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Why Luxury Skincare Brands Are Getting into the Spa Services Game

Published May 30, 2023
Published May 30, 2023
Taylor Havard

As spa start-ups like Heyday, Glowbar, Skin Laundry, and Chillhouse continue to expand and offer spa treatments at an affordable price, luxury consumers are seeking similar experiences from the brands that they already pay top dollar for. A unique, customized brand experience allows consumers to test new products and develop a stronger and more meaningful relationship with their favorite brands, which helps build the cultlike following every brand is after.

Luxury skincare brands like La Prairie, La Mer, and Guerlain have traditionally partnered with luxury hotels to offer spa treatments to their customers on vacation. However, a few high-end spa services per year aren’t enough to satiate the new luxury consumer. According to The International Spa Association’s (ISPA) 2023 US Spa Industry Study, the number of spa visits grew from 173 million in 2021 to 181 million in 2022. This increase in demand has led to a rise in stand-alone boutique spas from brands like Biologique Recherche, Augustinus Bader, 111Skin, Omorovicza, Joanna Czech, and Dr. Barbara Sturm.

Despite growing fears of a recession, the US spa industry experienced record-setting growth in recent years. The 2023 ISPA study showed that US spa industry revenue grew 11 percent from $18.1 billion in 2021 to $20.1 billion in 2022, setting a new all-time industry record and outpacing the previous high of $19.1 billion in revenue in 2019. According to the Luxury Institute, Gen Z and millennials are also planning for longer lives and taking better skin of their skin early on in an effort to prevent skin problems and wrinkles, rather than trying to reverse these signs of aging later in life.

The luxury beauty industry is seeing similar growth trends, with US sales in the prestige category increasing by 16 percent over the past year, reaching $6.6 billion. As luxury skincare brands reach a certain penetration of retail doors, they often look to the professional channel to tap growth. For brands looking to maximize exit valuation, proving potential in new channels and building top-line growth is crucial. As prestige beauty continues to outpace mass, how are high-end brands responding to the growing consumer demand while also maximizing profitability?

Luxury-branded boutique spas are one way these brands raise the bar beyond their product offerings. More than brick-and-mortar retail stores, these aspirational spa experiences are a highly personal touchpoint for brands hoping to build the kind of brand loyalty that turns a luxury brand into a heritage brand. Today’s luxury consumers want to immerse themselves in exclusive, personalized experiences, and luxury skincare brands are working overtime to draw people in and deliver innovative and aspirational spa services that keep customers coming back. These luxury-branded boutique spa experiences are a pretty significant investment, but it carries the potential for a big payoff in brand equity.

“More brands realize that the very future of retail is high-touch, in-person, social, and really immersive experiences—and ones that they create and control,” Beth McGroarty, Vice President of Research and Forecasting at the Global Wellness Institute, tells BeautyMatter. “The future of brand-building is about touch and high-touch experiences, and spas are, of course, the definition of that.”

Although some spa customers might purchase products at their appointments, that isn’t the primary goal. These personalized experiences help brands develop a loyal, engaged customer base and raise the brand's perceived value by aligning it with services that used to only be found in high-end hotel spas. The rise of A-list celebrity facialists certainly played a role in the democratization of spa treatments and the expansion of boutique spas we’re seeing now.

“More brands realize that the very future of retail is high-touch, in-person, social, and really immersive experiences—and ones that they create and control.”
By Beth McGroarty, Vice President of Research and Forecasting, Global Wellness Institute

Before “celebrity facialist” was even a title, there was Joanna Czech. Czech was the original go-to aesthetician for stars including Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, and Bella Hadid, among many others. With flagship studios in New York and Dallas, the facialist recently opened the first-ever Joanna Czech–certified spa, at Blackberry Mountain Resort in Tennessee. Czech’s namesake brand is rooted in her 37 years of hands-on experience as an aesthetician. Keeping and expanding her studios allows Czech to stay plugged into the latest science, studies, and technology for skin health, which she says is equally important to her as having a skincare line.

“Without my experience as an aesthetician, I wouldn't have had the knowledge to develop my products,” says Czech. “So to honor what brought me to this point and continue the practice of uniting treatments with specified skincare, my studios and products will stay closely entwined.”

