Canyon Ranch CEO committed to the future

New upgrades, expansion part of spa's long-term goals

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LENOX — With the recent retirement of Canyon Ranch's founders, the group of ultra-luxurious wellness resorts and spas is under leadership dedicated to meeting and beating any competitive threats in the burgeoning health-oriented segment of the hospitality industry.

Mel and Enid Zuckerman co-founded the original Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., 38 years ago with CEO Jerry Cohen. As they sought a second location in New England, Cohen guided them to the former Bellefontaine estate in Lenox, which was renovated, enlarged and reopened amid great fanfare in 1989.

While the partners enjoy the fruits of their labor, Susan Docherty, who joined the company two years ago as the new CEO, is now driving at high-speed as the Canyon Ranch brand is retooled and reinvigorated. The Zuckermans have homes at both the Lenox and Tucson resorts, while Cohen and his wife, Shana, reside in Tucson.

Docherty, who described the founders as "pioneers of an incredible wellness revolution," told The Eagle that Mel Zuckerman will continue his involvement as guest speaker at the Lenox resort's Life Enhancement Center.

After 30 years in management roles at General Motors, including vice president of sales, Docherty has assembled an expanded leadership team as she oversees Canyon Ranch, including the development of the Residences at Bellefontaine, a three-story building of 19 luxurious condos directly connected to the Lenox resort.

The project, set for completion by the end of June, is valued at $20 million to $22 million and is expected to contribute around $300,000 a year in property taxes to the town. The condos are priced from $1,350,000 for a one-bedroom to $3,650,000 for a penthouse unit already sold. Twelve remain on the market at prices up to $2.3 million for a two-bedroom, second-floor unit, said Gladys Montgomery of William Pitt-Sotheby's International Realty in Great Barrington.

"One of the first times I met Mel in Lenox," Docherty recalled, "he said, `I've always had a vision of getting this project off the ground.' As we sat under a tree, I promised him we'd get it done."

During her first two years as CEO, in addition to the condos, Docherty presided over a "multi-million dollar investment" in the 120-acre Lenox property that began last year, including a fully renovated dining room overlooking the resort's Great Lawn, as well as "a massive upgrade and renovation to the guest rooms." Along with the condominium project, she called it "a big year for our Lenox property."

She said the upgrades are timely "for people who are investing their hard-earned dollars to make it their permanent home" since condo owners can directly access the resort's full facilities.

"The guest feedback has been excellent," Docherty said. "We created three distinct places in the dining room, removed all curtains from the windows, revealed the high ceilings."

The sprawling compound includes 126 guest rooms and a 100,000-square foot spa, and the Ranch offers 40 fitness classes and a dozen outdoor sports activities.

Ranking as one of the area's largest resorts, it hosts nearly 15,000 guests annually, employs about 700 people, about 420 full-time, and had a payroll of $20 million to $25 million a year as of 2014, the most recent statistics available. The company declined to disclose its current numbers.

Docherty is expanding the international imprint of the brand, with its 20th SpaClub at Sea location, an in-room, 5,000-square-feet Canyon Ranch spa suite aboard the luxury ship Regent Seven Seas Explorer. There's a Canyon Ranch resort in Kaplankaya, Turkey, and the company operates a SpaClub day spa at The Venetian and The Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas. Additional SpaClub at Sea locations include aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2 luxury ocean liner, among others.

"I wish to personally thank Mel, Enid and Jerry for their inspiring commitment and our successful partnership which dates back to 1996," stated John C. Goff, chairman and CEO of Crescent Real Estate Holdings, the corporate owner of Canyon Ranch. "Their vision of transformation through holistic wellness has had a profound effect on tens of thousands of lives, including my own, and I wish them a fulfilling retirement embodying the Canyon Ranch lifestyle they created."

Goff voiced confidence that Docherty and her new executive leadership team "are poised to pay homage to the founders' promise and enliven the Canyon Ranch narrative for decades to come."

In a wide-ranging interview, Docherty acknowledged the competitive landscape, what with the arrival of Hyatt Hotels' Miraval resort at Cranwell, where a two-year $80 million renovation and expansion project is gearing up. Travaasa Experiential Resorts, a wellness-oriented brand, is still awaiting a state land court decision on an appeal by neighbors of the special permits from Lenox for a 112-room hotel at Elm Court off Old Stockbridge Road.

"I love competition," Docherty said, "and I have throughout my business life. Healthy competition requires us to be at the top of our game in everything we offer."

However, she pointed out that the major upgrades at Canyon Ranch were planned before the Miraval project surfaced.

Nonetheless, Docherty said "I'm always paranoid about competition. I want to move with a sense of urgency and honor what Mel and Enid created in terms of their legacy. I feel a tremendous responsibility as CEO to make sure we do everything the best that can be done."

Along those lines, she touted Canyon Ranch as "a model of integrative wellness. We look at the whole person. Lots of people run a health resort, but for depth of programming, we're unique in the marketplace."

She cites industry reports depicting the international wellness-oriented hospitality field as a $3.72 trillion "global wellness space." But she places Canyon Ranch "at the forefront," having expanded the definition of a health resort by assembling a professional team including board-certified physicians, registered dieticians, exercise physiologists, licensed therapists "and other highly skilled staff in order to provide guests with every possible resource."

According to Docherty, "with the size of this industry, a lot of people want to get into our space, so we have to do everything possible to remain competitive."

With new general manager Mindi Morin on board since November, the Lenox property is also focusing on the local community, offering an expanded period of "Berkshire Residents Spa Days" this weekend through May 25.

The local resort has long attracted numerous A-list celebrities, many of whom are spotted around town on walks and forays into the downtown shopping district. But Canyon Ranch closely guards their privacy while they're on the grounds.

"Any actor or celebrity that you'd recognize by one name has probably been through here at some stage," managing director Reggie Cooper pointed out before he departed in 2014 to run a Virginia resort. "If we start giving that up, then where will it stop? The nice part is that a school teacher and a celebrity can sit next to each other and you can't really pick out which is which. It's meant to be a place where everybody feels really safe. The atmosphere here is very private and peaceful."

Locals recall spotting Julia Roberts and her paramour at the time, actor Ben Bratt, chowing down at a packed Lenox cafe in the late 1990s. No one approached them.

As Docherty put it: "Canyon Ranch is a very wise sanctuary. We're trying to impart wisdom in whatever way guests seek it so they can have a transformative experience."

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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