Thriving at the spa

Danielle Knerr admits she doesn't miss the night work.

The Long Island native remembers the nights she used to rush off to work, handing off her young children - twin sons and an infant daughter - to her awaiting husband so she could head to work at The Spa at Norwich Inn on the night shift, cleaning rooms.

She always remained cheerful, she worked hard and she got noticed.

Today, Knerr serves as spa director, having earned a host of rapid promotions and several industry certifications since she began her job at the trendy Norwich inn and spa in 1997 to earn extra money for her growing family.

It's been an incredible journey, says John O'Shaughnessy, general manager of The Spa at Norwich Inn and its new sister facility, The Norwich Spa at Foxwoods.

"I recognized very early on that Danielle had the potential to take on much more responsibility," says O'Shaughnessy. He created a career path for Knerr, including a new position as assistant spa director.

So when Betty Loiacono, who was the spa director in Norwich, was promoted to head up the Foxwoods spa operations, O'Shaughnessy knew whom to tap to lead the 25,000-square-foot facility: he named Knerr spa director this past January and says he's happy he did.

"Danielle has proven invaluable," he says, for her many contributions to the Norwich facility's marketing committee and creating value-added offerings for guests there, as well as launching a new guest-loyalty program. "Danielle exemplifies teamwork in her every day work activities," says O'Shaughnessy.

That's obvious when talking to Knerr, who quickly praises her staff and fellow co-workers for her success at the spa and says her various jobs as she moved up the workplace ladder were all great building blocks to her job today as spa director, where she oversees some 100 massage therapists, nail technicians, fitness instructors, estheticians, salon stylists and related support staff.

"I remember delivering irons, delivering towels from 4 to 10 p.m.," she says of her initial housekeeping duties. "I'd do housekeeping, cleaning, and I had a six-month-old at home and 3-year-old twins," she recalls.

"I started here to make extra money," says Knerr, of Lisbon. "And I instantly knew I wanted to work here. I loved our spa director (Betty Loiacono), and I connected with her while I was in housekeeping."

New duties

Knerr says the staff at The Spa at Norwich Inn has been nothing but supportive. "They really want to promote from within here," she says - and her rapid ascension is evidence of that. A year after beginning, she became a housekeeping supervisor. In 1999, she took on new duties as the spa concierge, and then a year later, she assumed the role of front desk supervisor. In 2002, she was named spa operations manager and four years later became the assistant spa director - the position that O'Shaughnessy created for her to hone her management skills.

The Spa at Norwich Inn, owned by the Mashantucket Pequots, is a 100-room property housed in an impeccable 1930 Georgian Colonial Revival-style inn, which sits amidst well-manicured lawns, expansive trees and adjacent villas.

The actual spa, which is connected to the inn, features a well-appointed lobby and lounge, with a working fireplace and inviting, comfortable furniture. Its various treatment rooms allow its licensed massage therapists to offer relaxing massages or other skin therapies. It houses a large exercise pool - "it's always 86 to 88 degrees," says Knerr, "so it's always comfortable" - exercise rooms, a workout gym with aerobic exercise machines, a nearby relaxation room - "if we go in there, we are very quiet," vows Knerr - and a boutique and salon.

The spa is a popular place, especially around the holidays, says Knerr. "We're very busy around Valentine's Day," she says, and she takes pride in new rooms that can accommodate couples' massages.

The Spa at Norwich Inn has received accolades for its pampering of guests. Connecticut magazine has voted it a "best destination" spa and Yankee Magazine this past year gave it kudos for the "best pampering in Connecticut." Those sorts of honors please Knerr, who says her staff work hard to deliver a superlative spa experience, and that includes gaining the proper certifications and training.

Creates new program

Knerr took time while working and tending to her family to become a licensed massage therapist five years ago. She also has earned certifications in Reiki and craniosacral and oncology massage. The International Spa Association has also recognized her as a "certified spa supervisor."

Knerr's also credited with creating the spa's Fragile Client Program, with assistance from Laura Stevenson-Flom from the ECHO Cancer Foundation. The program offers a supportive spa environment for the elderly, those with cancer or diabetes and others. "Danielle has developed ... and designed specific treatments with full consideration for the unique needs these guests have," says O'Shaughnessy.

Knerr admits that her career at The Spa at Norwich Inn would not be possible without the support of the staff and the continuing support she receives daily from her husband, Karl, and her three children. "They've been wonderful," she says.

She, in turn, says she finds the time to attend her children's activities and no longer does the "hand off" of children to her husband. She also admits her hours are a lot more hospitable these days.

O'Shaughnessy says Knerr has proven herself "again and again over the years," and he says Knerr is without question one of the hardest working, talented and loyal members of his management team.

"She is a dedicated professional, and can best be described as a compassionate leader with great spirit - combined with a strong desire to learn and grow."

Business snapshot:

• Name: Danielle Knerr

• Title: Spa Director

• Facility: The Spa at Norwich Inn

• Location: 607 West Thames St., Norwich

• Duties: Oversees staff of about 100, all spa activities

• Website: www.TheSpaatNorwichInn.com

• Telephone: (860) 425-3601

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