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Summer 2002 A New Sense of Calm

The woman next door confides that she’s addicted to aromatherapy bath salts. The kind with lavender. Work is stressful, and a daily soak relaxes her. The woman next door is just one of millions.

All of America is stressed; we have been for years. The everyday stresses of coping with family, relationship, finances, health, career—well, we’re only human. Add to that the current, unnerving state of affairs: Ground Zero and Enron, ecclesiastic impropriety and economic uncertainty. With those headlines dominating the news cycle day after day, the collective cortisol level is rising to new highs. Most people sense it, but don’t realize how really stressed they are. But that’s what sends them to all the massage spa-product industry has to offer. It’s the positive, calming results that keep them coming back for more. And it’s why the massage and spa-product industry is booming: people want some relief, and that’s where they find some.

Taking control

A stroll through a Barnes & Noble quickly illustrates the point. Browse the aisles and find entire sections devoted to categories like “self-improvement” and “health.” Magazines devoted to alternative health care, like Massage and Bodywork, Alternative Medicine, Massage Therapy Journal and Spirituality and Health, line the racks. And if you care to browse online, a search of for books on “stress” brings up more than 5,000 titles. None of these topics is new, of course; but the enormous number of titles is. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has other numbers that serve as an indicator: Between 1990 and 2000, membership in that organization quadrupled to more than 44,000 members. Who needs all these massage therapists? Millions of stressed Americans, that’s who.

According to the AMTA, research estimates that 80 percent of disease is related to stress. And according to American Demographics magazine, 70 percent of us have tried at least one of eight selected “alternative” therapeutic treatments such as massage or aromatherapy. Clearly, this is the new age of self-medicating, self-treating, self-soothing—human, heal thyself. It’s an age when citizens are better, stronger, louder medical consumers than ever before. An age when the healthcare/insurance behemoth forced patients to become self-advocates. In doing so, we’ve turned to other avenues and taken back some control. We also want the convenience of buying therapeutic products or services without the time, the expense and, yes, the stress of doctor visits and insurance. And we want natural, gentler alternatives to prescription drugs and everyday over-the-counter medications. And so, with the never-ending help of all those books and the gurus who write them and tout them on Today and Tonight and everything in between, we know much more about it now because we want and need to.

Bringing the spa home

Everyone’s not only looking for ways to decompress and find relief—we want to look better and younger while we’re at it. “We don’t want to age,” says Tim Runner, owner of ASI/Sal del Mar (Mission Viejo, CA), a wholesaler of products that include Dead Sea Salt Scrub an Energizing Total Body Oil. “We take better care of ourselves and are more conscious of our skin and body. This is a trend that’s surging because we want to look younger”—boomers in particular, the first of whom started turning 50 in 1996. In a recent American Demographics interview, trends analyst Arnold Brown says, “There’s only so much you can do to alter the natural process of aging. Boomers are going to try like hell to do whatever it takes to resist getting older.”

Thanks in large part to boomer women, the professional skincare market is expected to reach $1.9 billion in 2005, up from 1.4 billion in 2000, according to Global Cosmetic Industry magazine. This uptrend is attributed to women working long hours without time for themselves. As a result, they want and need the convenience of spa-type skincare products to go, a quick and viable substitute for the day-spa or week-long spa-resort experience. These at-home products also appeal to women whose budgets don’t allow for spa getaways.

image“Everyone’s looking for home relaxation,” says Angie Pallos, vice president of marketing and development for Pendergrass, Inc. (Chaffee, MO), a wholesaler of more than 400 products for “head-to-toe relaxation” at home. “People are too busy to go to the spa.” (An AMTA study reveals that massage users said time and cost were deterrents to getting regular massages.) If they have two spare hours, Pallos says, “they don’t want to part with them. Instead, they’re building gorgeous bathrooms in their homes and creating home spas.” Pendergrass has a total at-home spa kit that includes cotton waffle robes, super-absorbent hair turbans, loofah sponges and bath pillows. Pallos says sales have been “outstanding” on all spa products, including lines created specifically for children, men and travel. In fact, the company’s thermal pillow was named New Woman magazine’s “2001 Product of the Year.” Consumers love the pillows because they’re dust-free, non-allergenic and washable. Specialty retailers love them because they fly off the shelves during gift giving-season due to their compact size, low price point ($25-30 retail), and usefulness.

Body of Sun (Dallas, TX), awholesalerandretailer (including online retail at, has a line spa products that includes “Take-Out Spa,” a spa-to-go kit cleverly packaged in a Chinese take-out box. The kit, which retails for $20, includes a “Fortune Cookie spice candle,” two sets of bath crystals (orange blossom and original spice), three “Secrets of the Geisha” bath oil beads, and “Royal Almond” soap. Body of Sun also offers a larger kit called “Spa in a Box” retailing at $45, which includes a velvet eye pillow, lavender cream bath, roses and milk cream bath, bath oils, almond soap, and “Miracle Clay” for the face and body.

Today, specialty retailers can also offer customers relaxation by total immersion—right in the mall. In fact, dozens of retailers have already brought Aqua Massage in to local malls. Aqua Massage looks like a tanning bed without the lamps. Instead, there are 36 water jets in the machine’s canopy. The customer climbs in, clothes and all—but stays dry thanks to the special liner that drapes between the customer and the water. The 36 controlled water jets flow back and forth against the customer’s body to simulate a massage therapist’s hands (or many hands, for that matter). Customers can control the temperature, pressure and pulse frequency with a handheld device, letting them concentrate on spots like shoulders or lower back if they want. They emerge smiling from a five-minute session, which costs about $10. Casual shoppers walking by find it hard to resist stopping to watch and then trying it themselves. Aqua Massage International (Mystic, CT) sells the machine to operators for $24,000-$30,000, which includes shipping, installation, and employee training. The reasonable start-up cost is one of the reasons Aqua Massage is now in 170 malls in 53 countries.

