Cornelia Zicu, an authority in SPA, on the latest developments and trends in the beauty industry

Cornelia Zicu, the Chief Creative Office of Red Door Spas has recently spoken exclusively to CPP-LUXURY.COM about the latest developments and trends in the beauty industry worldwide. A pioneer and a constant innovator, Cornelia Zicu has built an impressive career, recognized as a true authority in the beauty industry worldwide. Her current tenure at Red Door Spas has been instrumental in the repositioning of the brand which is, today, one of America’s leading SPA chains, an operational model for SPAs worldwide.

Cornelia Zicu, Red Door Spas

You have been one of the pioneers of luxury SPAs in America. How do you think the industry has changed? – which are the positive developments and the negative ones.

The ongoing financial crisis has brought the SPA industry a much needed consolidation. SPAs with a business model purely based on marketing have gone out of business, the winners being SPAs which offer true value. Consumers nowadays are more demanding and savvy and pay much more attention to the value they receive. Another positive development of the recent years is the fact that SPAs are offering much more complex products and services, beauty being indefinitely associated with well being.

One of the negative effects of the financial crisis has been the creation of specialized SPAs. In the U.S., there are nowadays thousands of SPAs specialized on a specific service – waxing SPAs, blow dry SPAs, manicure SPAs etc. Although moderately priced, these SPAs do not offer value. I have visited most of such new projects and I did not find quality, irrespective of the price.

What is the key to success for any start up luxury SPA in a mature market versus an emerging market?

Innovation, quality human resources and a synergy with other luxury sectors are the essential factors for building a succcessful luxury SPA business in a mature market. The surprise factor (WOW factor) is also critical, that is why, when opening a new SPA, customers expect to be suprised. Word of mouth is the essential marketing tool – often when you hire a good professional, they will bring their own customers.

By contrast, in an emerging market, the training of human resources and the education of the market are the two critical factors which lead to a successful luxury SPA business. Identifying professionals, extensive training and increased marketing costs can make or break a successful luxury SPA business in an emerging market. A close market research to understand the needs of the local customers is also extremely important, when planning a luxury SPA in an emerging market.

SPA companies have been expanding extensively within hotel chains, opening tens of      locations per month. What do you think about this expansion model? How sustainable and feasible is it in the long term?

Such an expansion model of SPAs within hotel chains can only be successfull, in the long run, if there is a real partnership between the SPA operator and the hotel chain, with an active involvement of the hotel company. I have found that such expansion has found the SPA companies unprepared. I have not seen any existing international luxury SPA operators to actually invest in their own infrastructure, human resources etc.

In the case of Red Door Spas, we have been refraining from expansion outside the US, until we are fully prepared with the entire infrastructure to back up such international operations. We have created new departments and have put in place complex business operations structures. By 2020, we plan to have a Red Door Spa in each major capital city in the world.

The biggest  stories of success have come from great ideas. What is your secret in maintaining your position as a true authority among SPA professionals worldwide?

Remaining constantly connected to my colleagues, at all levels, as well as with experts from other industry fields such as chemistry, physics or quantum science. One needs to constantly learn, from the most diverse fields, such as fashion, cars or aerospace. For instance, I have learned enormously from the astronauts encapsule oxygen for outer space and I have implemented such technology in creating an oxygen based treatment.

From analyzing the fashion industry, I have realized how important it is that we surprise our clients every season with a new collection of treatments, besides the core set of treatments. Since last year, Red Door Spas is launching during each New York Fashion Week a new collection of treatments, adapted to the season.

Listening to customers and your team is also crucial. One would find it susprising the among of extremely valuable feedback an attendant from a SPA can collect from customers.

How  important is the human resources factor for a SPA operator? Which are the key motivational elements for a successful team?

Human resources are crucial ! People need and have to be respected, wanted and appreciated. They also need to be constantly informed, so they feel they are part of the company’s evolution. Our company’s executive board takes field trips to all our locations at least twice a year, spending time with the team. Investment in the training and education of your human resources is also essential and we, at Red Door Spas are conducting continuous training programs at all levels, surveying the level of motivation and satisfaction. A staff turnover of over 15% should sound an alarming bell and bring about immediate measures to counter it.

Twice a year, we at Red Door Spas organize company events attended by all staff – we spend 4 or 5 days in one of our resorts, providing extensive educational seminars. Staff from all departments, from headquarters to each and every SPA location attend these company gatherings which have been proving extremely beneficial.

What do you think consumers are looking for these days in a luxury SPA? – irrespective of location, urban or resort

Consumers are looking more and more for instant gratification. They look for genuine service and highly trained personnel. Architecture, technology and facilities are equally important. From the most basic features, such as underfloor heating, water pressure, air-conditioning, to the most sophisticated SPA equipment, contermporary SPAs are becoming ever more complex, the attention to details being of utmost importance.

What is your opinion of the growing organic based products trend at SPAs worldwide?

I agree this is a trend but one that only addresses a certain target group of consumers. Organic products do have exceptional benefits in terms of connectivity with nature but organic based beauty products cannot have the instant gratification results that most of consumers nowadays demand. Of course, we should strive for as many natural ingredients as possible, but at the end of the day, irrespective of ingredients, consumers look for results. The growth of the organic based SPA trend and beauty products does not seem to slow down, but on the contrary, the tremendous growth of plastic surgery cosmetic surgery. I strongly believe treatments and products should not be invasive or painful, however immediate the request for results.

Please tell us  more about your latest achievements at Red Door Spas? Which have been the most innovative ideas you have recently implemented?

I believe I have contributed to the repositioning of the company and this is visible in the number of reputed professsionals which Red Door Spas has been attracting in the past 3 years. I have fervently promoted communications through all company verticals, so that staff at all levels are involved in the development of the company.

In terms of products, I would highlight the introduction of microdermoabrasion using organic crystals and infused with aromatic essences, such as powder from cold pressed petals of roses. Unlike other SPAs, Red Door Spas today have a microdermoabrasion machine in every treatment room.

You are a proud Romanian, having maintained a close relationship with your native country. Which are the top SPA opportunities in Romania? Which are the most important resources and what do you think about the quality of  professionals ?

I love my country and I am proud of my origins. I strive to visit Romania at least twice a year. Progress at all levels is undeniable, despite political turmoil or the European debt crisis which have affected Romania too.

Romania has been blessed with a natural heritage which is unique and I strongly believe Romania has the potential to become a worldwide destination for wellness SPA. From the pure air of the Carpathian mountains, to the muds, salt mines and thermal waters, the development opportunities are infinite. I am sad that in the past years, the authorities have overlooked the potential of Romania as a SPA wellness destination in the international advertising campaigns which have solely focused on the countryside and natural beauties. Romania’s offering and resources are twice as complex as Czech Republic’s or Hungary, but with the lack of promotion these remain underdevelopped.

Romania has always had a tradition for beauty, yet, unfortunately, vocational schools have almost disappeared. Should such schools be developed, I stronly believe Romania could furnish top quality wellness professionals not only to Europe but worldwide.