The changing spa landscape

Apr 10 2014

Single Spy


3 min read

Last week, we heard the news that the iconic women-only spa location in Covent Garden -- The Sanctuary -- is to close after 36 years in business. This week came news that Hearst Magazines UK are closing their healthy lifestyle magazine Zest. They will publish the last issue on 5 December 2013.

What's going on? Is the UK turning its back on healthy living? Are we all just now wrapping up for the winter season in a giant furry onesie with some deep-fried Mars bars and not coming out till spring?

Don't think so.

Planet Spa never stays still. A quirky and independent little spa in Richmond-upon-Thames that The Good Spa Guide reviewed way back in 2007 was Body Experience. Teen Spy still dreams nostalgically of her Thalgo facial there. ("They really understood teenage skin, you know.") Body Experience was acquired by The Sanctuary, as part of their expansion of the Sanctuary brand outside central London, but was then closed in July 2013, along with The Sanctuary's other non-metropolitan branches in Bristol and Cambridge. (We'd love to know what is now happening to that prime Richmond site -- if you know, please let us know, too.)

When The Sanctuary opened in Covent Garden in 1977, it was a revelation. A new sort of place. A day spa where you could retreat and look after yourself, completely special and unusual, an affordable, accessible day spa... and for women only. It had a USP and a vibe that was unique. A friend went in the 1980s. "It's amazing," she said. "It's like heaven!"

Swing over The Sanctuary pool

As the years went by, The Sanctuary became no longer so special. Spas were opening on every doorstep up and down the land. When we started the Good Spa Guide, there were just over 50 spas in the UK. Now, we know of almost 1,000 establishments that call themselves a spa, and we work closely with just the top couple of hundred. Spa choice has never been greater. A swing above a pool was no longer such a draw. A koi-carp pool no longer meant the ultimate in self-discovery. The Sanctuary remained popular, however -- any spa that's carrying out 35,000 massages each year for its 60,000 customers is obviously very popular -- and introduced their signature product range in 1998 so you could spa at home.

And that's the reason being given for The Sanctuary's closure: "There are simply not enough people who have time to spend a day in a spa," says Catherine Ferma, The Sanctuary's spa director. The brand will now focus on its retail line, a move that makes sense for the brand's owner, soap and beauty-product manufacturer PZ Cussons. It will be interesting, however, to see how the product range fares when you can no longer visit the place from which it takes its provenance.

Change in customer demand is also cited as the reason for the closure of Zest. Anna Jones, Chief Operating Officer for Hearst Magazines UK says: "Closing a magazine is never an easy decision, but we have made this move because we believe it is the best way to ensure Hearst Magazines UK remains robust and adaptable for the future and more responsive to changing consumer and advertiser needs." Interestingly, there are plans to increase the frequency of the title Women's Health: just as one female-friendly space closes, another grows.

It's true that we are time-poor spa customers, on the lookout for value for money, and there has been such an explosion in new spas over the past decade that we wouldn't be surprised if there were a few more closures yet. A spa is an expensive place to operate and maintain -- all that water! Some spas struggle to fill their treatment rooms mid-week, which is why you'll find the best deals then, but others refuse to go down the discounted road. You don't have to walk very far from Covent Garden to find spa days on offer that cost over £1,000, and people willing to pay that price. Planet Spa can sometimes seem a polarised market between affordability and volume, and luxurious privacy.

The Sanctuary's final day will be 31 May 2014, when the lease will revert to the landlord. The retail store will shut its doors the following September. It is with sadness that we see this women-only space disappear. What will take its place? Planet Spa may have a few surprises yet.


Single Spy

10th April 2014

Spy Likes:

Warm floors when you put your bare feet upon them; heated treatment beds; soft towels; attention to detail, so that your treatment room looks and smells beautiful when you arrive in it.

Spy Dislikes:

Cold floors when you put your bare feet upon them; therapists who use your treatment time to write up a list of product "recommendations" that they hope you will purchase.

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