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Grocery list: eggs, foot rub

As more Americans feel entitled to pampering, spas are showing up in unexpected places.

June 05, 2007|Leslie Earnest | Times Staff Writer

Retail therapy has taken on a new meaning in America.

Having a bad face day? You can have it exfoliated almost anywhere. Even at the store. While the concierge collects your groceries.

Whole Foods Market will open its second in-store full-service spa this summer in San Francisco. JCPenney has 20 spas around the country. Fred Segal in Santa Monica offers a range of services if you tire of trying on clothes you can't afford, including a 90-minute, $165 massage. At a Coldwater Creek spa, you can buy the $65 Ultimate Pedicure before strolling over to the retail side of the operation to unload more money.

"I went to a carwash and had a chair massage," said Anna Marie Colavito, co-owner of Goddess Repair Shop in West Hollywood. "I think only in California would you go to a carwash and get a massage too."

The lines are blurring everywhere, actually.

The concept of one-stop shopping has been expanded to include body scrubs, foot reflexology and eyebrow waxing. You can have your roots bleached while trying on a pair of jeans or indulge in a Blackberry Hand Treatment while an herbalist whips you up a health tonic.

What does it all mean? That many Americans have either too much money or not enough time, or both.

The answer doesn't matter to businesses trying to set themselves apart by associating their brands with pleasant experiences, and to sell more stuff along the way.

In the old days, "you didn't really feel pampered going to Penney; you went to buy underwear," said Mary Gilly, professor of marketing at UC Irvine.

Now, luxury services are available in settings not traditionally thought of as luxurious. "It's become more democratic," Gilly said, with businesses "introducing another socioeconomic class ... to these services by providing them in a retail environment where they feel comfortable."

Department stores began coddling their clientele decades ago. At Bullocks Wilshire in the '60s, you could get your nails done while someone else did your shopping. Hair salons in JCPenney stores are nothing new. In fact, some of Penney's spas have been around for about a decade. Nordstrom opened the first of its 13 in-store spas in 1989.

The difference today is in the scope, combinations and players involved.

Attitudes too have changed, with more people feeling entitled to pampering and determined to squeeze it in between the various chores of everyday life. Where is it written that shopping and shiatsu don't go together?

"There's this inevitable downward gravitational pull of all luxury products," said Pam Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing, a luxury-market research firm based in Pennsylvania. "It's happening in luxury cars. It's happening in all categories of luxury goods."

And not a moment too soon as far as Shirley Lansberg is concerned. The Ventura mother of three doesn't have the time or tolerance for fussy destination spas but is a regular at Coldwater Creek the Spa at Simi Valley Town Center.

"They treat you the same regardless of who you are," she said. "It's a spa for everyone."

Lansberg, an operations manager for an aircraft electronics manufacturing company, recently treated friend Rusa Bass to her first pedicure. They switched into robes to unwind in the relaxation room, where they sipped tea, with warm wraps around their necks. Then they settled into zero-gravity recliners and were draped with blankets as soft guitar sounds filled the room.

Bass got the full treatment: a warm towel to encase her legs, a clay mask and then bootees for her feet and then a massage, expert thumbs pressing into the ball of her foot, fingertips running lightly down her lower leg. Her pinkie toes were rotated in circles and each calf got a brisk rubbing. Before they left, the women stopped in the spa store, which sells robes, sandals, scrubs, body butter and more. Lansberg dropped $86 on two candles and a CD.

"After having the spa experience," she said, "it was like, the smells, the products -- you wanted to take some of that home with you."

If she had whipped out her credit card again when she moved on to the Coldwater Creek clothing store a short stroll away, the retailer would really have scored. Perhaps with this in mind, the three spas the company will open this year, including one in Chula Vista, Calif., will be attached to stores, allowing customers to drift easily from one spending option to another.

That's the Whole Foods approach. Its first spa, on the second level of its largest Dallas supermarket, sells all the usual treatments along with clothes made of organic cotton, Earth Shoes, jewelry and cosmetics.

The fixings for dinner are just down the grand staircase.

It's "all about convenience," said Sherrie Huebner, the spa's director. "Sometimes people drop off the grocery list, and our concierge will actually shop for them while they get a massage."

(By the way, the concierge charges nothing for this service and tips aren't accepted, but you should be explicit in placing your order because your Custom Body Glow can't be interrupted.)

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