Terri Havens | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Terri Havens


Almost 20 years ago, Terri Havens and her husband John, president of Houston oil and gas seismic data provider Seismic Exchange, wanted to focus on leading healthier lifestyles and sought out places that would help them do that. That’s when they discovered Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, Calif., 40 miles north of San Diego. They were so inspired by their stay they ended up buying the business. Self-admitted Francophiles, the couple spruced it up in Provencal style with antiques acquired on their buying trips. They also added a fitness center and Olympic-size pool and reconstructed a 17th-century chapel from Dijon on the grounds. The 450-acre retreat, which Terri manages from Houston, features 32 Mediterranean-style guest villas and suites and a 5-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio. It has been voted the No. 1 “Destination Health Spa in North America” by Travel + Leisure magazine. The Havens are the second-largest owners of the championship Houston Astros.

The Mistake:

Abandoning a project too early. When we first bought the spa 18 years ago, men weren’t going to spas, and I thought they needed to be there more than anyone. They needed to learn to eat properly and exercise, especially CEOs, who have so much stress.

So we had a men’s week with only men in the spa. We offered volleyball and all kinds of team-building exercises, but no men signed up for it. We lost a huge amount of money that week when we could have sold spots to women who were chomping at the bit to get in. We decided we’re not going to do anything different. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But then we started experimenting with a shorter stay. You really have to go for a week to achieve the best results. But I knew my life and what I was doing and I knew sometimes I didn’t have a whole week to spend at a spa, so we started offering three- and four-day stays. I decided to give it more of a chance, so we scheduled it for six weeks.

The first week wasn’t so good, but by the third or fourth week, we were breaking even, and by the sixth week, we were making money. The next year, we did it every month and then every few weeks. Now we do it all the time. If we had done it just one week, it would not have worked.

In my heart, I knew it was the right thing. I had to be committed to it.

The Lesson:

Be committed to a project and see it to fruition. In my heart, I knew it was the right thing. I had to be committed to it and follow through to see it become a success. If you believe that it will work eventually, that’s what will end up happening.

Now I’m totally committed to doing a men’s week. I know the formula. We’ll do it sometime in 2018. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t get a guy to go. But through time, education and spas popping up in hotels, we’re now getting more and more men who come to Cal-a-Vie. One time this summer, we had more men than women.

It’s now arrived; men want to go. They’re about to become 50 percent of those who go to spas. They realize it’s not just massage. It’s the exercise, eating healthy and the stress-reducing components that make the program. If we can get someone there, we know we can get them hooked. A lot of times we get men to come to play golf. But once they get there and try it, they love it, and then they don’t end up playing a lot of golf.

Follow Cal-a-Vie Health Spa on Twitter at @calavie and the Houston Astros at @astros.

Photo courtesy of Terri Havens

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