Rethinking the Spa Store Experience

Photography By Adam Wickham

I took a look at some retailers opening more than 100 stores a year:
Forever 21: 470
Dunkin’ Donuts: 410
Dollar Tree: 375
Tim Horton’s: 300
O’Reilly Auto Parts: 200
Dick’s Sporting Goods: 105
Hobby Lobby: 101
Imagine the number of people needed to pull off this many store openings, especially considering Murphy’s Law: that anything bad that can happen will happen. Just opening one new spa store has its share of great and not-so-great moments.

This past May, John Schrenk and Jim Johnston at Marquis, an Oregon-based hot tub manufacturer, asked me to come up with a new store design that would redefine the spa shopping experience. I was excited and a little daunted. I’ve been in a lot of spa stores, and noticed that many were basically spas on the floor with perhapsa few (dusty) houseplants and lots of signs. What many customers are craving is a shopping experience: some- thing they will remember with pleasure.

Once my ideas were approved, I went to work with Steve Salter, the general manager for the Marquis retail division. When I asked Salter why the company wanted a new store, he said the existing stores were doing well, so it was time to grow. Plus, as the Willamette River divides Portland, the Beaverton store on the west side was not reaching the growing east side market.
The biggest challenge Salter faced was opening quickly. Lease negotiations took longer than anticipated; the build-out took longer than predicted; the lighting contractor was incompetent (a whole column could be written about dealing with lighting contractors); and the cash-wrap desk turned out great, but there were delays in receiving the materials for it. Lesson learned: Allow more time for the process.

What sets this store apart from other Marquis locations is its unique look and feel, which was created with the help of props, décor, lighting and spa placement. While the budget for many of these new elements was higher than just plopping spas on a floor, their impact is beyond a dollar amount, and we stuck to the budget.

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The idea was to create a winding pathway through the store. Each spa and accompanying photo would be lit nicely. No lights were wasted. Customers gravitate from one bright area to another. Each photo creates its own feeling, and we kept graphics to a minimum to avoid oversigning the store. All pertinent information is on each of the matching stands. This is a design Salter says will be incorporated into new and existing Marquis stores.
The ceiling and floor were the most challenging. Marquis moved into a pre-existing space that was beat up and needed many cosmetic updates. The walls were easy to patch and repaint. The filthy tile floor required many hours of cleaning, but the most costly elements were the cash wrap, LED floodlights, new ceiling tiles and the clouds (see the ceiling on page 41).

For the next new store, Salter says he would like to add more storage in the cash-wrap area and a larger back-lit sky over the focal-point spa in the front of the store.
With any new store build-out, there are always glitches, and a lot of trial and error. I worked with Van Hager, the new store manager, to slide huge graphic photos onto metal rods to hang behind each unit. We quickly discovered the rod pockets were a little tight, but we made it work, noting that for the next store. Further, the fake trees came bundled in huge cardboard boxes. They were squished so they’d fit into the smallest boxes possible. That meant they needed a lot of fluffing. One tree took at least a half an hour to pull into shape, and we had 15. For the future, it pays to hire an hourly worker to deal with the trees. Once fluffed, they just need to be dusted twice a month.

This design can easily be rolled out into many types of locations, and it has been a hit. Customers are lingering longer, and sales are good. The sightlines aren’t as open as a traditional spa store, but they don’t matter as much as the little stuff is housed on either side of the counter. Shopping for a new spa almost always requires the help of a sales associate. First, the customers are greeted as they come in and, if they want, they wander until they have a question. Then, the sales associate joins them on their journey through the store.

We set out to create a new type of shopping experience without breaking the bank. This store is the first draft of a fresh concept that Marquis hopes will work for its new stores moving forward.