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.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.