Queen for a Day: The dirt on spa-goers and the industry that thrives on them.

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As did Peter the Great, Americans are enjoying the re-energizing powers of the spa. And like the groupies who padded after Agrippa - the Roman emperor who designed the first heated bath and entertainment complex - American spa-goers are devoted to today's saints of steam and sauna, Elizabeth Arden, Mario Tricoci, and Paul Mitchell.

Day spas are one of the fastest-growing segments of the beauty industry, according to the American Salon Green Book, and much of that growth is coming from beauty salons that are getting a make-over. According to Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in the beauty industry, as many as 8 percent of the country's 225,000 professional beauty salons - which focus primarily on hair and nails - have become day spas in the past three years, offering everything from Vichy showers to microderm-abrasion treatments provided by a full-time staff of licensed technicians. It is a trend that could expand to 10 percent of salons in the next year, Oskin says.

What's driving the trend? No surprise here. According to the 1999 American Spa-goer Survey sponsored by the International Spa Association (ISPA), the largest single share of regular spa-goers - defined as those who visited a spa more than once in the past year - is made up of boomers: nearly one half (45 percent) are between the ages of 34 and 52.

Remove the cucumber slices and peel back the hydrating mask and you'll discover that 87 percent of regular spa visitors are white and 8 percent are black, according to the ISPA survey. In addition, 80 percent are female. And keep an eye out for wedding rings in the mud bath: 61 percent of day spa visitors are married.

They're also well educated: 56 percent have put in at least some time at a college or university, and 41 percent have earned college degrees. As far as the household budget is concerned, regular spa-goers have deep pockets: 26 percent earn between $45,000 and $75,000 a year, and 35 percent earn more than $75,000.

With the help of ISPA and Easy Analytic Software, Inc., we used that demographic profile to create our map of where the "spa-likely" are living these days. Dark blue indicates the counties with the highest percentage of people who fit the profile - let's call this cluster Fabulous Facials, while counties in dark gray - Natural Beauties - show the lowest concentration. Fabulous Facials have the most company in coastal areas of the Northeast, Florida, California, and the Pacific Northwest. But inland, even in areas like the Southeast, which generally scores very low for potential massage mavens, metropolitan areas are oases of tranquility. The top Fabulous Facials counties have high populations: Nearly three-fourths of our top 30 have over 100,000 residents, and metro areas with a population of more than 1 million score above average for the likelihood of finding day spa clientele. Meanwhile, you're least likely to find Fabulous Facials in counties with fewer than 25,000 citizen! s

While only 7 percent of Americans have ever seen the inside of a day spa, 32 percent of adults say they have an interest in trying one out within the next year, ISPA reports. Are there enough spas to go around? Maybe not, but the curious probably don't have to go far to get a taste of the good life. The expansion of the day spa industry is due in part to the increase in the number of so-called "phantom" spas - traditional salons offering occasional spa-like services, such as facials and massages.

Liberal, Kansas (1), with a population of 17,000, ranks low on our spa-likely scale and there are no full-service spas in town. But at the Four Season Salon, a hair and nail salon that also has two staff therapists, it's not uncommon for women to come in and spend a day at the "spa," says owner Darlene Groth. Look for permanent cosmetic applications (otherwise known as tattoos) to be available soon.

Milwaukee (2) is another story, however. The Skin Institute and Day Spa is booked weeks in advance in this county with a high percentage of Fabulous Facials, and services "a very busy clientele looking to be pampered and rejuvenated," says Lori Kotrly, inventory and communications manager.

Medical doctors like dermatologists are also getting into the spa business, and are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the boom by offering traditional spa services along with treatments persons without a medical license can't provide. Currently there are only a handful of physician-run day spa centers across the nation, but based on the heavy attendance of medical professionals at beauty and spa conventions in the past few years, Oskin predicts there could be as many as 400 by 2001.

The Doctors' Laser Center and Medical Skin Care in Annapolis, Maryland (3), which opened its doors in November, is one such establishment. Operating less than 50 yards away from the medical offices of the founding partners - four plastic surgeons and a dermatologist - the Laser Center offers everything from hair reduction to permanent make-up application to therapeutic massage.

As to why the doctors decided to open the spa, plastic surgeon Dr. C. William Strawberry says, "We received a lot of requests [from patients] about what they could do medically to treat their skin." But comfort and credibility are important, too. "Some of the procedures we offer [at the Laser Center] you can't get at a traditional salon or day spa. In addition, many of our clients would feel more comfortable going to a place like the Laser Center than to a medical office."

And the spa experience doesn't stop when you walk out the door. ISPA reports that 39 percent of regular spa visitors also purchase health-and-beauty products from the spa, and 45 percent of the purchases are from a spa's own private label. Among the latest items available to extend your spa visit are muds from Turkey and the Dead Sea, body salts from Israel, and Egyptian sugaring treatments (the preferred method of hair removal at most spas these days).

Also emerging is a new line of skin-care products known as cosmeceuticals - perfect for the medical spas - such as soaps and cleansers not readily available in stores, but offered without a prescription by physicians.

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