Twenty years ago, someone who mentioned going to a spa conjured up images of ritzy, high-priced places like Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires or an exotic resort in the Sunbelt.
Today, however, going to a spa often means visiting a place right around the corner, something akin to Indulgence Day Spa in Lexington center.
"People are spending more on themselves nowadays to make them feel and look better," said Laurel Carey, 43, owner of Indulgence, which opened nearly seven years ago.
"And, of course, they want to be pampered" with all kinds of beauty aids and feel-good enhancements, such as manicures and pedicures, facials, massages, and seaweed or mud wraps, said Carey, adding that 95 percent of her clients are women.
Her facility is typical of the estimated 12,000 to 16,000 day spas that have sprung up around the country since the 1990s, said Hannelore Leavy, executive director of The Day Spa Association, based in Union City, N.J.
"What once were hair salons, skin-care salons, nail salons, are now calling themselves spas, offering these and other services" under one roof, Leavy said.
And with "individuals living longer and staying in business longer, preserving one's looks is a big motivator for using a local spa," Leavy said.
Before becoming a small-business owner, Carey managed a hair, skin, and nail salon in Waltham. "I was looking to buy into a business, but ended up starting my own after a Waltham client said there was space available in a Lexington building catering to wellness services," she said about the small Mews complex off Muzzey Street.
Carey, who lives in Lexington, said she then "called in every favor I could from family and friends, receiving $100,000, which was enough to open with six full- and part-time employees."
Her firm's annual gross, she said, has increased every year since then, and in 2007 is expected to be $700,000. There are now 18 full- and part-time workers.
One of her first customers was Georgianna Gannon of Needham, who has known Carey since the latter's Waltham days.
"Laurel's timing in setting up a spa was wonderful, because she got in ahead of the pack," said Gannon, 66, who now visits Carey's establishment every two weeks for a pedicure, facial, and to buy some skin-care products. Her husband, daughter, and daughter-in-law are occasional clients as well for what she calls "another form of one-stop shopping that's affordable."
Carey said she has about 400 customers who come in at least twice a month, typically for a 1 1/2-hour visit. Four treatment rooms in the recently expanded 1,400-square-foot quarters are used for massages, waxing, and other procedures requiring privacy.
Many customers request basic manicures ($18) and pedicures ($30), Carey said, emphasizing, though, that available services are wide-ranging, including a "sunless tanning treatment" ($35), a seaweed- and mineral-based facial ($95), a European-style body wrap ($100), and the "Ultimate Indulgence" ($280) -- a Swedish massage, facial, manicure and pedicure, and a light lunch. "Some customers signing up for the 'Ultimate' will spend five hours here."
Employees receive commissions of 45 to 50 percent, she said.
New services being contemplated are "trendy" laser hair-removal procedures and eyelash extensions, Carey said.
In the past, she said, there have been a few special events featuring a plastic surgeon applying Botox and other drugs to reduce wrinkling. "But we don't want to get into this on a regular basis, because of the liability aspects," she said.
Perhaps in a couple of years, Carey said, she would like to open a day spa for men in a city like Cambridge. "Men are apprehensive about coming into a spa catering to women primarily. Yet they want some of the same services: manicures, facials, massages."
There is a good deal of competition in the area, she said. "But we think what sets us apart from others are the sanitation aspects -- customers can feel safe here -- and lower prices as a whole."
A bigger challenge is retaining staff, she said. "Technicians in this industry are somewhat transient."
Although she handles all sorts of administrative matters, "I still consider myself a working technician," she said, noting that her specialty is artificial nails.