“Is he really the rock star they say he is?” inquires Joe McCarron, Principal and Founder of Boston-based Capital Care Associates.
McCarron is referring to Michael G. Tompkins, a spa industry icon, former president of the International Spa Association (ISPA), and now partner at Hutchinson Consulting—the recruiting group behind the careers of some of the biggest names in spa. Tompkins’ career path has mirrored the rise of the spa and wellness industry, and so what is shaping up as his next big deal is likely a big deal for the entire spa industry.
So, I’m on the phone with McCarron to learn more about this visionary business deal with Hutchinson Consulting.
McCarron doesn’t come from the spa world—he’s had a longstanding career in the senior living industry. And much like Tompkins’ career history mirrors spa history, McCarron mirrors what he calls the “dramatic evolution” of the senior living space.
Both men have witnessed the evolution of two industries and they are about to redefine what the true spa lifestyle really means. But back to McCarron’s initial question, “Why, yes, I tell him, Michael actually is the rock star they say he is.”
From Male Nurse to Spa Rock Star
In 1988, Tompkins began his career as a nurse. He left hospitals to take on the role of Nursing Director at Canyon Ranch Lenox, where, in 2000, he was promoted to Health and Healing Director, then Associate Managing Director. After that, he became Director of Hotels and Spas at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, where he built Skana Spa and was promoted to VP of Hotels and Spas. Next, he joined Miraval as General Manager, built the Villas at Miraval and a brand-new spa, was promoted to Vice President, and then President/CEO of Miraval Resorts. It was then on to Hilton Head Health, where as CEO, he transitioned back to his roots of healthcare, repositioning the Hilton Head Health weight loss center and building its award-winning Indigo Spa—before going on to create a new model of concierge medicine and spa with PALM Health in his hometown of St. Louis.
“I view my nursing and hospitality careers in the same exact manner,” Tompkins tells me. “Taking care of people.”
In 2016, Tompkins joined Hutchinson Consulting, the well-respected hospitality and spa recruitment firm founded in 1993 by the late Lori Hutchinson. Hutchinson—who was beloved by many—had placed Tompkins in his first job.
During his first year at Hutchinson Consulting, Tompkins was bringing in 48 percent of the business. In January 2018, after 25 years in the industry, Bill Hutchinson announced his retirement, handing over the reins to Tompkins and his two partners, Kristine Huffman and Carol Stratford.
“This new lifestyle approach to senior living, backed by the hospitality approach of spa, is the future.”—Hutchinson Consulting
Three Spa Consultants Walk into a Room . . .
Tompkins, Huffman, and Stratford had each run successful consulting businesses of their own—and had paths that crossed each other’s, separated, and come together again. And they each had Lori Hutchinson in common.
Huffman, a people and programming wizard, stepped into the spa world back in 1989, at Canyon Ranch Lenox. She began in the HR department shortly after the property opened. Soon enough, she was the property’s front office manager, before transitioning to the Health and Healing Director. At that time, Canyon Ranch Lenox didn’t have a solid medical team (they had a part-time doctor), so during her first year on the job, she brought on Mark Liponis, MD, and Mark Hyman, MD, as co-directors of the medical department.
At one point, Huffman needed a Nursing Director, and as she tells me, “Lo and behold, Michael Tompkins showed up, and I interviewed him. I called my boss, Gary Frost, and said, ‘I just hired my replacement.’”
Tompkins eventually became the Health and Healing Director, and she became his Assistant Director, working mostly in programming. Huffman left Canyon Ranch in 2007, intending to open a private practice, “but Michael kept calling me.” She consulted with him on Miraval, coming in 10 days a month to help with programming. In 2011, Huffman was recruited by Lori and Bill Hutchinson for a position with Travaasa Resorts. She stayed until the end of 2013. In December of 2016, Miraval bought Travaasa.
Says Huffman, who also consulted with Tompkins on PALM Health, “My focus has been so much beyond spa with the integrative medicine stuff, that what excites me now is how much more real integration there is, more acceptance.” When she first started in the industry, Huffman says that people would provocatively say to her, “Oh, you work at a spa.” Today, it’s ubiquitous, and nobody thinks anything of it, she shares. “For the most part, it [integrative medicine] has become a widely accepted way of keeping yourself healthy. That’s what excites me—these modalities that are so helpful in getting people away from jumping on a pill and instead using lifestyle practice and traditional hands-on therapies. I see more and more mainstream doctors who embrace this. And that’s exciting.”
Stratford, a branding and marketing whiz with a Master’s in Communications, started off in PR in the amusement industry. In 1997, she was recruited by KSL for a PR position with Lake Lanier Islands Resort, and after a few years was promoted to Director of Marketing. In 2002, KSL moved her to Doral Resort & Spa in Florida to help head up their marketing department. Four years later, KSL sold to Marriott and Stratford stayed on as regional director of five resorts, including the Doral. She married, moved to New Jersey, and was recruited by Six Flags to do corporate PR. A few years later, KSL came calling again (they had just acquired a bunch of resorts, including the historic Homestead). Stratford went to work for the Homestead as Director of Marketing, had a son—and, in 2011, received a call from Lori Hutchinson.
