300,000 people.

Massage is the most frequently purchased spa treatment, followed by facials, manicures and steam baths. More than 70 percent of spa-goers are female, and most spa-goers earn at least $72,200 each year.

Exponential growth in the spa industry was but one of the many themes greeting spa owners and product vendors at the ISPA conference, which was attended by more than 2,000 people from 30 countries. The five-day event included educational seminars, networking conclaves, parties and a sprawling trade show of more than 350 booths representing 238 companies showcasing the newest product launches and innovations for the spa industry.

Much of the buzz at the conference focused on a handful of key themes, including the exponential growth of day spas in the U.S. Nearly 75 percent of U.S. spas are day spas, reflecting consumers’ desire for a brief but invigorating respite from harried lifestyles.

Among the themes: the greening of the spa industry as more environmentally friendly and herbal-based products dominate the market, while more medicine-based products and services overtly connote the healing virtues of spas.

Eastern and Asian-inspired products, services and spa design continue to reflect a growing reverence for more esoteric approaches to relaxation. And a growing number of spas are reaching out to teens who might attend with friends or family members.

“There’s an explosion of new spas in the U.S. and across the world. There’s a 114 percent increase in industry revenues and a 70 percent increase in the number of spa locations,” said Lynne Walker McNees, executive director of ISPA.“In Dallas, owners came to the ISPA conference seeking ways to differentiate themselves from the spa down the street. They’re spending lots of time in educational seminars to learn better ways of doing business and more time on the exhibit hall floor to see emerging trends. Spa owners told us that education was the number one reason they come to ISPA each year. They learn from our meetings and from networking with each other.”

Back at home, spas are using unusual marketing tools to stand apart from the crowd, added McNees. “They are looking to nature and the spa’s indigenous surroundings for new products, such as spas in the Napa Valley [California] using products made from grape seeds, spas in Arizona using products derived from cactus flowers and even a spa in Hershey, Pa., that uses chocolate as part of the pampering process.”

Spa owners found inspiration at ISPA for new ways of doing business.

“The conference was extremely beneficial and provided a way to gather a wealth of information on new products as well as a way to network with peers,” said Deborah Evans, general manager of Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah.

“We saw several key industry trends at ISPA, including a movement to market to teen spa-goers. We actually launched a teen rate in summer 2003 that was generated by strong customer demand. We’ve had lots of calls from customers interested in mother/daughter and even mother/son rates. Let’s face it, teens are clearly interested in health and beauty and spend the money to prove it. And the spa industry’s focus on both holistic and medicine-based approaches continues to grow.”

“ISPA is the main conference to attend if you’re in the spa business,” said Jenean LaRoche, director of the Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel, San Francisco. “The conference not only showcases the newest and emerging trends but has a wonderful way of getting down to business basics and how to make them work for your spa. We wouldn’t miss it. One of the key and most important topics in Dallas was the continuing merger of the spa and health care industries. At Nob Hill Spa, we do lots of herbal-based approaches that incorporate ancient healing methods — healing practices that have survived through the centuries. Our target customer is a 25- to 55-year-old working woman who comes for the day or maybe just for an hour or two to help keep her hectic life in balance. It’s a big trend for women to come to a spa with their friends and have a chance for some uninterrupted time together.”Meanwhile, vendors praised ISPA as a venue for networking with the spa industry’s most influential executives.

“It’s about the only major spa show I attend,” said Sunny Griffin, chief executive officer at Astara Conscious Skincare, based in Telluride, Colo. “We get fantastic response to our collection, especially when we get back home. We network while at the conference and lay the groundwork for future relationships.”

The continued greening of the spa industry was in full evidence at ISPA, said Tommy Dionisio, chief operating officer and a partner at Aroma Natural Inc., a skin care and candle company in Irvine, Calif.

“It’s exciting to see so many companies and spas taking responsibility for what they put on clients’ skin. Ironically, I’ve never written an order at ISPA — but it’s always my best trade show of the year. ISPA is a place to land incredible leads for future business. It lays the groundwork for the future because of all the heavy hitters who attend.”

For Jenefer Palmer, president of Osea, a skin care company in Malibu, Calif., ISPA generated strong traffic and is the firm’s most important trade show of the year.

“Osea products combine a high-tech and marine-based approach to skin care, and many spas were intrigued by our approach. They want something new to set themselves apart from competition. But it’s a major decision for a spa to make a change to their skin care lineup, and ISPA gives you the venue to sit down and get to know the spa owners and explain how your line can benefit them. It’s not a show, though, for a quick order. It’s a get-to-know you show.”

Charles Hall, vice president of business development for Peter Thomas Roth and June Jacobs skin care collections, both in New York, praised ISPA’s educational seminars for providing the latest industry developments and business strategies.

“It’s the show that you can’t ever afford to miss.”

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