Steiner Leisure Clicks Online

When Carnival (NYSE: CCL  ) announced a $2 billion deal this week to build four new ships, my mind didn't go racing off to daydream about exotic ports of call, midnight buffet ice sculptures, or next-generation amenities.

No, my first thoughts were about Steiner Leisure (Nasdaq: STNR  ) . The company runs the onboard spas for most of Carnival's ships, and it's likely to be a staple on the freshly ordered boats that will set sail in 2008 and 2009. Steiner has carved out a cozy living as the floating spa operator of choice. Go for a massage or facial treatment on the growing fleets of cruise line operators like Carnival, Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL  ) , NCL, and Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , and you will probably find yourself robed before a Steiner-trained expert.

The industry's expansion is just one of the factors playing into the company's strengths. As cruise ships begin disembarking from new ports, new -- and younger -- audiences are being exposed to the cruise-line lifestyle in general, and spa services in particular. Men are also warming up to the exfoliating process. About 20% of Steiner's clients are male these days, up from 10% a decade ago.

This has all come together to create a company that has consistently topped analyst forecasts. The stock was recommended 14 months ago to subscribers of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service. It seemed like an unconventional pick for "ultimate growth stock" investing at the time, but the shares have certainly delivered the goods, soaring 59% higher since.

Can an old-school stock like Steiner be appreciated by new-economy investors? Maybe. The company has run an attractive online storefront at timetospa.com for a couple of years now. Folks who have been pampered at sea know it's where they can turn to find many of the proprietary products that went into their treatments. Until recently, the company's dot-com presence has been a well-run but mostly insignificant part of the Steiner story. That may change.

This month, Steiner gave its virtual storefront a makeover. The company has ramped up the content, designed to educate visitors and ultimately influence purchases. However, the coolest thing in the timetospa.com bag of tricks is its new free online spa consultations. Certified aestheticians and massage therapists are now available to text-chat with visitors about skin, body, and hair care. Establishing that kind of trusting relationship can be highly lucrative for Steiner, since patrons can set up automatically recurring purchases of Steiner products.

I'll be interested to see how this new approach pans out for the company. It probably won't ever replace the offline spa business as the company's fiscal bread and butter, but if it can reach a global audience of loyal customers while keeping overhead costs low, Steiner may go from an unlikely Rule Breaker to a no-brainer Rule Breaker.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz was the one who recommended Steiner Leisure last year. He does own shares in Disney.The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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