In January 2020, The Houstonian announced the opening of Solaya Spa & Salon, a sister spa to the renowned Trellis Spa at The Houstonian Hotel. The gorgeous space opened its doors in February, in the bustling Highland Village, just three miles from Trellis. Solaya offers a calming sanctuary in the fourth most populous city in the US, with floor to ceiling views of birch trees and an ambitiously designed 6,200 square-foot space. At Solaya, you’ll find 12-foot French Doors from a period building on the famed Rue Francois in Paris, custom hair design stations adorned with custom millwork, Italian Marble, and 42-inch polished vanity mirrors, and crystal chandeliers designed by Charles Winston, brother of jeweler Harry Winston.
The Houstonian wanted to provide an alternate day spa for their members and keep the company’s loyal, highly trained staff while Trellis Spa undergoes a major six-month renovation, and will continue operating after the reopening of Trellis. Solaya features twelve styling stations, nine treatment rooms, three manicure and three pedicure stations and two make-up stations.
Just weeks later, Solaya was forced to close its doors, because of the lockdown that resulted from the Coronavirus pandemic – not exactly the kick off Christine Whitnel, the Houstonian’s Training Manager, was anticipating. The spa then became one of the first to begin operating in what everyone is calling the “new normal” as the Western World comes out of that lockdown and businesses resume operations.
A few weeks into their reopening, Solaya Spa & Salon is extremely busy and welcoming guests back into a changed environment. We caught up with Christine to talk about how the spa team is handling the new reality.
What are you doing differently?
We’re working in a very different way. Everyone is wearing a mask, but we have removed gloves. From a health perspective, I think gloves can provide a false sense of security. You might think that my hands are clean just because I’m wearing gloves, but someone might need to actually change their gloves more often than you think. These things feel very different to the customer, but we’ve kind of got the swing of it now. I’ve gotten used to wearing the mask all day and temperature screening both guests and employees as they come in.
What is something that is a challenge?
Previously, we would check guests in and they would wait in our relaxation area while enjoying a glass of wine. But our relaxation rooms and changing rooms have been closed, and we’re encouraging our guests to wait in their cars and we call them a few minutes before their appointments are to begin. They come upstairs, we take their temperatures, and then send them in for their services. It feels different and we are still trying to create the same kind of luxury experience. We’re still offering wine or other cold beverages, but it feels different to be having a glass of wine while wearing a mask.
Also, we’re Texas, we’re very welcoming. We’re used to hugging our guests and when they come back after we haven’t seen them for six weeks, greeting them with social distancing feels very unnatural. We are such a high touch environment. It’s different. You get used to it. But that first week was very different.
Are you finding yourself relying more on technology?
We’re definitely using technology a lot more. We’re using an iPad for check in and for guests to fill out their consultation forms in the lobby. Before COVID, we wouldn’t have done that. It makes the customer check in much more efficient. We’re also emailing them their questionnaires pre-arrival, which is making it easier, so our therapist knows what to anticipate.
Do you have some insight into what the next two or three months will look like for the industry?
There will be an emphasis on hair services because guests haven’t had their hair done in a long time. I also think there will be interest in more mobile options and interacting with the front desk a little bit less. And some customers will not want to come inside. We have guests pay for their retail item over the phone and pull up outside, and we will walk the item over to their car. People will still want the option of the curbside experience even as businesses reopen. They’ve gotten used to the convenience. I think those who don’t offer it will have a harder time selling retail.
Can you share some advice for those about to reopen?
I like the idea of offering a welcome back gift or a gift with treatment. If you book a facial with us during the first month that we reopen, you get a small gift with treatment. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but just something small to say, “We appreciate you coming back,” because people’s budgets are a little bit tighter right now. So, what do you maybe have on hand that you can offer as a gift? It will make people inclined to come to your business.
I also think it’s important to know what your plan is and make sure that your team knows what standards you’re following in terms of what that guest experience will be, and also what the employee experience is going to be. To know what you will be doing in different ways, and maintaining daily open communication about what things are going to look like. I think that’s one of the biggest things to focus on.