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Massage Today
May, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 05

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,

A-ha! Now you know what I was talking about, don't you? The entire staff of massage therapists, who just a few short weeks ago were your colleagues, equals and friends, are now looking at you with new eyes.

You're the one in charge of their destinies, on a certain level, in the enclosed environment of the spa. Sensing your vulnerability in this new position, they're pressing their advantage by staging a mini-revolt. They want more money and have started to complain bitterly about the miserable 50% cut they're receiving from each service performed, plus tips and benefits.

Remember what I said in my last letter about being the boss? Well, now's the time to embark upon that treacherous journey of making yourself into another person: a boss person.

The Boss Trap

Do you remember any previous bosses who everybody agreed were complete jerks? And do you remember speaking to many people from many different companies, at all different levels from top to bottom, complaining about their own bosses? Did you ever think that there was a "boss gene" of some type that selected these people for a combination of power-hungriness and unreasonableness? How could every boss be so bad?

Well, now you know. Be absolutely certain, and make no mistake about it, some of your erstwhile colleagues are now talking about you in the same backstabbing tones you overheard them using in regard to the former supervisor in the spa. I call this the "boss trap," and it's 99% dependent upon the boss/employee relationship, and 1% dependent upon the personalities involved. Now is when you start to really understand what the spa business is built upon - relationships.

How are you going to position yourself in this new dynamic? On the one hand, the therapists are using their close ties to you as a recent member of the staff to plead their case to the management, and on the other hand the management is watching you to see how you'll help run the department as smoothly and cost-effectively as possible. Where are you supposed to land in this salary debate? As a traitor to your own kind? As an ineffectual leader who perhaps should not have been promoted? It's a dilemma, this boss trap.

Openness Is the Best Policy

In answer to the plea for help in your last letter, I'm going to offer another one of my off-the-wall opinions that many people may disagree with. Be assured, though, that some very successful spa owners and managers have used this technique with positive results. It's a policy of openness about money, and it scares many people.

An "open book" policy means you inform the employees about the costs of doing business, the income, profit margins, goals, etc. Massage therapists seem to be particularly affected by money issues, clamoring for their due, a little naïve perhaps at first, but they usually understand the overall situation quickly when shown the reality.

The therapists confronting you now scream, "How can I, the one working so hard all day, get only $35 when the spa is charging $70 per massage? For doing what? Giving me an empty room to work in? Supplying towels? They're ripping us off!" But, were you to show your therapists the true costs of doing business, they, like many therapists before them, might get real quiet, real fast. I've seen it happen.

The Avalanche of Costs

If you can get management to agree to it, try this. Sit down in a special meeting with the therapists and use a flip chart or a slide show to outline each of the costs faced monthly by the spa. This information alone may be enough to steer the therapists onto another course, regardless of final profits or losses.

Show them the costs for original build-out still being paid off to the bank; the huge utility bills; the staggering amount of laundry; and costs associated with that (on a recent spa project of mine the cost just to launder sheets, towels and robes was well over $5,000/month for 9 massage rooms. Share with them the cost of the janitorial service to keep the facility clean; the constant upkeep of temperamental equipment; the unending flow of supplies and products to stock the spa; and the need to purchase new linens at least quarterly to offset the loss due to rampant stealing. Share with them the costs of licenses; permits; taxes; advertising; promotions; printing; office supplies; management salaries; trade show events; workers' compensation; and health insurance.

Put just these numbers in front of your therapists, add them up, place the grand total in big bold letters, and then ask them if they think a 50/50 split isn't absolutely reasonable. I know of several spas that offer less, more along the lines of 30/70 or 60/40, and the therapists are happy, because they know the realities. Spas usually are not profit-intensive businesses. We are all in it for the service, and to follow our passion.

Most therapists, being reasonable, will relent when faced with an avalanche of so many costs, grateful they don't have to deal with them personally, and remembering that's why they chose to work for somebody else in the first place. It's natural for highly skilled therapists to want to be compensated well for what they do, but some of them don't understand the challenges involved with running a large business.

Gird Yourself for the Fight

Don't think it will be easy. My words might make sense to you now, but you will, of course, be dealing with the volatile reality of several "massage personalities" (you know what I mean) and the newly forming relationship between you and your staff. I think it will work, if you can get management to go for it. Remember to tell them other spas have done this successfully, and assuage their fears by assuring them not all numbers need to be revealed, just those related to spa operations. Also, you have to present it in the right way to the therapists. This is where all your skill and diplomacy will be needed. This is your trial, your opportunity to fulfill your new role: to be one of the therapists, and a part of management at the same time.

Good luck! I can't wait to hear how it goes.

Take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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