With 30 years in the beauty and wellness sector and a list of high-profile job posts under her belt, Kirsty MacCormick is a champion in developing, operating and managing spas of all shapes and sizes. Not only has she created operational procedures for Champneys Resorts, assisted in the pre-opening and running of leading international spas such as the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and Beijing, and been responsible for the management of spa and fitness operations across Onyx Hospitality’s portfolio of hotels, she’s even opened her own successful natural nail bar The Nail Yard in Edinburgh, which has a spa-like feel to it.
So, it’s no wonder she landed the impressive role of director of spa to oversee the relaunch of Kohler Waters Spa at the Old Course Hotel, St Andrews. The Scotland-based property, known for its worldfamous The Dukes Golf Course, underwent an extensive multimillion-pound refurbishment last year, reopening to the public in January 2018.
Managed by luxury plumbing and bathing company Kohler Co, the 25,000sq ft spa focuses on “health through water” and boasts 11 treatment rooms, two wet treatment rooms with bathing experiences, a steam room, experience rain showers using different sized droplets of water, cold plunge pool, Finnish sauna, hydrotherapy pool and a 20m indoor swimming pool.
“There are two real iconic spa and hotel projects in Scotland – one is Gleneagles and the other Old Course, so when the opportunity came up to work with one of the biggest plumbing companies in the world on its only spa outside the US, the connection just made sense”, says MacCormick.
“In previous jobs, I’ve learned a lot about developing standards, training and operation on different scales, which has stood me in good stead.”
Test the water
Only nine months into the role, MacCormick has been responsible for everything from the project and service development during the pre-opening phase to its current operation, finance and budget. Although a lot of the spa’s design was already agreed before MacCormick joined, she believed in the vision and has been pivotal in driving that message through in the client journey.
“The previous spa was everything to everybody, a membership space, treatment experience for day guests and place for hotel guests to relax, but it wasn’t really doing anything really well for anyone. A 10,000sq ft extension was needed so we could better zone the spa”, she explains.
There’s definitely more competition in the spa sector now and guests are better educated… If you’re not delivering then you’re going to get some unhappy guests
The spa’s USP is still that “guests can experience water at every opportunity”, says MacCormick, with re-mineralising experiences recreating the healing properties of the Earth’s natural mineral-rich waters, to the thermal suite helping to aid circulation and lymphatic drainage so clients’ bodies are more accepting of treatments when they get on the bed.
“There’s definitely more competition in the spa sector now and guests are better educated, coming in knowing exactly what a salt stone massage is or what to expect from a deep tissue. If you’re not delivering on that then you’re going to get some unhappy guests”, says MacCormick.
It’s also been important to get everyone to understand the spa’s core client groups – hotel guests, day guests (averaging 50 per day) and golf course guests – and tailor the business’s offering to them.
One way this has been executed is via an updated menu with 40 new marine and aromatherapy treatments from brands Comfort Zone, Phytomer and Voya, which has resulted in two months’ additional training for every therapist.
“Golfers come [to the hotel] because it’s a mecca and we’ve found that a lot of them book in for deep-tissue massages because they’ve been out on the course all day, whereas women tend to do more of the spa journeys, so we’ve worked this into our menu” says MacCormick. “We’ve also got golf pilates and golf yoga classes now to help strengthen the core, which in turn strengthens a golfer’s swing.”
Clockwise from top left: MacCormick and her team, inside Kohler Waters Spa, exterior of the Old Course Hotel
Gains Diploma in Beauty Therapy at Telford College of Further Education
Launches and runs Face 2K salon in Edinburgh
Joins Living Well Health Club in the Hilton Edinburgh as spa manager
Made group spa operations development manager Champneys Health Resorts
Joins Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group as director of spa for the Tokyo site
Promoted to director of spa for the Mandarin Oriental Beijing pre-opening
Appointed international director of spa operations for Spatality International (now Goco Hospitality)
Moves to Onyx Hospitality as group director of spa
Joins skincare company Elemental Herbology as director of global spa development
Launches The Nail Yard organic salon in Edinburgh
Appointed director of spa at Kohler Waters Spa at The Old Course Hotel
Change of pace
However, it’s not always an easy transition merging a hotel and spa into complementary operations, as MacCormick explains. “On international projects I’ve worked on, a key challenge has been educating the rest of the hotel about spa because they didn’t understand it. I had to teach them what it is because you need the hotel to help you sell your spa services.
“That’s why at Old Course there’s so much open communication and we have 50 standard operating procedures that every staff member learns, from the way you answer the phone to the way you greet a guest, so they understand how the business runs as a whole.”
Another big focus for MacCormick is the recruitment and retention of great therapists to help build Kohler Waters Spa’s reputation. “It’s a challenge getting therapists up here, which is why we pay one of the best rates in the UK and have invested in facilities that are really good for the team”, she says.
“However, I think a challenge is finding the right level of person because there is a greater demand for high-quality therapists. I know the qualifications are currently being reviewed, but there are a lot of modules now where you can learn nails, massage or facials very quickly, so I don’t think the same level of importance is being put on training.”
MacCormick’s plans for the next few years include continually developing the spa at Old Course and looking for innovative services, as well as opening more spas with Kohler. “It’s one of the reasons I took this job”, she says. “I know Kohler is looking at other projects within the UK and we’ve had talks about wellness retreats. Because the company is a global brand and has such a big presence, there’s potential to go anywhere.”
Expansion is also on the cards for her other business, The Nail Yard. “We’ve been approached about a second site in a wellness clinic but it’s just in talks at the moment. There’s definitely room for growth but it needs to be at the right time”, says MacCormick. “However, we’ve recently brought a lash and brow bar into the business and are looking at bringing microblading on board too.” PB
Clockwise from top left: The Nail Yard in Edinburgh, the pool and lounge facilities at Kohler Waters Spa