How to Open a Day Spa: Constructing Your Spa

Lisa Starr

Shutterstock/Istvan Csak

So far, we have covered how to define the vision/planning stage of how to open a day spa and how to choose the right location. Once you’ve found a location that is the right size and in an advantageous spot, the real fun begins. You may be one of the lucky few who can take over an existing purpose-built spa location, but more often than not, you’ll have to create a compelling spa retreat from the ground up.

The Main Players

As mentioned in my location blog, you’ve likely completed draft floor layouts with a design professional before signing your lease. But now it’s time to go back to the drawing board, and gather a professional team that will be responsible for helping you to translate your vision into reality. You’re going to be working closely with these folks for the next three – eighteen months, so choose carefully!

If you are new to the industry or have never created a spa business from the ground up, one of your first calls should be to an experienced spa consultant. To develop a 3,000 square foot spa business, you could spend between $15-50k on this relationship over the life of your project depending on your own professional skill set and needs. A seasoned consultant will more than pay for themselves between what you’ll save on products and equipment purchases, the value of their extensive network of contacts, and their impact on your ability to reach profitability and utilization targets. On a $750k-$1M project, the cost of hiring a consultant is your insurance.

The next and very important team member is the architect of record. It is ideal to engage an architect who has designed a spa before, but that is not always possible. If not, at least find someone who has worked in hospitality or retail design, and you and your spa consultant can provide industry-specific guidance. It is also extremely helpful if the architect has worked in the area in which you’ll be creating the spa. Each state, county and even municipality has their own set of building codes, rules and regulations, and familiarity with those, will save much time and money over the life of the build-out.

The architect creates the layout and fills in lighting & electrical, HVAC, plumbing and other system plans, all of which have to be approved by the municipality. But what really brings the spa to life are the décor elements which are created by an interior designer, who can be involved to the degree that is needed for your project. Like any professional, they are an excellent source of options when it comes to selecting finishes for floors and walls, and lighting and furniture choices. Just be careful to give them a specific budget to work with, so you aren’t left with surprise expenses that weren’t included in your initial financial plan.

Once your construction plans are approved, you’ll need a general contractor to build your spa. Find two or three potential companies by doing your own research or asking the owners of any stores or restaurants that you like for recommendations. As with the architect, contractors who have built commercial projects in your chosen municipality will save you time and money as the project unfolds, as they will likely know the local inspectors and routines. The contractors will prepare bids based on your plans, and these bids should be reviewed carefully; the cheapest bid is not always the best. Also evaluate the reputation and reliability of the companies, and their ability to complete the project on time and on budget.

The Process

You’ll need to enlist the services of other professionals further into the project, but this is enough to get you started. It will be very helpful to kick off your project by hosting a meeting for all of these various professionals, in which you should share your vision and dreams, and any imagery or mood boards you have created along the way. Having everyone on the team understanding your goals and desired outcome is extremely helpful, otherwise they may have to make decisions without having all of the information that would give proper guidance.

Depending on their availability, it can take the architect 4-6 weeks to complete the plans, at which point they are submitted to the municipality for approval, which can take a few more weeks. Then there is the application for a building permit, so you may have to undertake some activities concurrently in order to save time. Especially with the architect and designer, if you are able to visit facilities they have worked on before engaging them, that will provide you with an added comfort level.

Construction Realities

While the actual build-out on a 3,000 square foot spa can generally be completed in three months or less, certain municipalities, cities and states can drag out the process to be two or three times that long. The list of inspections, permits and licenses you will need along the way can be daunting, but will be less so if you are prepared ahead and have done your homework. The actual construction phase of the project will likely take three times as long and cost twice as much as you originally anticipated. That is not a misprint, it is unfortunately too often the case. But at least your spa is that much closer to becoming a reality.

About the Author

Lisa Starr

Lisa Starr brings over 30 years of industry-specific experience as a consultant, educator and writer to Booker through GOtalk. Lisa also works for Wynne Business, a leading spa consulting and education company. Among other things, Lisa’s expertise lies in business operations and finances, sales and marketing, inventory management, human resource development, and business process improvement. She is a well-known speaker within the trade show circuit and is a frequent contributor to industry

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