Gordon Tareta on how spas can boost retail in these tough times

Gordon Tareta
Gordon Tareta

Spa Executive chats with Gordon Tareta of Marcus Hotels & Resorts about being a good leader and how spas can leverage retail sales to recoup lost revenue in tough times.

Gordon Tareta is a hospitality industry veteran with an impressive history of experience managing spas for some of the biggest and best-known property names in the world. He has worked as a Spa Director for Banff Springs, Corporate Director of Spa Operations for Fairmont hotels, and Vice President of Spa Operations for Hyatt Hotels.

Interestingly, in the middle of his hospitality career, he then took what looks like an about turn to become Vice President of Services for Petsmart and explore the world of retail sales, before returning to hospitality and opening his own consultancy company, Tareta Group International. Currently, he serves as Area Spa Director for Marcus Hotels & Resorts and is located at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, WI, while also overseeing the Well Spa at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel.

With his level of industry experience and retail expertise, Gordon Tareta is the perfect leader to talk about how spas can leverage retail in the current climate. As many properties have been forced to scale back on occupancy, retail is one area through which to recapture some of that lost revenue. But many spa and wellness managers and directors don’t know how best to make the most of retail opportunities. We asked Mr. Tareta for some insight and advice on that, and about what it takes to be a good leader today, among other things.

How have things been at Grand Geneva in the past few months, since the COVID lockdown?

One of the biggest jobs is navigating the anxiety of our team members. I have about 85-100 staff here and this situation has taken a toll on everybody. We have been trying to help everyone cope, and doing regular pulse checks on how people are feeling, making sure they are comfortable and doing OK.

At Grand Geneva we’re in a unique position, being in the country and a two-hour drive from Chicago and a 40- minute drive from Milwaukee. Nobody wants to fly right now, so there’s no shortage of demand for our services. Obviously, we have had to scale back our occupancy and implement safety protocols like social distancing and moving things around to facilitate this, but things are going very well. We have even seen improvements over last year, when there was no COVID. Our customer service scores were very high and are now even higher. There has been an increase in confidence in our engagement with our customers and our retail sales have been really strong since reopening. There was a pent-up demand for both our services and for retail. Not that we want to be navigating in the COVID world, but there are silver linings.

Talk a bit about how you developed your knowledge and understanding of retail

I went from being Vice President of Spas for Hyatt to becoming Vice President of Services for PetSmart. After 20 years in the industry, I was at a point where I wondered if the skills that I had acquired through hospitality and spa were applicable to anything else. And I’d always had a desire to try to learn retail because spas, generally, weren’t good at it. So, I immersed myself in that and had the opportunity to learn from the best of the best at a Fortune 500 Company. Then I took my department from a $500 million department to $650 million in 18 months.

What advice can you give to other spa and wellness businesses that are struggling with retail?

A good place to start is with looking at your brand and making sure that your retail is aligned with your brand concept. I often use a restaurant analogy: if you’re a steakhouse, sell steak knives on the retail side. Don’t sell chopsticks.

Also, ask yourself why you are selling these products. Whatever product we sell or use has to earn its place in our business. Why this product? What’s the story around it? When our service providers understand and believe in our products, why it complements our brand vision and positioning, then they sell from the heart versus from the head and it’s much easier. I also look for brands that are unique and are not available everywhere. So that you have to buy it from us. Though we also carry Lululemon and that sells unbelievably well.

You have to have a retail strategy. Some spa directors might be loyal to a rep, which is fine, but does the product really complement? And are you the only place selling it? There can be 10 spas in your area all using the same thing because of a really good sales rep. And, if it’s the best of the best, great, but I always look for something that you really have to purchase from us.

Can you talk about how technology has been helpful to your business?

We didn’t have online booking when I first got here. We brought it in two years ago with Book4Time. Cloud-based solutions are great for the industry, because we don’t have to invest tens of thousands, or in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in servers and maintenance. So, cloud-based technology is really helpful. Also, our capture ratio of services is higher with online booking. The average ticket is about 45% higher. This is because of the ability to set the order of the menu. For example, in a way that shows premium services first, before smaller services that are really designed to complement or pair with other services rather than be purchased as a standalone. Our goal is to have about 20% of our booking done online and we are at about 15%.

What are you excited about right now?

I’m excited that the business has come back, at least for us, and to know that the demand is there. When we were all in lockdown and you didn’t know what the next day was going to bring, that was worrisome. So, to know that the demand is there is exciting.

What skills or qualities would you say are most important at this time in history to be a leader in spa and wellness?

Patience and care. We are in a very emotionally charged time. And, in this industry, we feed off of energy. So, you have to be patient. Everybody’s dealing with the many factors affecting them in different ways. Some people are just stressed out to the max with everything going on and there are things you can control and things you can’t. As a leader, you have to be patient. You have to listen and be understanding and thoughtful. You should also have your own outlet, you have to manage all of this with confidence and, to do that, you need people to talk to or activities to do to decompress. You have to take care of yourself.

Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com.