Kathy Van Ness: On Pricing Up


The Golden Door Spa in Southern California has earned itself the title of “most exclusive spa in the world," and for good reason. The price for a week's stay is $9000, there are only 40 rooms on the entire 600-acre, Japanese-inspired campus, and guests will never pay less than full price.

In a coupon-centric climate where thirsty shoppers expect massive door busters every holiday, and buy discounted shopping vouchers on the regular, that firm price tag may come as a bit of a shock. Kathy Van Ness, chief operating officer and general manager of the spa, insists that pricing up and never wavering is one of the best ways to maintain a status brand's value, though. It also shows customers that you believe in the full value of what you're selling.

Golden Door Spa

“Status brands do not discount; they do not have deals," says Van Ness, who came to 60-year-old Golden Door in 2013 after working with prestige brands such as Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, and Ralph Lauren her entire career. “You should hold the value of your product if you believe in it, and keep empowering the brand."

Van Ness says that breathing life back into the seasoned spa, and turning it into a full-blown luxury experience worth every penny of its price tag, was her first order of business.

“One of the things we talked about early on was, 'What if we could do something that nobody else has done before?" she recalls. “The world loves brands that have big stories and big statements, and Golden Door is one of those brands. What if we could prove that a hotel brand could migrate to an experiential lifestyle that people could then aspire to in their own homes?"

There was initial resistance, but Golden Door soon saw a shift from “a hotel in a bucket of hotels" to an all-inclusive, fully immersive, life-changing destination that everyone wanted to visit. Now, a stay entails everything from cooking courses with top chefs to starlit dining in the shadow of a mountain, from one-on-one sessions with a fitness trainer to daily massages, facials and pedicures. Even the “basics" are accounted for. Outside of undergarments, shoes and a jacket, clothing is provided and laundered, and all meals are included.

When asked about the price, Van Ness says that it's a steal and convincingly breaks it down.

She says to consider $650 per day for a spacious, designer hotel room – comparable to other luxury hotel stays – and then $200 daily for fine food. That leaves you with $450 after meals and lodging, which is a deal when you realize that covers daily massages, facial treatments, waxes, mani/pedis, educational lifestyle courses, guided hiking, personal trainer and even an airport pickup and drop off. Add to that the fact that all net profits go to charities that support battered women/children and sex trafficking, and guests feel good about the money they're spending.

You can see, then, how a $9000 sticker suddenly starts sounding less exorbitant and somehow… inexpensive for what you're getting. Most important, though, is that guests clearly believe in the value. Golden Door boasts a 60% return rate, and even has some visitors who've stayed over 100 times. That's largely in part to Van Ness' “this is not a spa, this is an experience," vision, and her philosophy of pricing up to build and maintain brand value.

“this is not a spa, this is an experience"

The lesson here is that while it may be tempting to throw yourself into the Grouponed, Gilted pool, doing so as a luxury brand will actually compromise your customers' experience. Let value brands offer their products at a discount, says Van Ness, and instead focus on improving the quality of your product.

3 min read

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

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Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.


Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.

I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!

- The Armchair Psychologist

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