Gordon Tareta of Tareta International on what makes a successful spa

Gordon Tareta is the area director of spas for Marcus Hotels and the founder of spa consulting firm, Tareta Group International. Over the past thirty years he’s created many success stories, starting in the 1990s. After studying recreation management in Lethbridge, Alberta, majoring in fitness, Tareta was working at the Banff Springs Hotel, and given the opportunity by Fairmont’s Ted Kissane to build that 113-year-old property’s spa.

“It had a lot of character,” says Tareta, “but it needed a lot of TLC, so he asked me whether I wanted to build a spa, and he gave me about three months to put a business plan together. I traveled Europe and the US and put a business plan together, and we were lucky enough to get $11.7 million in capital, and so we redid the spa at the Banff Springs Hotel. We opened in ’95 and then within 18 months we were number two in the world in Conde Nast.”

Since then, Tareta has worked with Fairmont,  the Scottsdale Princess, the Southampton Princess, the Empress in Victoria, and the Hyatt, among others.

We asked Gordon Tareta: “What talents do you believe one needs to succeed in this industry? What do you think makes a successful spa director and a successful spa?”

“One of the things that makes a successful spa director is the desire to learn and grow and apply what we learn today —  apply it tomorrow, or just in that same afternoon.

I think the industry as a whole needs to look outside itself, and look at, what is success in retail? What is success in people development? It’s funny, we get into a lot of these meetings and conferences and we talk about how successful we are, and I think the industry can be many, many times more successful if we take pages from other related industries such as retail, training and development, systems and technology, and apply it to our industry.

For example, I think according to ISPA, there are about 2000 resort spas and hotel based spas, in the United States. The average revenue is about one and a half million dollars per location. And the average retail performance as a percentage of revenue is about 5% – 6% of that spa. But the skin care industry in the United States is 150 billion dollar industry. Everybody else is selling way more than the spa industry is. We have all these experts in aesthetics and massage and we have retail and we have all these suppliers that supply to the retail industry, so why are we so much smaller than the actual skin care sales industry? Sephora alone does more in their revenues than the spa industry does in their retail revenue.

That’s an example of where our potential is huge, but we get so busy talking to ourselves that we forget that there are others that are doing it much better than we are.

I think we have to take a look at other lines of businesses and say, “Okay. Why does that work so well for that business and what can I adopt?”

This desire to learn also applies to relationships. I’ve had a lot of spa directors work for me, and those who do the best are humble. They realize that every relationship with every individual and every customer is a unique relationship. It’s not a one size fits all. A lot of spa directors can fall into the trap of thinking that because something worked in Canada, it’s going to work in Massachusetts or it’s going to work in Illinois or Wisconsin. It’s not.

Every single interaction, even if it’s a member that’s been there a thousand times, depends on how that person is feeling that day. You have to be wise to how to connect at every moment. It might be different every moment. That’s what our industry is about, asking how do we connect and deliver exactly what our guests are looking for.

The most complex industry is the people industry, and that’s what we’re in. You have to understand how to motivate people and how to specifically connect with both the associates and the customer, and not take any relationship for granted.”

One comment

  1. Very insightful Gordon; I agree and feel at times the Spa industry is a bit insular and that we are all drinking the same cool-aide.
    I learn more from Industry outliers, who bring business acumen and/or medically evidence based treatments and knowledge our way.

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