People profile

Garrett Mersberger

Director of wellness, Kohler Waters Spas; chair ISPA

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Garrett Mersberger is a busy man. As director of wellness for Kohler Waters Spas, he’s just seen the brand’s flagship European location in Scotland transformed and doubled in size, and he’s also recently been named chair of the International Spa Association (ISPA) in the US.

But neither he, Kohler nor ISPA are standing still and talking to Spa Business he reveals Kohler’s spa growth plans and how ISPA’s going to increase its presence internationally.

From bathrooms to spas
Kohler, a household name for bathroom and kitchen fixtures, has recently broken ground on an expansion project for its flagship property in Kohler, Wisconsin – the original Kohler Waters Spa – where they’ll be adding five additional treatment rooms, more Kohler relaxation space, a cafe, and a new bridal lounge. Additionally, Mersberger reveals the company will launch a new spa in the US next year and is working on another potential opening in 2020.

“You’re going to start seeing Kohler Waters Spas expanding – I’d say by one spa annually moving forward,” Mersberger explains. “The hope is growth for the Kohler Waters Spa brand. Customer demand is obviously high, wellness is booming and we see this as a great way to partner with the Kohler plumbing brand and to use our spas as brand showcases.”

Founded in 1873, Kohler Company has an estimated revenue of US$6bn and is one America’s largest companies. It has its own hospitality arm and first entered the spa industry 18 years ago, and now owns and operates four – three in the US and one in Scotland.

“It’s been a nice marriage of brands and the Kohler name,” Mersberger explains. “When we opened our first spa in 2000, we did a lot of research into the history of spa and we kept coming back to water and the Roman bath houses. And Kohler’s been in the water business for the last 150 years, so we know a thing or two about water. So it was a natural fit.”

The St Andrews spa was growing – not just through customers in the hotel, but also through its membership component. “So we decided we needed an expansion and we actually doubled the square footage of the spa,” says Mersberger.

The spa has been completely refreshed and well-known industry figure Kirsty MacCormick came on board as spa director last year. Two couples’ rooms have been added – bringing the total to 13 – as well as a spa cafe serving healthy cuisine and coed relaxation space.

“Everything we did keeps water in mind – the colour schemes, the noises you hear – everything,” explains Mersberger.

“In the thermal area, we have an 8ft waterfall that cascades into the pool. We have little trickling waterfalls in different rooms throughout the spa so you’re always able to hear water.

“But it’s also about being able to see water, so a lot of the artwork uses different water scenes from Scotland. In the colour schemes we chose colours of water, but not just water from anywhere, water specifically from Scotland. We want to stay true to the local area and not lose sight of the fact that we’re in Scotland and we’re right by the North Sea.”

Growth for ISPA
In the middle of all this growth for Kohler Waters Spa, Mersberger also has his position as chair of ISPA – a role he takes seriously. He’s interviewed the four past chairs, picking their brains on what their vision was, what their hardships were, what they loved about the job.

“I’d like to carry that torch and lead our association to big things,” he says. “That includes growth internationally – that’s a big push. Right now, with so much going on in the spa industry – it’s growing so fast – spas need someone to turn to.

“Maybe they don’t have harassment policies in place, or transgender policies in place – things like that that they haven’t thought of. Our world is moving so fast that they need to look to ISPA, and hopefully we can provide some of those tools and some of that direction for them. We don’t write policy necessarily, but hopefully we can be a good resource for them to help them create their own policies.”

But Mersberger’s role with Kohler shows no signs of slowing down. Now, he says that the company is getting inquiries from hotels that are interested in putting a Kohler-branded spa in their hotels. Mersberger concludes: “We’re exploring that – absolutely. The future looks bright for Kohler Waters Spa.”

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The company’s core business is the provision of facility development and support for local authorities, educational establishments and leisure trusts that want to improve or expand the leisure products and services they offer.
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