Top Design Tips From Spa Consultant Alexis Ufland

Industry veteran Ufland shares exclusive insights and advice for spa owners.
Truth + Beauty, Roslyn Heights, New York, an Ufland project

Spa consultant Alexis Ufland of New York City-based Lexi Design has overseen her share of spa designs (and redesigns) and as a result, the spa veteran has seen a range of problems that arise during the process. The good news is that she has also come up with myriad solutions. Here are her issues to look out for, and her suggestions for how to get back on track.

PROBLEM: Not negotiating a lease with some flexibility

SOLUTION:
“When negotiating your lease you may be able to secure either a financial contribution from the landlord toward the build out of the spa or a set number of months of free rent to help get your business up and running,” Ufland says. “It’s rare that you will get both, so take the time to do the math and see which arrangement will suit you best.”

PROBLEM: Hiring the wrong development team

SOLUTION: “There are only a handful of architects and designers who specialize in designing spas,” says Ufland. “Depending on your location and budget, sometimes it’s smarter to go with a local team that has less experience. If you take this approach, ensure that you hire someone with experience in commercial design and consider bringing in a spa consultant that can review plans.”

Ufland suggests you ask the team these questions before you hire them:

* Have you ever built a spa?
* What is your success rate for bringing a project in on time?
* What is your success rate of completing a project within budget?
* How many clients do you take on at one time?
* Who will I be working with? Who is responsible for decisions?

PROBLEM: Buying your spa equipment too late

Solution: “A common mistake is to select and purchase equipment after the architect has completed the construction documents and sent them out for bidding,” says Ufland. “Electric facial and massage tables, wax pots, hot cabbies, laser equipment and so on all have different electrical, plumbing and mechanical requirements. Provide your architect with these requirements during the planning phase so that he can account for them in his architectural drawings. Companies such as Spa Equip provide cut sheets on each piece of equipment, which include equipment dimensions, electrical requirements, plumbing needs and ventilation necessities. Select your equipment, collect each cut sheet and provide your architect, general contractor, plumber, electrician and mechanical engineer with the cut sheets during the planning process to save unnecessary changes to the plans once construction begins.”

PROBLEM: Not knowing where to scrimp and where to save

SOLUTION: Take a cue from Ufland and cut corners on the design in a few select spa areas so you can focus your money on the places that count.

“Clients judge your spa's level of sophistication by the design of three areas: the reception, spa lounge and locker rooms,” says the spa consultant. “These are the areas where you should invest the most money and energy. Avoid spending too much money in spa treatment rooms by keeping design simple, clean and warm. Clients have their eyes closed 80% of the time!”

“In addition, view your spa as ever-evolving,” says Ufland. “Invest your money into the areas of the spa that will be hardest to change at a later date. Electrical, plumbing and HVAC are impossible to change three to five years down the road without closing up shop. Layout and flooring are also hard to change. Spend the money in these areas while saving on furniture, window treatments and lighting, which can always be upgraded at a later date.

PROBLEM: Blowing the budget

SOLUTION: “As a project evolves you may find yourself going over budget," says Ufland. “Start a project with a list of ways to cut back on costs if you get into a pinch. For example, consider removing music speakers from offices, staff room, kitchenette, closets and staff bathrooms. Or, adjust material selection in those areas. These rooms don't require the same quality of flooring, lighting, built-ins and furniture as areas that guests see.”

Ufland also suggests these penny-pinching tips:

* Half-tile bathroom walls rather than tile them from floor to ceiling; this will save on materials and labor.
* Switch from a network-based to a cloud-based software program. This will relieve you of expensive wiring and networking costs.

PROBLEM: Blowing the schedule

SOLUTION: “Time is money!” insists Ufland. “Every month that you’re not open, you’re not generating revenue. And, once that ‘free rent’ you negotiated is gone, it’s not fun to pay rent when your spa isn’t open. If you’re not going to oversee a project through construction, I recommend hiring an owner’s representative who will review electrical, plumbing and mechanical drawings to ensure form, function and cost-effectiveness. Once the plans are finalized, they submit construction documents to potential general contractors and negotiate all construction bids. When construction begins, the owner’s rep upholds the construction budget and schedule, provides general management of the prime contractor and oversees payment schedule. An owner’s rep is someone on your side during a stressful time.”

For inspiration by way of some gorgeous spa designs, read our December digital edition here.