Hutchinson was searching for a Director of Marketing for Miraval. Stratford flew out, Tompkins interviewed her, and within a year she rose to VP of Marketing and Revenue Management—and the rest is spa history.
The two made an unstoppable team, and under their tenure, Miraval had some of its best years. “We got to the point where it was so good, it sold,” shares Stratford. “The reputation, the brand—you couldn’t touch it. We were unique. I think it’s because we went back to its roots; we brought back the tag line ‘Life in Balance.’”
In 2014, Miraval sold to KSL. Stratford’s feeling was “been there, done that,” and she accepted a job offer from Hilton Head Health as their CMO. Tompkins and she were hired at the same time. In 2017, Stratford went out on her own, consulting on projects that included PALM Health.
“When I told Kristine and Carol that I was giving up consulting to buy Hutchinson, they both said they’d buy it with me, because it has such a respected name in the hotel and spa world,” recalls Tompkins.
The three partners are managing an incredibly fast-growing business—and are truly pioneering the future of spa and wellness. Their Spa Pro-Connect, launched early this year. Hutchinson will also power and manage Green Spa Network’s Job Board web page. But none of that is the real revolution.
Guests Motivated by Mortality
Back in early 2016, I asked Tompkins where he saw the future of spa headed. He told me, “I foresee a continued blend of hospitality with spa and wellness, along with medical, blending with those industries.” Was he ever right on the money. Today, he adds that this blend is “delivering on a new product that people want to make sure is really good right out the door.” That new product? Senior living—which has fully began stepping into the integrative wellness space.
Hutchinson Consulting is banking on senior living big time, and started working with senior living clients in its first quarter. Tompkins, who had attended a few conferences in the senior space soon realized that this shortage was greater than the hospitality shortage, and that the senior living industry was looking to bring in people with great customer service skills because of the changing dynamic of the senior living industry—people who deliver care in a hospitality-style format. “We have a database of 25,000 people, and we thought it’s a natural progression to place in that field. More importantly, that industry pays higher than hotels do,” says Tompkins.
Hutchinson Consulting has nine full-time recruiters in hospitality and spa and one full-time recruiter in senior living and wellness. That one recruiter will meet the top-line revenue in our second year [this year] Tompkins tells me. “She’ll go neck and neck with the nine spa and hospitality recruiters.”
And this brings us back to the beginning of our story and the guy named Joe McCarron.
McCarron, who has 30 years of executive experience in capital formation, property development, and operations management (specifically in the senior housing and care sector) is not only the Founder of the aforementioned Capital Care, but, as of November 2017—the CEO of LifeCenters—planned wellness communities “Enriching Lifestyles & Promoting Longevity.”
“Historically, the [senior living] business has been need-driven and all about supportive care, oftentimes cloaked in ageism and represented by a silo-ed senior living community,” he shares. “I wanted to do something different, make it more about lifestyle and conceiving and developing a planned community prototype that’s about lifestyle and active engagement for community and residents.” McCarron began to envision the hospitality elements of that kind of community environment. He did some research and found Hutchinson Consulting.
“They’re the best in class in the hospitality realm,” he affirms. He went in search of the best in class in operations for the senior living component of the planned communities and ended up partnering with Chicago-based Charter Senior Living.
The collaboration between these three companies has led to a pioneering new brand called Wellpoint, which is already underway in Huntsville, Alabama. The 20-acre planned community will integrate a comprehensive preventative medical approach to medicine, coupled with spa and wellness treatments like hydrotherapy, cryotherapy, acupuncture, and much more.
Wellpoint, explains McCarron, will foster intergenerational communities so that they’re not senior silos cloaked in ageism. “It’s the coupling of the hospitality and the healthcare that’s so unique. We don’t want to make this about healthcare and healthcare services, but about healthier lives and living well, about having the supportive services available as needed. That’s really the marketing appeal. This is a place where you would want to live, as opposed to a place where you need to live.”
In the works at Wellpoint: A 50,000-square-foot Via wellness center, the hub of the programming activities for the broader community, represented by medical services and wellness programming. Via will also have a restaurant and cooking school, as well as an “enterprise center,”i.e., a co-working space. A 90-room boutique hotel, a senior center with 190 resident units, 114 independent living, 50 assisted living, and 26 units for memory-care programming.
“I do feel like the movement into senior living is a natural one for us,” says Stratford. “I think Baby Boomers are looking for something different. This new lifestyle approach to senior living, backed by the hospitality approach of spa, is the future.”
Adds Huffman, “Boomers don’t want the big house and the big yard and all that upkeep. They don’t want to be in a nursing home, but in a great condo with great services. People’s expectations of service have gone up over the years; spas and resorts keep upping the ante. Early in the industry, what would’ve been five-diamond service is now kind of a standard expectation. So, here we are today.
“It’s not your grandmother’s nursing home experience,” she states. And it will radically change how their grandkids think of spa, hospitality, and wellbeing.