Wrapped in a fluffy de Sanchez Day Spa robe and sipping chilled cucumber water, I follow massage therapist Melly Barrientos past the inviting Jacuzzi and sauna to a subtly lit room for a relaxation massage. Barely audible classical guitar music and the faint scent of marigolds and chamomile tease my senses as the kink in my shoulder is chased away and my feet are massaged to nirvana.
At day spas, the idea is not to run in for a facial or massage appointment and run out again. It’s about de-stressing, leaving behind everything you were doing before you walked into the spa, said David Sanchez. “We want to be the true definition of a spa, where people relax and enjoy their service.” For that reason, clients at de Sanchez Day Spa in McAllen are invited to arrive as much as an hour before their appointment to use the Jacuzzi and eucalyptus-scented dry steam room as a way of decompressing. By the time they go in for their signature hot stone massage or brilliant salt glow scrub or organic facial, “they are like butter” in our hands, Sanchez said, already mellow. Relaxed clients can linger to enjoy spa amenities after their service, as well.
David Sanchez and his wife Dora Jean, both hairdressers, were the first to bring the day spa concept to the Valley. “We realized we could put the first full service salon together under one roof,” he said, but they had to educate the public about spa amenities and train their staff in the spa service model. The McAllen community responded so well to the spa concept that the first purpose-built spa proved too small for the demand. The most recent de Sanchez expansion took the spa to 8,400 square feet with separate wings, including a decidedly masculine men’s spa services area.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the waiting room filled with black-clad, de Sanchez spa technicians and beauticians prepared to greet their arriving clients. “We pride ourselves on being on time,” said Sanchez, who doesn’t believe clients should have to wait. “I’ve got a great staff. They have great reputations and are on top of their game.”
The overall spa environment — created by soothing colors, textures and fresh flowers, discrete professional service, gentle music and aromas, and beverages — is an open invitation to indulge yourself, to relax as if time didn’t matter. “Once they are here, we want them to enjoy themselves,” Sanchez emphasized. “We are blessed to have this business, the personnel and our clientele. We built it and they came.”
Ten years ago, Teri Rendon spotted the carriage house of the Kowalski-Fernandez home, a 1893 historic landmark on Elizabeth Street in Brownsville. Nine months later with the help of an indulgent landlord, she had transformed the beige border-brick structure into the Carriage House Day Spa.
“A spa needs a certain ambiance, not only excellent service. If you don’t have the ambiance, it’s not truly a spa,” said Rendon. Tapestry on the lovely weathered walls softens voices; a window wall looks onto the large courtyard shaded by poincianas and tropical greenery. Comfortable couches under a botanical mural offer a place to sip ice water in a stemmed glass. The stable was converted into rooms for massages and facials. Manicures and pedicures are offered behind the arches of the carriage area.
“We have a very faithful client base,” Rendon said. “They walk in tired. They walk out rejuvenated, their skin glowing. They feel pampered and we listen to them. There’s a definite science to this. You need to be trained in what works.” Carriage House clients range from 8 years old (“They need to be turned on to the joys of being a woman”) to 80 and includes males. Nine years ago, Rendon opened a hair salon, by customer request, on the opposite side of the courtyard.
Working in a historical building limits the spa’s growth, but Rendon said Carriage House Day Spa today fits her vision of 10 years ago and wouldn’t do anything differently. “It’s hard to fix perfection.”
In the space of 24 years, Edna Posada has leveraged her Merle Norman store into Spa La Posada with locations in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen. Posada didn’t start out to run more Valley spas than anyone else, “but at the end of the day I love what I do. I started small. I made sure I did not have debt before I launched the next step. I’ve learned that you’ve got to be a very smart business person. You have to drive revenue in to cover your expenses and manage expenses, the human resource side and marketing.”
Spa La Posada in McAllen has expanded several times and now includes a clothing boutique and since February, a separate men’s spa. “Men need to be groomed, too, but now they are more willing to admit it,” Posada said. Her daughter Alexandria, who has a finance degree, supervised setting up the new masculine brand, based on an old-fashioned barbershop with modern amenities: numerous flat screen TVs and complimentary beer. She launched the brand with Facebook, instead of commercials and mailers. “We wanted a place for men to feel at ease. We’ve gotten a very good reception from the husbands, sons and brothers of existing clients,” the younger Posada said.
Edna Posada said each of her spas has a different client base. “What works in McAllen does not necessarily work in Harlingen and Brownsville.” And men prefer quiet and beer while women prefer conversations and complementary wine. In the past year, she has noticed that more clients are investing in facials and treatments to make their skin look good without resorting to medical procedures. Meanwhile the cosmeceutical treatments, such as microdermabrasion and peels, available at the spa have become more popular. Spa technicians go through in-depth training and exams before working with clients.
“It makes our job a lot of fun, having clients of all ages and professions support what you do,” Posada said. “But there is no better feeling than having my daughter love this business. Now we can do this together, bounce ideas off of one another. She brings a fresh perspective. It’s re-energizing.”
Alexandria Posada agreed with that assessment. “I come to work excited. I love that I get to learn from this amazing woman.”
Spas have opened across the Valley. Sapphire on South Padre, for example, finds itself providing services to many vacationing couples. The newest is Blush in Harlingen. Veronica Howell of Blush, who envisions an organic spa said, “I thought it was going to build slowly, but it’s been, like, boom. The challenge is keeping up with the demand.”
Blush clients include women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s splurging on lash extensions and the 24 karat gold facial. Howell expects that her spa, which is in the midst of renovations for new services, will appeal to every age and budget. “Facials have opened the door for a different demographic.”
Spa clients believe that pampering themselves pays off. Spa owners know that pampering does indeed pay.
July cover story by Eileen Mattei