When Sharon Carroll, owner of Liverpool-based day spa Chill Out Spa, decided to go exclusive with a skincare brand, it wasn’t an easy decision. After six months of weighing up the pros and cons, she took the plunge and now only carries French marine brand Thalgo for face and body treatments.
“I first used Thalgo as a client and was really impressed, so when I set up as a sole trader nine years ago in 2008 I got in touch with them and they were willing to support me,” she says. “I’m a loyal person and they were always there for me throughout the journey, so that was a factor. But it was definitely a risk – you’ve got to know your market.”
Located in a small business village on the edge of the Knowsley Estate near Liverpool, the day spa is housed in a Victorian stable coach house and has six treatment rooms.
Other facilities include a hot tub that can be hired for exclusive use, relaxation lounge, bistro with outdoor seating area, and a salon area for nail and brow services.
One of the biggest considerations for Carroll was how the move to just one brand would affect her clients, of whom there are 20,000 on the database. “I had to ask myself, ‘If I choose to just go with Thalgo and take the other brands away, will all my clients stick with me?’ But a lot of them were asking for Thalgo over the other brands anyway. For example, we’d hold a client evening with Thalgo then try to repeat the same format with another skincare brand but we just didn’t get the clients coming,” explains Carroll.
It’s not the first business decision she’s made to keep clients loyal – the day spa introduced a “beauty flash” concept three years ago, where express services such as tinting, waxing and nail treatments are discounted on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Carroll explains: “When we first started offering CND Shellac we were the only spa in the area to have it and we were charging around £35 for a manicure. But as [the treatment] became more popular, other places locally were only charging £15-20. We wanted our clients to keep coming to us, so with beauty flash we deliver those treatments heavily discounted and with no frills but never compromise on quality.”
When switching to be a Thalgo-only operation, Carroll had to make sure the spa’s nine therapists were on board. “If they don’t like the product then they’re not going to do a good treatment,” she says. But their retail sales increased since being able to focus solely on one brand. “Therapists have to know so much about their brands, and if you have several product houses eventually they start asking ‘which is actually the best?’. So now I feel they’re all experts and their confidence has increased because they really know the products, the ingredients, and our stock levels.”
A Thalgo trainer visits the spa on a monthly basis and Carroll says they’ll make the trip to train just one therapist if she takes on someone new. “That was a massive thing for me,” she says, “because sending therapists away to train is a big cost. They’ve also done tons for me on the marketing side – we just held a big promotional event as a thank you to loyal clients, which went really well, and Thalgo trainer Rachel Andrews was there.”
Cutting down the offer from several product houses to one could raise concerns about whether clients would be left with enough choice to cover all their treatment needs. But Carroll says Thalgo’s wide selection of facials, which are the spa’s most popular type of treatment, meant this wasn’t an issue. Carroll has also taken on its nutrition range of supplements and detox teas at retail.
The iBeauty device, which combines radiofrequency, sound vibrations and ultrasound, has allowed the spa to dip a toe into the aesthetics arena, and it has also taken on the Mceutic three-grade peel, but Carroll says she’s wary of venturing too far into advanced treatments.
“We’re filtering these treatments into the spa environment rather than wanting to go clinical,” she says. The spa has also devised its own signature treatment with the brand, called the Blissful Back treatment. Essentially a facial for the back, it incorporates an exfoliation, tone, massage and mask, followed by a scalp massage and mini facial. Carroll says these signature treatments are something she and her therapists plan to keep refreshing.
Therapists have to know so much about their brands, and if you have several product houses eventually they start asking ‘which is actually the best?’
Now that Carroll feels the spa’s offer is strong, she plans on nurturing other areas of the business, such as growing and developing the membership programme she launched two years ago.
There’s also the Chill Out Academy, which runs Level 2 and 3 VTCT-accredited courses in subjects from aromatherapy to media make-up. This came after Carroll, who has a background in training, realised, “I was interviewing staff and on paper they could do everything but actually I wouldn’t let them loose on a client.” Currently, the academy is open to any individual to book for training, but Carroll’s plan is to start approaching other spas in the area to offer team training for their therapists.
Chill Out Spa’s peaceful location is a big selling point for clients who want to escape for a day. “It’s just about getting away from it all and having some me-time. Ultimately, most people just want relaxation, says Carroll.