Show me!

imageIn real estate, it’s about location. In the massage and spa-product industry, it’s demonstration. That’s why these products sell well from carts and kiosks: products can be demonstrated easily and effectively. In the hands of a knowledgeable and energetic associate, sales of these products can be phenomenal. For example: two of Jane Alvarado’s Sal del Mar locations doubled expectations; Pendergrass hasn’t had a bad year in 22 years; BodyTime Wellness, with their Nukkles and other massage products, says they’re up several hundred percent; S&V Concepts’ Octomasse had the number-one cart in Orlando’s upscale Florida Mall during holiday 2001, and in their recent Rhode Island test, sold 372 units in the first nine or ten days; Aqua Massage is in 170 malls in less than three years; and Nature’s Way and their hot/cold packs grew from 100 wholesale accounts in January 1999 to 1,000 in January 2002.

According to Runner, shoppers respond to spa products on carts and kiosks for several reasons. “A cart has a lot of advantages. Number one, [a sales person] can grab people as they go by. Number two, [carts and kiosks] are in the ideal place to sell demonstration products.” The more informed a consumer is, he adds, the more value they put on some of these products on the market. But it’s still the sales associate’s job to educate the customer as much as possible, he says. As every specialty retailer knows, the more the salesperson knows about the product’s benefits, the higher the sales.

Runner says he wholesales what he calls “Wow products,” and can make a sale as long as a sales associate can get just one minute of a customer’s time to demonstrate it. When associates rub the Dead Sea Salt Scrub or Energizing Total Body Oil onto the customer’s hands, they have a captive audience—a customer who is focused on the product and open to hearing the benefits. If the demonstration’s done right, Runner says, the “Wow!” soon follows.

Jane Alvarado has a simple system for selling Sal del Mar products from her carts in Grapevine and Laredo, Texas, and New Orleans. She reminds her sales associates, “People didn’t come to the mall today to buy Dead Sea salts. We have to show them why they want them.” Alvarado, who has well-honed sales skills, details how she does it. The first step: Entice the customer to the cart by offering a free treatment. This is a great tactic, she says, because the same treatment in a Dallas-area spa is $5 to $7. Second, demonstrate the product by giving the customer the free treatment. The customer loves it. And third, show the customer the value of the product: the 25 treatments in one Sal del Mar jar are worth $125 and up at a spa. The retail price of the Sal de Mar product? About $17. The customer doesn’t need to do heavy math to know this is a good deal.


Don Brown, president of BodyTime Wellness (Chester, NJ), has his own version of the wow factor. He swears customers will say “Ohmigod” when they try his new product, Nukkles. Shaped like four big knuckles protruding from a block of Lexan (an inexpensive, flexible plastic used in motorcycle helmets and plane windshields) and sold in pairs, this product mimics a professional massage because the two “hands” can work at once. Retailers might utter “Ohmigod,” too, when they compute the mark-up: $4 wholesale, $20 retail. And retailers who sell pet supplies may be surprised to learn that they can get in on the action, too: Brown has a pet massager called Nuzzles.

Another unusual spa product on the market is the Octomasse, a head massager shaped like an octopus with six wires on the outside and six wires inside. It promotes relaxation by creating a tingly, tickly feeling when it touches the pressure points of the scalp. Victor Boyle, president and CEO of S&V Concepts, Inc. (Orlando, FL), which wholesales the Octomasse nationwide, cites a number of reasons for its success, the primary one being its easy 30-second demonstration. The product also has a lifetime guarantee, a great selling point. Every item is marked with a phone number, address and Web site so that either the customer or the retailer can return the product to the company for a free replacement. Boyle says S&V Concepts provides free training to cart merchants when a first-time order comes in. His company then sends a representative to help with setting up, and they learn to sell the Octomasse simply by watching. It isn’t hard to lure customers with this bait, he says.

Liz Buckley, owner of AuraRoma Therapy (Lake Tahoe, NV), says it’s the scent of her essential-oils product line that draws customers to her. An essential oil is the scent of a plant in its liquid form. Buckley claims the seven essential-oil blends her company manufactures and sells to retail stores (such as 25 metaphysical bookstores) can help with anything from the stress of divorce to thyroid problems. “Liberating Lavender,” for instance, can help with dishonesty, shyness and depression, she says. Physical benefits, she says, include easing a chronic sore throat or tension headache. She suggests “Manifesting Mandarin” to customers who are changing careers or have lower back problems. Buckley says consumers are moving away from synthetic fragrances and are embracing pure essential oils instead. She adds that essential oils are becoming something like fine wine in terms of tastes, selection and appreciation.

Ongoing need

As alternative therapies move further into the mainstream, sales of massage and spa products are expected to continue their climb. Products that help relieve the stress, or simply make us feel good physically and emotionally, are meeting an important consumer need. And more products are likely to join their ranks as the trend grows stronger. Good thing, too—because stress, like life, goes on.

Emily Lambert

Lambert, a senior writer for SRR, resides in Philadelphia. She can be reached at .

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