03 Mar 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Leisure Management - Cary Collier

Movers & Shakers

Cary Collier

Key figures from the global spa industry and beyond give their thoughts on spa trends, opportunities and threats and tell us about their backgrounds

Katie Barnes, Spa Business
Cary Collier, Principal and Lead Designer, BLU SPAS, INC
Blu Spas’ design work can be seen at The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Florence in Italy. Collier says he likes to work with natural materials like stone
Blu Spas has been involved in the design of over 300 spas. Collier says the back-of-house operations design is as essential as the main spa aesthetics

As the principal of Montana-based Blu Spas, Inc, Cary Collier and his team have been involved with planning, designing and opening more than 300 spas in 30 countries. Collier first made a mark on the spa scene while creating indigenous-inspired spas for the Four Seasons in Bali in the 1990s with Collier & Collier Spas – a spa consultancy he ran with his wife Kim Collier. Back in the US in 1999, he saw a real need for better spa design, planning and management which led him to set up Blu Spas with business lawyer Doug Chambers. Notable projects he’s worked on include the Fisher Island Club in Miami; the Salamander Inn and Spa, Virginia; and numerous Four Seasons spas worldwide including its spa in Hong Kong. Late last year, Blu Spas announced a strategic partnership with US-based consultancy WTS International to further expand and strengthen its presence in the market.

What are your biggest achievements in the last 12 months?
Entertaining the idea of a formal collaboration with a friendly competitor, WTS, and then working through the details of how best to make it happen. It’s going to impact our business immensely – the things we couldn’t do as a small company will now be possible with new resources. We’re putting together a dream team which will enable us to play in multiple arenas – medical, wellness, spa, fitness and personal care businesses – and we will be creating our own brands. It’s the beginning of a new story and there will be a lot to tell.

Outside of spa, our biggest success has been being part of a team that’s planning a new high school in Montana which has included winning a bond election to pay for the development and working on several committees to design and manage the process.

Overall, however, we’re pleased to have survived 2012 – we’re still here... continuing to fight the good fight and, personally, I’m thankful for my wife, our two girls, our home, where we live and what I do.

What’s your background?
I started my career in Texas, owning an aerobic franchise called Waist Basket in the mid-80s. During an economic downturn, the business left me broke and I got a job as a fitness instructor at Rosewood’s Spa at the Crescent, Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas. Even back then the spa was offering some elements of wellness programming – something which many properties are trying to achieve now. At that time, executive director Toni Beck, a former director of The Greenhouse, was one of the creative business and concept drivers for the Spa at the Crescent. The other principal concept person was Robert Zimmer, the original president of Rosewood and one of its creators.

The Spa at the Crescent had wellness offerings that included yoga, pilates and PTs for every member and hotel guest. Additionally, it had a healthy juice bar and an ayurvedic medical doctor on staff who directed the treatment staff and instilled a focus on mind, body and spirit balancing. If transported to the present, all of this would be successful and on trend, but, at the time most of us thought it came from another planet. I was blessed to be there and I learned a great deal. I also met my future wife, Kim, who gave me my first-ever massage.

Thanks to Kim, we travelled, lived and worked in Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bali, Carmel and now, Whitefish, Montana, to raise our girls. Asia changed my life, opened my eyes and heart, inspired me and blessed me with a knowing that spas – learning how to create spaces and experiences for those who improve the lives of others – was my path, my life gift.

Is your life on track?
The last few years have been a wild ride, which I’ve lived with a ‘get busy living or get busy dying’ mantra. I’m 54 years-old and my quest is not to strive for more, but to flourish with what I’ve got, with what gives me that glow of happiness. To know I’ve lived a good life, taken care of my family, nourished my body and soul and packed my bags for the next life when the time comes is the thing that gets me through whatever comes around the corner.

How would you, and your critics, describe you?
Bald. Thinks positively. Is creative and funny. Loves life. Puts his family first. Someone who’s not a whiner.

My critics would say I’m bald too! After that, I’m not sure I care – take me or leave me. My intentions are good, so I’m open to listening to anything and I’m old enough to know that you never know where a good idea may come from.

What spa designs are you working on?
A wide variety of projects worldwide – from island spas in Hawaii to sites in the Caymans, China and the Middle East, plus a hot springs project in Montana which is fun.

What spa design are you most proud of?
Thankfully there are many, including a renovation at my home in Montana which features my favourite concept – outdoor showers. I’m most proud of our work in Asia in the 90s. We were in the right place at the right time, spas didn’t really exist then and it meant we had carte blanche to create a design. What we came up with – the concept of integrated indoor and outdoor spas with private courtyards for treatment rooms, lounges and locker wet areas; spa villas and suites for couples; and spa pools as a centrepiece – have stood the test of time. They still keep the guests, staff and owners happy.

For me, the projects I love and remember are those that had great and involved owners and a superb team of consultants not afraid to push into undiscovered territory.

What are the most common mistakes in spa design?
Flow. Often designers create a guest path which makes no sense or compromise an experience due to space. That said, areas that are too big and cavernous shadow the soul of a spa.

As someone who used to managed spas and who now plans and designs them, it is inconceivable to deliver a stunning spa that cannot be properly serviced. The service path, sizing and locations of back-of-house and mechanical spaces, and a functional and comfortable respite area for staff are all mandatory. These areas are always on the chopping block during the planning process when space becomes precious, but we are always fighting for and correcting these spaces. It is inexcusable for any designer to neglect the operational requirements for any spa project.

What consideration do you give to materials when designing a spa?
We always match the colour palette and finishes of materials to the concept, while also focusing on their sustainability, durability and how easy they will be to maintain and – if necessary – replace. Asking too many questions when picking materials should never be a concern, whether they are for front- or back-of-house.

My favourite materials to work with are rock and stone – I’m fascinated by all the shapes, colours, sizes which can be used indoors or outdoors and look good wet or dry. One of my mantras has been create ‘sensory sanctuaries’ and stone always plays a role in the script for our spa projects.

What are the most exciting trends in spa design?
There are lots of possibilities to create new designs for wellness, fitness and spa food and beverage concepts.

We are working on a range of innovative approaches to sizing, functionality, as well as market-targeted accessibility.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
An artist. Or maybe a towel boy at a sexy resort pool in Bali (with a big grin on my face). Or I’d be a fly fishing guide in the summer and a ski instructor in the winter.

What drives you?
Spending time with my family. Taking care of my body, mind and soul.

Also, playing outside in Montana, and exploring new frontiers. Believing in the bright side.

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2013 edition

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