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Pamper Me, Please: Business Glows at Region’s Spas

July 25, 2008

By John Dayberry, Hickory Daily Record, N.C.

Jul. 25–HICKORY — A weak economy may have slowed the demand for spa services, but the industry remains robust and growing, according to area providers of massages, facials and related treatments. “I knew there was a market here for these services, but people have been incredibly supportive,” said Kasie Hildebran, owner of the 6-year-old Riah 103 salon and day spa in Morganton. “The degree of our success has surprised me a little,” she said. The picture is rosier at the region’s medical spas, where requests for Botox, microdermabrasion, derma fillers, laser hair removal and similar procedures are at an all-time high. Grace McLaurin said business has grown “like gangbusters” at Vitality Anti-Aging Center and Med Spa since the business opened in 2006 in northwest Hickory. “We’re still experiencing growth,” McLaurin said. Trends apparent in the Catawba Valley spa scene tend to mirror those on the national level. According to the International Spa Association, there were an estimated 14,615 spas in the United States in August 2007, up 6 percent from 13,757 spas in August of 2006. Day spas comprise about 80 percent of the spas in the United States and are by far the most common type in the Greater Hickory Metro. Typical day-spa treatments include massages of various types, facials, manicures and pedicures, waxing, body wraps and aroma therapy. Treatments are offered separately and as part of packages. Many day spas are associated with hair salons or employ hair stylists, and therefore offer a variety of hair services. Medical spas, which comprise about 7 percent of the spas in the United States, are becoming more common in the region. At medical spas patients are supervised by medical professionals and can receive procedures and diagnostic testing typically performed in a medical setting.

Day spas The region’s most elaborate day spa is The Spa at Rock Barn in Conover. The 20,000-square-foot spa includes a full-service salon, treatment rooms, a relaxation room, boutique and juice bar. In addition to size and its location at Rock Barn Golf and Spa, an elaborate pool area sets it apart from other day spas in the region. The area includes a mineral pool with piped-in underwater music, an indoor whirlpool with a cold plunge, a waterfall whirlpool and an outdoor whirlpool with fireplace. “The pool area has that Wow! factor,” said Tanya Hartsoe, Rock Barn’s spa manager. Separate, private locker rooms are offered for women and men. They are equipped with full shower amenities, steam rooms and saunas. Robes and slippers are available. A range of services is offered at the four-year-old day spa, including facials, massages, manicures, pedicures, hair services and such body treatments as polishes and wraps. Services are tailored to women, men and couples. While many clients live in the Greater Hickory Metro, nearly half come from as far as Charlotte and Hendersonville to use the spa and other amenities at Rock Barn, Hartsoe said. Hartsoe and Danielle White, spa supervisor, said more men are enjoying spa treatments, and that women and men alike are willing to splurge on the luxury. Thomas “Hyder” Holland agrees. The 25-year-old massage therapist has been with the spa for four years. A dramatic increase in the demand for massage therapy prompted the former personal fitness trainer to go back to school to learn massage. “You can make a good living at this,” Holland said. “And you’re helping people.” Hildebran designed the colorful and airy Riah 103 building in downtown Morganton as a salon and day spa. “I didn’t want to be the same old hairdresser in town,” Hildebran said. “I wanted something different for Morganton. I wanted to set some high goals for hairdressers.” Hildebran said most of Riah’s clients come from the Morganton area, but that many regulars drive from Marion, Lenoir and Hickory and from as far as Charlotte. She said the economic slowdown has prompted some of her customers to set priorities, which sometimes means cutting back on the frequency of services. “I’m glad they are honest with me,” she said. “Once they get a facial or massage they’re hooked,” Hildebran said.

Medical Spas Vitality Anti-Aging Center and Med Spa’s McLaurin, a physician assistant, has practiced in the Hickory Metro for 12 years. She has advanced training in Botox, dermal fillers, cellulite reduction and multiple laser systems. She also has experience in internal medicine and women’s health. In addition to traditional day-spa services, Vitality performs laser hair removal, vein therapy, acne treatments, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, Botox and dermal filler applications, cellulite treatments and other non-surgical procedures typically done in a medical setting. It offers medical-grade cosmetics as well as cosmetic consultations. The center also offers medically supervised weight loss, bio-identical hormone counseling and wellness examinations for women. McLaurin said Vitality’s philosophy is that a person must feel well on the inside and look good on the outside to attain a sense of complete well-being. “With Vitality, I wanted to put all of the pieces together,” she said. “I believed Hickory was ready for this, and I’ve been proved right.” The center’s growth led to the opening of a satellite location at The Spa Athletic Club in Hickory, where it offers massages, facials, body wraps and other non-medical services. McLaurin said Vitality has about 1,200 regular clients, and is getting new patients every day. Vitality’s patients favor non-surgical facial rejuvenation because there is little or no down time involved, she added. The center’s patients also value expert training and experience, McLaurin said. “It’s not the laser and the lights that are dangerous, it’s the people driving them,” she said. “Here, our people are trained and experienced, and we invest a lot of money in their continuing education. That’s important.”

Education As the demand for spa services grows, so does the need for people trained to provide them. “We’re getting calls from spas and from doctors’ and chiropractic offices every day,” said Renee Hicks, director and instructor at Natural Touch School of Massage Therapy, Esthetics and Spa Technologies in Hickory. The Greensboro-based school offers programs in massage therapy and in esthetics that students can complete in six to 14 months attending day or evening classes. The 550-hour massage therapy program prepares students to take the national certification exam required by the North Carolina Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy. The 600-hour program in advanced esthetics prepares students to take the N.C. State Board Exam for estheticians. Tuition and fees total $6,800. The school also offers a range of services performed by students who have completed at least their first 100 hours of training. Massage therapists are employed in such settings as wellness clinics, spas, doctors’ offices, chiropractic offices, athletic training centers and cruise ships. Some are self-employed. Estheticians often work in spas, salons, medical spas, laser hair removal centers, doctors’ offices or as manufacturers’ representatives for skin-care products and equipment. Since the Hickory school opened four years ago, people from 18 to their 70s have attended classes. About 30 are enrolled at any given time. The school draws from the Greater Hickory Metro and from surrounding cities including Statesville, Mooresville and Wilkesboro. Many students have job offers before they graduate. “There’s a growing demand,” Hicks said. Valentin Popov, a massage therapy instructor and continuing education provider at Natural Touch in Hickory, said that as baby boomers age, they are seeking treatments that complement care they receive from physicians. Hicks and Popov say the most successful massage therapists have a desire to help and to heal people. “You have to be caring, nurturing, supportive,” Hicks said. “The ones who go into it for the money get burned out.” Popov said that as technology advances, so do lifestyles that depend on technology rather than the human body. “We remind people that they have a body and teach them how to feel comfortable in their bodies,” Popov said.

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