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Massage Today
January, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 01

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend.

Dear Lou,

Thanks for writing.

I'm glad to hear you're interested in exploring spas and perhaps even joining me one day in some professional capacity in this industry. As you know, spas are sprouting up all over the place, and the opportunities are boundless. We need lots of good therapists with diverse skills to fill a growing number of positions, both hands-on and supervisory. I've known several massage therapists who have successfully navigated the spa waters, ending up as spa directors, owners or educators themselves.

First, though, before you get all excited about your wildly successful new career, I want to fill you in about what spas used to be like not too long ago when I first started in the industry, and so I'll tell you a little story...

It was a day like any other day at the Safety Harbor Spa in Clearwater, Florida. Bob, the supervisor of the men's spa, rang an old ship's bell attached to one wall in the locker room - GONG - and soon a ragtag line of two dozen elderly gentlemen in worn terrycloth robes began shuffling down a long corridor on their way to the massage room. I could hear the sound of cheap paper slippers sliding on tile; grunts and groans as the men disrobed and climbed aboard massage tables arranged in rows in one large room; and the "squirt-squirt" of mineral oil slipping out of plastic bottles. Ribald jokes tossed across the room during the 25-minute full-body massage sessions. Then robes again; paper slippers; GONG; and the whole thing was repeated 12-14 times a day.

Yes, Lou, many spas were in this sorry condition when I started as a therapist myself in 1984.

At that time, no one had heard of a day spa. There were barely 30 destination spas in the country, and they were often called "fat farms."

Now, at the beginning of 2001, this industry has changed so dramatically that it bears practically no resemblance to those not-too-distant days. Over 300 resort and destination spas dot the landscape, and day spas number in the thousands. Did you know that spa visits account for more vacation dollars spent than ski trips in the U.S.? It's true - I heard it as part of the Price Waterhouse industry analysis at the recent International Spa Association (ISPA) conference in Vegas. Remind me to tell you more about ISPA in another letter.

There are a ton of letters I want to write to you about the spa industry and how you might get involved. I'm sure you have lots of questions: How much can you expect to be paid as a therapist in a spa? How can you increase your chances of getting hired? Will you receive continuing education as part of your employment? Should you consider opening your own small spa on a tight budget? What kind of equipment should you buy? Should you hire a consultant? What kind of profits can you expect? What are the definitions of the various types of spas? How can you travel the world some day working in exotic foreign spas or on cruise ship spas? Where can you find a medically oriented spa that hires skilled therapists? Are there any standards for training or education within the industry?

In future letters, I'll be delving into these and many other topics.

To start off, let me briefly fill you in on a few of the trends you might be interested in that are shaping the spa industry: medical spas, spa branding, and becoming a spa entrepreneur.

The Slow-But-Steady Merging of Medicine and Spas

Not too long ago, many massage therapists working in spas found themselves the victims of snide remarks about the low quality of bodywork done in those establishments. The words "pampering" and "fluff" were thrown about with gusto. There are still some remnants of this attitude left in the massage community today. Even though such disparaging remarks aren't used so often anymore, other words, like the word "spa" itself, take their place, as in "Oh, he just does spa massage," with an ugly emphasis on the word "spa."

Believe me, this is changing rapidly. There is a new respect for therapists who work in spas now, in large part due to the merging of the spa world with the world of medicine. Did you know that hundreds of doctors are opening their own medical spas, and thousands more will in the near future? I've been working at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida this past year because they are building a spa into their well-recognized medical program.

Everybody is getting on the spa bandwagon, and as more physicians join the party, it will continue to add legitimacy to the work we therapists do in conjunction with them there.

The Branding of Spas

Pretty soon spas are going to be as common as restaurants. You can already see it happening, as the larger established spas like Canyon Ranch and The Golden Door begin to expand beyond their original facilities into hotels, resorts and satellite spas in all sorts of locations. The growth we've seen will look infinitesimal compared to what's going to happen. It's a great time to get involved with the industry right now.

Even though spas are becoming big business, that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of room for the motivated and inspired entrepreneur to use some creative visualization and hard work to construct the spa of his or her dreams. I can guarantee you that's exactly what's happening all over the country right now. I go all over the place teaching workshops for LMTs who dream of opening their own smaller spas, and I've been constantly encouraged to see them succeeding. Whether it's a one-room operation or a more challenging project with a dozen rooms and as many employees, I see massage therapists taking the reigns and making their spa dreams into "nitty-gritty" business reality. Healing spas are something they can believe in and put all of their effort into. It's not easy to make it happen, but the rewards can be profound, and there is a large network of support out there for people trying to make it happen.

That's what I'd like to give you in every letter I send support; direction; new contacts; new ideas; and new ways to dream. Keep letting me know how you're doing!

Until then, take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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