Day spas continue to spring up despite recent economic slump

An International Spa Association survey cites two of the top five reasons people don’t visit day spas: day spas are expensive and people don’t see themselves as the “spa type.”

But Dena Lee doesn’t think that way.

“For my car, I get the oil changed, have the tires rotated and schedule regular check-ups. I should at least do that much for personal maintenance,” said the 27-year-old from Atlanta of the fourth-largest leisure industry in the United States.

According to the International Spa Association’s Spa Industry Study, the number of spa locations doubled in just the last four years – despite the national economic downturn.

It’s this attitude, along with greater awareness of health and well-being benefits, which has influenced the growth of day spa services.

In less than 10 years, revenues have increased five-fold to $11 billion nationally according to Standard and Poor’s Register of Corporations.

One possible reason is that doctors and chiropractors are recommending massage therapy more often.

“Massage improves blood circulation which delivers oxygen and nutrients to the cells, stimulates the lymphatic system, relieves muscle spasms and assists in pain management,” says Gregory Tilley of Essex Chiropractic in West Orange, N.J. Massage appointments are rapidly growing and are now second only to haircuts in most salons with day spas.

These businesses are structured in a couple of ways.

Usually the receptionist and support staff are on salary or hourly wage.

Cosmetologist, massage therapists and skin care professionals work on commission or by booth rental.

Some offer partial trade show expenses and health insurance options.

In 2000, Amy Schmitt decided to open Shades Salon in Livingston, N.J. “The Cosmetologist rent space,” she explains.

“They provide everything and run their station like a little business. I pay the building space and utilities.”

But like other salon and spa owners, Schmitt is finding it tricky to fill her spaces with Cosmetologist who have a strong work ethic and are serious about being in business for themselves.

“My experience with booth rental is a loss of control with stylists coming and going as they please,” said Joanne Wallas of U2 Hair Studio in Newark, N.J.

In a time when some industries feel the burden of government regulation, the salon and spa industry advocates stronger control.

“It gives credibility and legitimacy to what we do, while providing the public with confidence in our knowledge and experience,” says Paige Walker, a cosmetologist and office manager at Chelsea Spa in Tallahassee.

But rising costs behind the scenes are a challenge to the industry. Walker points out two examples of how small expenses can add up: “We used to get products without shipping charges. With energy prices going up, our suppliers have added, and then increased, transportation fees. We use a high volume of linens, which are changed by the hour. For the first time, we’re experiencing surcharges on linen services.”

In merchandise-based businesses, higher costs can be passed to the customer. Salon and spa services are labor-intensive, and owners cannot comfortably raise prices often.

As men and women become more aware and educated on the value of high quality hair and skin care, the local salon and day spa will likely continue to bloom.

Contact Michele Perault at