According to Czech, today's spa consumer is much more inquisitive than in previous years. “If they are paying for a service or being sold a product, they want to know why, what it's specifically for, and how it works,” she says. “I like giving my clients morning and night prescriptions with several options depending on their skin on that specific day. Our clients want to learn and seem genuinely interested in the techniques and technologies used in their treatments.”

These spa experiences center education and experimentation in ways that go above and beyond what a customer can get from retail or luxury department stores. In a world where everyone is at least somewhat educated in the basic tenets of skincare, consumers today are seeking skincare advice and product recommendations from professionals.

At Joanna Czech’s studios, customers feel like they’re getting a celebrity facial because every client receives a customized facial and an aftercare plan to keep up the results at home. “I know people often go to their spas to unwind and relax, but when you get a Joanna Czech facial, you get a results-driven, customized facial based on your current skin condition. And you will leave empowered because you'll learn the best way to care for your skin moving forward.”

Consumers are seeking credibility, which is something Czech has in spades. She also understands the ins and outs of the professional channel, which is completely different from retail, according to Michael Lahm, Vice President and COO of TLEE Spas.

“A professional treatment experience is more in-depth and immersive than just repeating a home care sequence on a treatment bed,” he says. “It involves extensive training and education, not just at the launch of the brand, but repeatedly. Nothing replaces face-to-face training, education, and interaction with people in real time, and making that commitment is expensive.”

Biologique Recherche also has decades of hands-on professional treatment history under its belt. Originally founded in the late ’70s, the French clinical spa and skincare line enjoyed a long history as a renowned spa in Paris before expanding into retail and additional locations. Early on in the brand’s evolution into retail, Biologique Recherche made a conscious decision to make their professional products only available from select retailers after a consultation, which only made consumers want them more.

Biologique Recherche opened its first-ever stand-alone branded spa in the US, Ambassade Los Angeles, in 2022. Additional Ambassade locations opened in Rome and Shanghai the same year. Today, the heritage brand is present in luxury spas in more than 85 countries. Biologique Recherche owner Rupert Schmid told Spa Business last year that he plans to expand the brand’s Ambassade locations across “the most emblematic cities in the world, and if possible, open one in each of our partners’ countries.”

Biologique Recherche’s strategy to avoid traditional retail gives the brand an exclusive edge and only adds to the brand’s credibility and expertise as newer brands enter the professional treatment space.

“There's no good reason that someone should be spending the time and money in getting a professional treatment just to duplicate something that they can do at home,” says Lahm.

Dr. Barbara Sturm is a relatively new luxury skincare brand on the scene, but in less than 10 years, the brand has already rapidly expanded its product offerings and boutique spas. Since launching her eponymous skincare line in 2014, Dr. Barbara Sturm’s expansion strategy involves testing the market and gaining a dedicated following before launching her spas and boutiques. Dr. Sturm hosted a series of 17 pop-ups around the world for her VIP clients back in 2018 during high-profile events like the Cannes Film Festival, the Oscars, and Art Basel before opening up luxury-branded boutique spas in New York, Dallas, London, Miami, and Los Angeles. Previously, the German aesthetics doctor only had a clinic in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Last month, Oprah Winfrey invested an undisclosed amount in the skincare brand, although it’s unclear whether Dr. Sturm will use that investment to open up new spa locations.

Augustinus Bader took a page from Dr. Barbara Sturm by launching products and gaining a cultlike following before opening stand-alone spa locations. Augustinus Bader unveiled The Skin Lab at The Webster in New York City in February 2023, following the opening of the brand’s flagship facility in Mayfair, London, which opened just a month earlier in January in partnership with Lanserhof health resort.

“Ultimately, our commitment to our customers is product efficacy, and we pride ourselves as a brand pioneering performance through not only our skincare line but our spa experiences as well,” Augustinus Bader co-founder Charles Rosier told BeautyMatter.

Although experts in their respective fields founded them, Augustinus Bader and Dr. Barbara Sturm don’t have the professional skincare background that Joanna Czech or Biologique Recherche does. (Professor Augustinus Bader is a biomedical scientist, physician, and an expert in regenerative medicine, while Dr. Barabara Sturm spent most of her medical career as an ​​orthopedic surgeon.)

