Spa Chakra may not ring a bell with many Manhattan spa goers, but for those who call Cornelia Day Resort their go-to for luxury spa services, the name will soon be quite familiar.
Mike Canizales, chief executive officer of New York-based Spa Chakra, took over Cornelia on Feb. 6 from its previous owners, husband-and-wife team Rick Aidekman and Ellen Sackoff, and will officially rebrand the space as Spa Chakra on Fifth beginning May 1.
Canizales, like most in the spa industry, had been “watching the spa with interest” since it opened to much fanfare in February 2005.
But despite maintaining a flawless image — celebrities and socialites hustled to Cornelia for their famous facials, luxe body treatments and expansive rooftop lounge — cracks began to appear when the spa’s founder, Cornelia Zicu, split from the firm in January 2007.
Over the next two years, clientele remained steady, but one person who worked at Cornelia during this period said the workplace was “uncomfortable” as management did not “understand the business.”
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Rick Aidekman, an attorney by trade and also a successful real estate investor, explained that after having a very good July, August and September last year, where weekly sales averaged about $215,000, up from $60,000 during the spa’s first years, in October 2008 “the world changed.” Corporate parties, which made up about 15 percent of sales, disappeared, as did tourist visits, which comprised another 15 percent of business.
“Between the two we were down about 25 percent in January and we didn’t feel the economy was coming back any time soon,” said Aidekman.
In December, Canizales was contacted by the couple, who he said wanted to return to their former careers.
The duo retain rights to the Cornelia Essentials product range, which is sold on a variety of Web sites, including Eluxury.com, as well as on QVC, and in a smattering of hotels, including Essex House and Plaza Athenee.
Aidekman, who said he invested about $20 million of his own money in launching the 22,000-square-foot spa, its product company and its trademarks, said running a five star spa is not for everyone. “When you try to do five star, if one person sees [something wrong] that’s one person too many. You need a very disciplined management, and frankly, we went through a lot of different spa directors. We never got the right management team….The first few years it was difficult. We were on the eighth floor of an office building and that cost a lot of capital. When you are not known and not doing business it was hard to make money at no volume with a very expensive lease. But it was turning around. But then the recession happened.”
In February, the space, which remains wrinkle-free in appearance, took a new lease from the landlord and purchased certain assets from Cornelia Fifth Avenue LLC, which generates about $10 million in sales a year. Over the next several weeks, a huge back-of-house transformation will take place to bring the spa up to par with its luxurious reputation. Some of the changes include expanding facials from 60 to 75 minutes without a price increase, upping the food and beverage service by partnering with a popular Manhattan eatery, upgrading linens and injecting a “spa journey” into the overall experience.
“This is a special place with a special team [but] that team came from a world-class beauty salon approach,” said Canizales, who worked at Microsoft in the U.S. and Australia for nine years before founding Spa Chakra in 1998.
His firm, said Canizales, deeply researches its core customers’ psychographics, which unveil their personalities, to best meet their needs, and targets two types of people — the socially aware and the highly affluent.
Spa Chakra on Fifth will become the firm’s flagship in New York; another location is planned midyear for 57th Street inside the 57 Club, a fractional hotel-residence space. Spa Chakra, which operates 19 spas worldwide, is the brains and blueprint behind the Guerlain Spa at the Waldorf Astoria and Blu Mediterraneo Spa at London NYC as the firm partners with both beauty brands, owned by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Canizales said in this financial climate, he estimates the new spa will maintain 2008 sales, but that sales should grow in future years.
The new partnership also means a healthy restart for David Evangelista, who operates a 14-chair salon at Cornelia.
“It was a little ad hoc before,” said Evangelista of the past several years. “The shoe fits now.”