A basic list of often-forgotten, but critically important, guidelines to starting a spa.

For fitness centers planning to add spa services to their facility, there are many steps involved in bringing the idea from concept to reality. What follows is a basic list of often-forgotten, but critically important, guidelines to starting a spa.

Provide a "protected" environment

Remember that a good spa experience, unlike a good fitness experience, is quiet, subdued and tranquil. Make sure that the environment that your spa patrons inhabit is protected from the noise, music and general high activity level of your fitness environment.

Concentrate on basic spa services

Begin by offering basic spa services, such as massage, skincare and nail services. Leave hydrotherapy and exotic treatments to the resort hotels and destination spas. Most of your members won't have time for longer and more complicated services, anyway. Even resort spas get two-thirds of their business from massage -- the exotic signature treatments only account for 5 percent of their business. Avoid a hair salon unless you can recruit an experienced salon operator.

Make treatment rooms flexible and accessible

Make all treatment rooms unisex, and position them so they can be accessed by either men or women. Also, equip them with multi-function tables that can go flat for massage or in a sitting position for facials. Purchase portable equipment for skincare, stone massage and body wraps so they can be used in whichever room is available.

Also, successful fitness center spas get only about half of their gross revenue from members. The balance comes from non-members. Those patrons need to feel that they are not invading an "off-limits" area to get to their appointment -- especially for their first two or three appointments. (After that, they're probably seriously considering membership in your fitness center.)

Provide a nearby break room for spa staff

Unlike fitness, spa is not a self-service experience for your members -- each service is given by a staff person. Spa services (especially massage) are strenuous for the "giver," so staff need a place where they can get off their feet to stay fresh and motivated.

Size your spa for peak traffic times

The greatest operational cost in spas is labor. You can keep your labor costs down during slow periods by adjusting your schedule, but you cannot pull additional treatment rooms out of thin air when you need them at peak demand times -- usually Thursday through Sunday.

Have necessary support capacity

Each hour that a spa treatment room is in use will generate 10 to 12 pounds of soiled linen. Make sure you have enough linen (sheets, pillow cases, robes and towels) to keep the spa going, and that your laundry operation can keep up with it. Remember also that non-member traffic will need access to lockers and showers. You'll also need additional phone lines (virtually all spa services require an appointment), storage space (spa supplies and spa retail inventory) and a work room for therapists (a kitchen-like room for prep work and cleaning up).

Operate your spa like the business it is

Too frequently, fitness center owners decide to contract with a few independent massage therapists and have them on call if members request services. They do this because they want to make money, but don't want the management headaches associated with hiring and managing spa employees. Predictably, such operations fall well short of their profit potential.

Since the spa is a business, it needs a person with a business outlook in charge. A management company or your own employee can do the job. In any event, it should be a department-head-level person with a base salary and a performance-based bonus structure. Good spa directors can be among your highest-paid employees, but like good membership salespeople, they more than justify their compensation by driving revenue up and keeping costs down. Look for candidates with the desire to market and promote -- the spa is, after all, a retail business, so strong sales are key.