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Massage Today
April, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 04

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 of the author.

Dear Lou,

Congratulations! You're now officially a part of the spa industry.

I understand your excitement and also your trepidation, and I'm not surprised that you have a lot of burning questions to ask. For a moment, though, allow yourself to bask in the accomplishment you've just achieved. It's not always easy to snag a position as a therapist in the fast-growing spa sector.

Pay Scales

Let's address your question about pay first. It was probably a good idea not to put too much emphasis on the pay scale when you first applied at the spa, because that can turn interviewers off and make it seem like your self-interest outweighs your desire to do a good job. But now that you've got the job, you have to start thinking about your budget, and of course it's only natural that you want to nail down some realistic numbers.

It's a general assumption (stated or unstated) that the pay scale in spas is not worthy of the talent and training most therapists have achieved. Some people in the massage profession feel that the pay in spas can drag down the overall prestige of massage therapists and make it seem that they're not worth as much as they should be.

In my personal opinion, this assumption is incorrect for two reasons. In the first place, spas have a very large overhead that is not taken into consideration by many people. The cost of running a spa is extremely high, with its management staff salaries, facilities cost, heavy laundry expense, equipment cost, product cost, and other drains on the bottom line. It's often hard for a spa to make a profit. If the spa were to give the therapists 80-90% of the price of a treatment, which therapists sometimes act like they're entitled to, the spa would soon go broke and everyone would be out of a job.

Second, the pay scale in spas over the past few years has been going up quite significantly. Factor in the pluses for the therapist, such as built-in clientele, no marketing costs, no facility cost, with products, oils, laundry, equipment all supplied, and, oftentimes, paid training and benefits. You can see that an hourly wage about half of what you'd expect doing a private outcall massage is not unreasonable.

This wage scale is typical of what you can expect at many spas today. Take the spa where you've just landed a job, for example. Your pay scale of $30 per hour is right about in line with this principle, because I know you've been asking $60 per hour from your private clients since you graduated from massage school last year.

And remember, you live in California, in an area with a pretty high cost of living. Extrapolating this to a less expensive part of the country, a new therapist could conceivably be getting $45-$50 per hour from private clients. Therefore, a $22-$25 per hour pay scale in a local spa would be reasonable.

You point out correctly that you might be losing some precious hours, though, because the spa will not be paying you for hours in which you're not massaging. But keep in mind that they will definitely be trying to book you as many hours during your shift as possible. Why? Because the more you're booked, the more money the spa makes!

There are some spas that pay a certain number of therapists a lower hourly wage when they're not giving a treatment, thus making sure there is always someone available for last-minute bookings. Seeing as you're new to this spa, you can't expect to be put on the schedule all the time right away. That's a seniority issue, which I'll deal with in a future letter. When you achieve this level, the spa will have to provide benefits to you, which can run up to 20% of additional cost to the spa on top of your pay. You're going to have to prove yourself first.

The Best Attitude

I wouldn't worry about this too much, Lou. The spa where you've found a job has a great reputation, and as you know, they're booked for much of the year. So keeping yourself busy shouldn't be too much of a problem. I think my best advice to you at this point is the following:

Treat the space you've found as your very own business.

That's right. Try to avoid the typical mistake: looking at the spa as an us vs. them environment, in which the ownership and management are out to get you and your fellow therapists. Avoid excess gossip, chatter, and complaints about your bosses, because that only separates you from a perceived higher level, actually diminishing your power.

Treat each guest as your own private guest in your own private business. Make sure that everything possible is done to make her experience positive. Treat the whole spa like your spa, keeping it neat and orderly. Whenever you have an opportunity, make things easier for your boss and anyone else in management.

This attitude is sometimes known as being a "team player," but that's a term I'm not too fond of, because it gives the impression that you have to wait to take orders from a coach, instead of proactively taking control of your own situation and being your own boss. Even better than being part of the team, is acting as if you were part of the ownership of the team. If you truly believe this is true, and act accordingly, you'll be amazed at how quickly things will change for you in the spa world, and for the better.

Talk to you again soon,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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