Joan Wolff’s mother wanted to be in business for herself following a weekend getaway at a wellness retreat. She believed she could run a better business than the retreat she experienced, and she was right; in 1979, she found a Victorian house in East Stroudsburg, Pa., and opened what today is the Deerfield Health Retreat & Spa. Wolff says, “My mother was a people person, and I think I am, too. She was very successful, and the year after she opened, the other place went out of business.”
The owner of Deerfield today, Wolff didn’t work alongside her mother at the retreat; she had a family and worked as the chief financial officer of a major company. Although she was absent from the business, when Wolff’s mother passed away and wished she would run Deerfield, she quit her job and took over the retreat. “And I’m not sorry,” Wolff says. “I don’t look back at all. The public is hard, but dealing with the public in the health and wellness industry is wonderful.”
Almost 40 years later, Deerfield still enjoys success. Its “choose your own adventure”-style retreat with a focus on affordability offers an all-inclusive experience that includes a dayspa, meals, and fitness classes as well as nearby hiking and canoeing activities. The property has added amenities over the year, adapting to cater to today’s travelers while retaining the small and intimate setting that Wolff says makes the retreat unique and keeps guests coming back season after season.
Located in the Pocono Mountains an hour away from New York City, two hours from Philadelphia, and four hours away from Washington, D.C., the property allows visitors to get away from metropolitan areas and transport themselves to another world. “They feel like they’re in a home away from home, and they’re getting away from the business of everyday life, which is what it’s for—to get a short escape from the city,” Wolff says.
Wolff attributes Deerfield’s guest retention and loyalty to her staff. And Wolff retains those employees by treating them as guests and keeping them happy. Wolff says, “More than anything, Deerfield’s loyalty is mainly from the staff. Guests are greeted with the same familiar faces year after year. I’ve been there for 20 years, and my mom was there for 20 years prior to that. Staff turnover is rare, which is unusual for a seasonal business.” She adds, “I treat my staff as though they’re part of my family. I feel that if my staff isn’t happy, it’s going to go towards my guests. If they’re happy, the guests are happy.”
And because of that loyalty, Deerfield isn’t planning on expanding. Each year, there will always be 33 beds, 33 seats in the dining room, and 33 spots in fitness classes and amenities. Those guests can participate in hikes, Pilates, massages, and much more. “You can eat healthy, you can exercise, you can do whatever you want,” Wolff says. “And having massages available brings out that detox and releases stress. It’s amazing what a healthy vacation can do for somebody.”
One thing guests can’t do is bring cell phones into the dining room, fitness classes, and massages. Part of the retreat is getting away from technology. While phones can be used on guests’ own time to connect if need be, Wolff recommends that guests disconnect from their devices throughout the duration of their stay.
Wolff says she aims to be there for her employees and guests 24/7. She has become friends with many of those who stay at the property, joining them for lunch in Manhattan, and even traveling with one. The guests and staff at Deerfield not only are loyal to the property, they’re loyal to Wolff. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s all the comradery and friendships I’ve made over the years. Most of the guests are my friends. I’ve formed friendships with these people and I feel responsible to keep them on the right path to their goals. I just like making people happy.”