Both brands opened their boutique spa locations after launching a line of beloved products. These luxury spa locations help both brands establish credibility as professional, high end skincare brands, which is an important distinction for the luxury consumer.

Hungarian skincare brand Omorovicza relies on its rich historical heritage to attract the new luxury consumer. Omorovicza is set to open its London flagship in September 2023, the first outside Budapest, where the brand was founded. Hungary is famous for its mineral-rich baths, and founders Margaret and Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza harnessed the healing properties of Hungarian thermal waters to start their high end skincare brand in 2006.

“Luxury, at its best, has a point of view,” Margaret de Heinrich, co-founder of Omorovicza, tells BeautyMatter. “You will not be all things to all people, but you have a distinct personality. Omorovicza is an extension of how Stephen and I live our lives, seeking optimum health in skin, mind, and body.”

The institute in Budapest created a space where people could experience the heritage brand in a multisensory way rooted in centuries-old tradition, which is what Margaret and Stephen hope to share with a global audience.

“What sets Omorovicza apart, other than the clinically proven results from our products, is the highly personalized nature of our treatments and the fact that our facials blend scientific methods with a traditional, indulgent Hungarian facial sculpting massage.”

Omorovicza isn’t the only luxury skincare brand to open an outpost in the European capital. Last year, 111Skin opened a stand-alone treatment space in London, adjacent to the plastic surgery clinic where the brand was founded by Dr. Yannis Alexandrides and his wife, Eva Alexandridis.

“We can draw on clinical expertise, creating protocols that not only deliver on a guest’s expectation of a luxury experience but deliver instant, visible results,” 111Skin founder and world-renowned, triple board-certified Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, MD FACS, told BeautyMatter. “[Consumers] are seeking brands grounded in wellness, backed by science and purpose. We hear this from our global spa and hotelier partners consistently.”

111Skin offers facial treatments in partnership with hotel partners worldwide, with plans to add properties in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Latin America, Morocco, and mainland China this summer. 111Skin has grown its spa and retail footprint over the past few years. This hometown spa location gives the rapidly expanding brand some solid roots highlighting its credibility as a clinical, high end skincare brand.

“It is important that we speak to our brand’s heritage,” says Dr. Alexandrides. “From our signature Harley St massage inspired by surgical expertise, designed to sculpt and lift, to our use of technology such as LED and cryotherapy, a 111Skin facial delivers a unique customer journey, bridging in-clinic treatments with the ritualistic element of a spa.”

Luxury spa experiences from high end skincare brands walk a fine line between aspirational and attainable. If a brand is suddenly everywhere, it loses the exclusivity factor that makes it inherently “luxury.” As luxury skincare brands continue to expand their spa and boutique footprint, consumers will be more discerning in their search for a highly personal and intimate experience worth returning to. What it takes for a brand to be successful in a retail environment and in a professional treatment room is not the same, according to Lahm.

“If you've created your brand and your corporate structure around the retail environment and then trying to kind of do this pivot into professional, I think you have to be careful because consumers are definitely savvier than ever,” he says. “The kind of training, education, and account management that is necessary for a successful professional relationship is different than retail. When [prestige skincare brands] get into professional treatment, it is really hard to scale without losing some of that special sauce.”

The Global Wellness Institute predicts that the spa industry will be worth $150.5 billion in 2025, up significantly from $68 billion in 2020. The global spa industry is the third-fastest growing wellness market among 11 sectors, just behind wellness tourism and thermal/mineral springs. Many of these treatments weave in wellness and/or technology elements, such as lymphatic drainage massage and light therapy treatments, bridging the gap between wellness and skincare.

“The trend of skincare brands such as Augustinus Bader, Dr. Barbara Sturm, Biologique Recherche, etc. opening stand-alone boutique spas is certainly to create secondary growth channels, and it also puts them in the broader ‘wellness column,’” says McGroarty.

This renaissance of hands-on treatments is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, and luxury skincare brands are answering the call for more high-end services. Consumers are craving customized experiences, but more than anything, they’re craving connection.

“There is something that happens when you are with another human being in that kind of setting,” says Lahm. “It's more than just the physical stuff that's happening to your body and your skin. There is this emotional, social spiritual connection that is hard to pin down, but it's so lacking in so many other parts of our lives. There's no surprise why the consumer demand for spa services coming out of this pandemic is just limitless.”


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