Canyon Ranch grew with its consistent mission

Mel Zuckerman says he built Canyon Ranch, a luxury upscale spa chain, on a whim. Three decades later, it’s a leader in the health resort spa industry.

How did he do it? By retaining the medically relevant, yet pampering-focused atmosphere he developed more than 30 years earlier.

“The commitment to the mission has stayed consistent all these years,” says Zuckerman, 82.

In 1978, home builder and former accountant Zuckerman had a life-changing experience. The self-described overweight, cigar-smoking, poker-playing asthmatic decided to go to a “fat farm” in California.

Ten days turned into four weeks. He was a changed man.

Just before his 50th birthday, Zuckerman decided to build a full-service health resort that would provide people with the tools to transform their lives as he had been transformed.

By 1979, he and wife Enid had sold their house and moved into the Tucson facility. No smoking or alcoholic drinks were allowed — but the resort did offer a holistic, integrative approach to health with services that addressed the mind, body and spirit in a natural environment.

Spreading the word

The Zuckermans took that foundation and built a spa empire. Canyon Ranch now has destination spas in Tucson and Lenox, Mass., and a hotel and residential community in Miami Beach. It offers spa services at Las Vegas hotels and on cruise ships, sells fitness and healthy-eating apps, and has branded cookbooks and supplements.

Last year, the Tucson resort alone had 14,000 visitors, which has rates starting at $464 per night.

With each spa expansion, the Zuckermans and their management team tried to retain what made the resort special in the first place: top-notch health knowledge and indulgent hospitality in one relaxing setting.

Retaining a special brand identity has helped many businesses keep a consistent customer base as they grow. Whole Foods Market is known for its overflowing bins of organic foods and eco-friendly ways. Apple’s stores are awash in white, have clutter-free tabletops, tech-savvy staffers and “Genius Bars” that offer hands-on diagnosis and troubleshooting.

For a successful expansion, company leaders should maintain what made them successful in the first place, says Ted Zoller, a vice president at the Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation, an organization devoted to entrepreneurship.

“What is it that differentiates their offerings over others in the market?” he says. “What makes them special? What’s their secret sauce?”

It could be customer service, the availability of rare, high-end products or even a comfy, down-home atmosphere. In the world of “health” resorts — the special sauce could be ultra-high-end pampering or even drill sergeant-like trainers.

While Canyon Ranch’s various outposts have aspects that make them unique, the one thing that remains consistent is the medically relevant, consumer-centric focus that came with the first outpost, says CEO Jerry Cohen, who has worked with the Zuckermans since 1979.

Its destination spas all offer exercise, nutrition and behavioral counseling with health and wellness experts, comprehensive diagnostic tests that reveal risk factors for chronic illness and a customized take-home personal action plan.

Management looks to hire staffers who not only have medical knowledge, but also the personality to have a strong rapport with clients, Cohen says.

As Canyon Ranch expands it offerings, they focus on the overarching brand first, and the financial ramifications after that, Cohen says.

“We first want to be sure it’s authentic, it’s consistent with the mission (and) it’s not going to do any harm,” Cohen says.

Focus on the original idea

When he and Zuckerman get temped to overextend, they have a voice of reason in Enid.

“She’s been, as Jerry calls it, ‘the chastity belt of Canyon Ranch,'” Zuckerman says. “Every time we think about doing something a little off course, she pulls us back in and says ‘Look guys, what does that have to do with the original mission?'”

There is also an advisory team that makes sure any expansion is on point. This spring, the company established Canyon Ranch Enterprises which will help it further expand into areas such as food products, DVDs and mobile applications.

While that team — led by Canyon Ranch consultant and former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner — will help the Canyon Ranch brand to grow, the guests do their part to bolster business, as well.

Many clients come after they’ve received a recommendation from someone who’s stayed at the resort. For Canyon Ranch management, that means consistently meeting the expectations of those who come on the advice of another person.

“The most successful (businesses) meet the needs of their customers on a consistent basis,” says Derrick Daye, managing partner of brand consulting firm The Blake Project. “Beginning with that first customer experience, they set high expectations and are committed to meeting those expectations.”

Kauffman’s Zoller says it’s important for companies to listen to evolving customer needs — and expand when possible. Otherwise, a competitor could fill that space.

“Customers don’t stand still,” he says. “Your customer will leave you.”

The most successful companies establish a culture that becomes part of their operating principles and as a result, are able to maintain a reputation of continuously serving customer needs, no matter how big they are, Zoller says.

Zuckerman says Canyon Ranch strives to do that. “It’s based on the same vision, the same mission, but highly evolved from what it was when we opened in 1979,” he says.

Source :