One of Shelley Hepburn’s most striking characteristics is her enthusiasm to see a project through, and it’s clearly the key to her undeniable success in the spa industry. In the past 20 years, she has been the driving force behind the running and opening of several leading hotel spas and teams, such as The Ned at Soho House and the Bulgari Spa, both in London, and Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa in Surrey.
So, it’s no wonder she was chosen by Diane Nettleton, director of the Nettleton Collection, to steer the ship at Boringdon Hall hotel’s luxury 12-treatment-room Gaia Spa. As group spa director, Hepburn’s not only in charge of the day-to-day operations of the 19,000sq ft space in Plymouth, Devon, but oversees the treatment menu, membership and vision to make it a “destination spa for total wellness”.
It’s a big job and one that Hepburn is only three months into. “I’ve worked in London for the past six years but I’m originally from Cornwall. I always knew I would come back to the South West someday but only for something really special,” she says. “Gaia just seemed like a great opportunity to do wellness in a different part of the country. It’s very spiritual down here and much more of a holistic environment.”
Hepburn’s previous high-profile positions have set her in good stead for the role, having learned operational skills at each one: “Pennyhill Park had 20 treatment rooms, so I learned a lot about volume and running a huge space; Bulgari was a bubble of luxury where money was no object, so I could think outside the box in terms of its offering; and The Ned was a one-stop shop where my job was to tailor the treatments to its urban surroundings, creating an express bar that works for city-goers.”
New school of thought
Although Hepburn’s still relatively new in her role, Gaia is nearly 18 months old and has gone from strength to strength since launching. “It’s been received incredibly well and it’s a really successful spa – I’ve seen the P&Ls [profits and loss]. Now, it’s about pointing the business in the right direction for growth,” explains Hepburn. “The first year is about getting busy, then you take the time to understand your business, the mix of people coming in and the kind of demographic you’re looking at communicating to.”
One thing Hepburn is looking to implement as part of her growth strategy is wellbeing-inspired four-day retreats, “where people can take stock of their lives, think about their careers and relationships, and become more focused,” she says. The package will be aimed at small groups and focus on overall wellbeing, incorporating healing treatments – such as crystal work – and the stunning setting of Dartmoor, “to offer something unique and different to a normal day spa, something much more indulgent,” explains Hepburn.
“The first year is about getting busy, then you take the time to understand your business”
The spa’s membership is another area set for development under Hepburn’s management, to make sure it keeps its exclusive feel. “Our main KPIs are creating a great concept, making money and hitting budgets, but it’s also about re-evaluating the footfall as it has got very busy,” says Hepburn. “It’s not about having thousands of members, it’s about having the right membership.”
Memberships start from £900 per person and can range up to £2,040 per couple, but Hepburn says the prices are going to be reviewed in the coming months due to the spa’s success. Clients are mainly from surrounding areas, but some come from as far as Exeter and Cornwall.
Hepburn’s also set the membership up as more of an application process now, “looking at the numbers monthly rather than just taking members, and making sure people who join believe in the spa’s ethos”.
Recruitment is the other core focus for Hepburn and, like most spa directors, she finds recruiting great therapists a challenge. “It’s about finding the right people because the spa runs on good, quality therapists,” she says. In January 2018, Hepburn will launch her Step to Success concept for staff at Gaia, which maps out therapists’ growth plans for the next five years so they have clearly defined career paths.
“All too often a therapist will come in, do their treatments and after a year, get bored or lose direction. My programme will equip them with the right skills to work in a wellness environment, covering everything from commissions to training, because being a therapist is a tricky job, especially in terms of taking their massage skills to another level,” says Hepburn.
Currently, Hepburn employs 20 therapists – a mix of full-time and part-time – but she’s hoping to attract more, especially from overseas. “I want to draw quality people to this part of the world. The salary at Gaia is competitive to what they pay in London and in high-street spas but the competition is fierce – there’s a new spa opening every six months,” she says.
There’s also plans to expand the team to include more in-house experts who tie into the concept of Gaia as a destination spa. “In other positions I’ve had, I’ve worked with acupuncturists, osteopaths and people who offer alternative treatments, and I want to bring in some of these talents to Gaia,” she adds. “I want the spa to evolve along with the health industry.”
Joins Champneys Tring as spa therapist, where she’s promoted to senior management in just a few years
Works on the pre-launch and opening of The Grove Spa in Hertfordshire, running the spa, treatment and reception operations
Appointed spa manager for Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa in Surrey
Takes on the role of spa director at the Bulgari Spa in Knightsbridge, London
Becomes spa and fitness director for the preopening of The Ned at London’s Soho House
Leaves the city and moves to Devon, where she joins Gaia Spa as group spa director
When the spa opened in June 2016, it launched with its own eponymous line of natural products that “represent quality and give emotional support”, says Hepburn, and now it’s one of the most important parts of the business. Hepburn plans to cash in on this.
“The Gaia product line outsells any other product house we have and it’s because people want something to remind them of their visit – a connection to how they felt in the spa,” explains Hepburn. “We’re bringing in a new serum this month, so it’s now nearly a full collection.”
And what does the future hold for Hepburn? Well, further opportunities to put her stamp on Gaia’s treatment menu. “The spa has its own rituals and products, so it’s got soul, but we have guests who want to spend on more results-driven treatments,” she says. She is considering investing in a cosmeceutical brand to sit alongside Gaia, Espa, Jessica and Mii, and then working in some tech. “I want to create something really special for the South West,” she says.