Laura Penman, owner of Fishmore Hall, talks about her decision to install the UK’s first hotel SPAShell

Laura Penman, owner of Fishmore Hall, talks about her decision to install the UK’s first hotel SPAShell 1024 683 Henman Communications

Laura Penman, Owner of luxury boutique hotel Fishmore Hall hotel in Shropshire, talks about her decision to purchase, install and incorporate the UK’s first SPAShell into Fishmore Hall and how she believes SPAShell could revolutionise the luxury hotel spa industry.

After five years in the planning stages, this week sees one of the UK’s leading Spa consultancies, Spa Creators, launch their first modular SPAShell solution for the spa, wellness and luxury hotel sector.

Laura Penman, owner of Fishmore Hall, a 15 bedroom boutique hotel based in Ludlow, Shropshire, has been running the hotel now for 9 years. As she explained recently to SPAShell Founder and MD Alistair Johnson:

“I have been working in the hotel trade for close to 20 years. 9 years ago I bought my own property. Fishmore Hall is a boutique hotel but I have experience in a mix of properties. I have worked in the UK and overseas in both traditional and modern luxury hotels before being drawn back to this area, which is the Welsh Marches, which is a stunningly beautiful area with lots of things to do and see. My preference is for the small hotel where I can have a little more interaction with the guests and the offering is so much more personal.”

Laura first met Alistair a few years ago at the Independent Hotel Show and they discussed treatments and how that worked in the hotel. As Laura explains:

“We started by offering treatments in the hotel bedrooms. But not all of the rooms are particularly well designed for this purpose and then of course you have the partner who is in the room, who then has to disappear down to the lounge of the bar or find something to do whilst the treatment is taking place. So this was not ideal! Sometimes there would be oils on the bed covers. So it wasn’t an ideal solution for us. We then changed to a treatment cabin in the garden. We had an arrangement with a local salon in town, who set up the treatment cabin.

There were two beds in the cabin so we could offer dual treatments. It worked to some extent and they were here for a couple of years but there were still difficulties as they had priorities to their main salon in the town. They were not always available as often as we would have liked them to be for our guests. This meant that on occasions we were not able to provide the treatments at the times required and the guests could see that the cabin wasn’t open, so it just didn’t quite fit with what we were trying to offer.”

Laura actually engaged an architect to design a spa but then decided to change direction and choose to appoint Spa Creators as specialised spa consultants engaging their services. As Laura goes on to explain her decision:

“That’s right, the architect had worked for us on the hotel refreshment and done some excellent work for us, however, he wasn’t a spa expert.  We came to the Independent Hotel Show to reassure ourselves that we were doing the right thing, because it was a big financial investment and Spa Creators were particularly helpful and gave us some great ideas and information completely outside of how you could have helped. We felt that you were very approachable. So a couple of months later, when I had had time to think about what I really wanted for the hotel, I picked up the phone to you because I thought that you were the sort of company who would be happy to give some advice.”

At this point Alistair suggested a modular spa concept. Laura didn’t even know it existed! She had looked at a few ideas for garden rooms but had her concerns, that it would all look a bit ‘DIY-ish!’ As Laura goes on to say:

“I was very grateful when Alistair came back to me with some more creative spa solutions and ideas. He actually came back and presented me with an eight treatment room modular spa and a four treatment room version, both of which looked incredible!  I loved the simple spa design. I then chose the four treatment room version, as I didn’t want the spa to dominate our existing hotel business but to be incorporated into it.”

Another important reason for Laura’s decision to install a SPAShell was the fact that for 9 years they been operating with the food being the main hotel draw.  Now the SPAShell was creating something else and new for guests to do rather than an ‘instead of’.  As Laura explains:

“Fishmore Hall is sited on just over an acre so there isn’t a huge amount of land and so this solution is absolutely ideal for us, as it the interior is so well designed and makes the best use of space, inside and outside.”

Alistair asks how Laura felt being the first SPAshell ‘customer’ in the UK and having bought effectively ‘off plan’? Laura explains by saying:

“I have worked in hotels that have gone through refurbishments and so I have had experience of looking at plans and I felt that I could see how this would work.  I bought the current hotel as a derelict building and I think a lot of people would have been horrified by the idea of turning this onto a successful business, so it didn’t worry me too much and you are very confident and you know what you are talking about, so I took a lot of reassurance from that.”

During the SPAShell installation, Alistair explains that Spa Creators will deliver the pre-manufactured modular spa in sections on 7 Lorries and that it would be craned into place and commissioned in 10 days.   Alistair asks Laura if she believed that and if she did have confidence and did we deliver to those expectations?  And Laura goes on to say:

“I had that much confidence in Spa Creators that I didn’t mind that I had two weddings booked on either side of those 2 weeks. I had a wedding booked on the 1st October and the delivery was booked for the 15th October and I had another wedding booked for the 16th October!”

Alistair asks Laura:

“So the crane arrived in your car park on the 15th October and what did your guests say when they saw the crane?”

Laura replies:

“I did have one guest that said ‘oh I didn’t know you were having construction work done ‘ and so I said – “well we’re not really having construction work done, it’s just a really big delivery today. The guests went out for the afternoon and when they came back at check in time, we were almost done!”

Alistair then comments:

“So the spa was delivered in 8 hours?”

Laura says:

“Yes that is right. On the day the spa was delivered we had people in for lunch and people in for afternoon tea. There weren’t any loud noises, drilling or banging, and there was no disturbance to our hotel business what so ever. It was great!”

Alistair then goes on to ask Laura about the modular spa.

“When you walk around the building do you get the sense that you are in a modular spa?”

Laura answers by saying:
“No not at all, there is a substantial feeling to the building. It feels very sturdy and its quite mind blowing to think that literally 10 days ago this building wasn’t here and not only that but that it came up in 7 sections, it’s quite incredible really.”

From a spa operator perspective Laura, has never run a spa before. Alistair goes on to ask:

“It is not only the building, the interiors and the design that we have provided, but we have also recruited your staff and trained them and put in the treatments booking systems. Has that been a smooth process for you?”

Laura answers by saying:

“Yes that is right. I don’t have any experience running a spa and I haven’t hidden that from anyone and that is why it is so important to have the relationship in terms of the trust I have placed in Spa Creators and the reassurance I have had from your team. The girls (spa therapists) are doing a great job, they have had 4 weeks off site training, and they look amazing with their brand new uniforms. They are a lovely group of girls. I sat in on the interviews just to make sure that their personalities would fit with what we have already created with the hotel staff because that is key for us and you have dealt with the skills side of things. So I am very happy that we have got a great team here.”

Alistair then goes on to ask Laura about the design side of the spa.

“Our team were involved in sourcing all the fixtures and fittings and all the interiors, giving you a turnkey solution. Have you been happy with all the items that we have installed?”

Laura says:

“You gave me a great creative mood board and we looked at the detail of the finishes quite a lot and I had very clear direction about the sorts of finishes that you wanted. What you have delivered is exactly what I expected it to be.”

Alistair then asks Laura:

“I often hear that building processes have been an absolute nightmare! Laura would you do this SPAshell installation again?!”

Laura answers by saying:

“Absolutely without a shadow doubt and I would recommend this spa solution for any boutique hotel. It’s ideal and absolutely perfect for us. We only have a tiny plot of land yet it works perfectly for us, and will blend into the landscape. It has provide us with an amazing new spa offering for our customers and an exciting new revenue stream for our business. I have no doubt SPAShell will revolutionise the hotel spa sector as it is such a great spa business concept.”