By Cathriona Murphy
Here in Connect, we recently held our annual Hair and Beauty Awards where we honoured and celebrated all within the industry across the county. At the end of the night the most prestigious and highly anticipated award of the night is announced, The Lifetime Achievement Award. A noticeable silence descends on the room as Margaret begins her carefully put together speech detailing the achievements of the chosen individual. At this point some may have guessed the recipient but for Gina Groves of Nádúr Spa in Ballygarry, she had no idea it was herself. Even with the attendance of her boss and team who of course were all in on it, the shock on Gina’s face said it all. There was a look of pure unfiltered emotion as she approached the stage in a room full of her peers who were all at this point joined together in a standing ovation to watch a truly deserving recipient receive the recognition she truly deserved. When the dust settled a few days later, I caught up with Gina to talk to her about her career and receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Gina, now that you have had time to recover from the shock of Sunday night, lets give our readers an opportunity to get to know you better! Can you tell me how your career in the industry started?
For me, I actually started later in life by going to college as a mature student in Cork. I studied Sport, Leisure and Recreation Management which led me to working in Gyms and Leisure centres for a number of years. My first management roll brought me to the leisure centre in the Dingle Skellig Hotel and while I was there they built the Peninsula Spa. They approached me and asked me if I would also manage the spa, so this was a whole new area for me and I really reluctantly agreed to do it. But saying that, I found myself becoming very interested in that industry. I spent 4 years in Dingle before moving closer to home in 2005 to join The Ballygarry team. I was very lucky to be involved from the ground up of the building and development of Nádúr Spa.
How was that experience for you to be involved in such a big and prestigious project?
Working alongside Padraig and the construction team I had a huge input into the layout and look of the spa and here I am 22 years later and still there, very settled and very happy. It really was and still is my own little baby. I am incredibly lucky with Padraig in that he really does give me free reign to really run it as my own, giving me a great deal of support too. When the spa was in development stage we spent a day driving around together visiting other spa’s across the county to really just see what our future competitors where providing. It’s funny because from that road trip we actually both discovered that we had very much the same vision for Nádúr Spa which was great because we were both on the same page from that point on. Even though we hadn’t yet picked out the name Nádúr, which is Irish for nature, we both agreed that we wanted it to be very natural in everything from the products being natural and organic to the therapists themselves being approachable, down to earth and not too much stuffiness! We wanted it to be a spa that people felt very comfortable in. So anytime really we were involved in any redevelopment of the spa, we both always had a very clear vision of what we wanted.
Your warm and approachable nature would put anyone at ease, this would be a very important quality to have for those looking to go to a spa for the first time. What would you say to someone who has never been before?
The first visit to a spa, there is always a feeling of uncertainty around their first visit but I would be hoping by the time they visit somewhere like Nádúr that they would be greeted warmly when they meet the receptionist and that would eliminate the initial nerves and anxieties. For example we do get a lot of males coming to the spa under duress, dragged in by the wives or partners! You can see on their faces that they are not comfortable at all about it so we do try to make them feel comfortable from the minute they walk in the door. From the smells to the ambience, lighting to the music and that when they start to meet the therapists that a lot of those nerves would melt away. People come here for lots of different reasons, for some people it’s a social aspect perhaps with a gathering of friends, family. Some people come because they could be going through tough or difficult times, they might be grieving or just mentally fatigued and things like that as well. Then some people come because they actually need a good rub down, we get a lot of taxi drivers, people with physical jobs that actually need that bit of physical work done on them. So people really do come in for lots of different reasons and its up to us to figure out what that reason is and to make sure that we meet their expectations.
As with all aspects of life, there are highs and then there are lows. Can you tell me how it has been for you so far?
As the saying goes, into life a little rain must fall so I always try to remember this because in all careers, no matter how carefully we plan there will always be some ups and downs along the way. It’s always easy to maintain a level of enthusiasm and optimism in your job when things are going well but it can be a little bit more difficult to maintain that when the hard times hit. When things get a little bit hard or a little bit stressful I try to lean on those I know that care, I really try not to disregard the value of the support I get from my family, friends and also my work colleagues, ultimately they are the ones that will pull you through the difficult times. With colleagues they are like a second family, we get to know each other so well. Even in this job when it can be difficult at times to see each other because therapists would be inside their treatment rooms but I do find that they still have great comradeship amongst them, they are a really good team who really look after each other and stick together.
With recession and covid, I certainly feel guests are more aware of self-love and taking time out from their busy lives to indulge in some rest and relaxation which became particularly prevalent after the pandemic. I think people became more aware of the importance of their own health and not just physically but mentally too. This has definitely benefitted us as a business because we have been very busy since, that sense of guilt that people used to feel from taking time out to attend a spa has gone they nearly felt like they shouldn’t be doing it. Whereas now more people are aware just how hugely important it is to take this time.
You are very passionate about keeping Nádúr as natural as possible while consciously stocking Irish made brands, can you tell me more about that?
I also feel a sense of change in how people want to avail of local services, purchasing local products. This has led me to a new focus of trying to stock Nádúr Spa with predominantly Irish products, I am hoping by the end of the summer that we will stock all Irish products, that is something that I have always wanted to do. I even feel, when you mentioned recessions earlier, that was a huge turning point for people understanding that we had to help each other out and support each other locally to get through it. That outlook has really fed its way into the beauty industry as well. We were the very first spa in Ireland to take on Voya which is a well-known spa product from Sligo and I really found that it was important to people that it was an Irish brand. So we are shortly going to be introducing a new range called Ground Wellbeing which is actually based in Cork, it’s quite a relatively new product but I am very happy to be introducing it into Nádúr over the next few months.
While most of us retreat to the spa to relax and unwind, you are there all week long! So, in your spare time, what do you do to relax?
I do really love the outdoors, I actually have a very passionate hobby of bee keeping which I am very lucky to enjoy with my job in Ballygarry. A few years ago the hotel introduced an Apiary and asked me to manage it so I now use bi-products from the hives to make products for the spa. It’s been really nice to be able to combine my hobby that I am most passionate about and my job. I really love spending time with my friends, I am blessed with such a great bunch of friends and they are so funny, I get such a pick me up whenever I spend time with them. Be it a lunch or weekend away we always have a great time and it is really important to me to get this time with them.
What are your future goals and hopes withing your job?
I am very lucky with Ballygarry in that I am allowed a great degree of freedom, which involves being able to reinvent and take on new challenges so this coming year I will be spear-heading a new spa development. This should start in April all going well. That will offer our guests another additional outdoor hot tub area which will be nestled in a beautiful garden setting. There will also be outdoor shower facilities, a cold bucket shower, 2 outdoor seaweed baths and lots of outdoor loungers for our guests to enjoy. I am actually really looking forward to this because its been a while since I got stuck into a little project like this, its these little things that keep my job exciting and interesting. I am really looking forward to working with Padraig on this one so hopefully it will be finished by the middle of the summer.
Finally, Gina, what did it feel like to be announced as The Connect Kerry Lifetime Achievement Recipient 2023?
I was truly honoured to receive the award, there is obviously shock to receiving acknowledgement and recognition of my career which for me, has been a combination of opportunity and good luck. I have been very fortunate to work with great people who share the same aspirations and passions as me which makes my life so much easier. I was worried in case it was a hint it was time for me to hang up the flip flops or retire! But I have been reassured by a lot of people that I still have many more steps to take.