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Massage Today
November, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 11

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,

Ouch! That hurts. You've been fired from the spa.

It never feels good to get fired, but in your case, it's particularly jarring. Your heart was in the right place, you were doing a great job as supervisor of the massage and body treatments department, and everyone at the spa really liked you -- everyone except one person, that is.

As I suspected, the notorious Ms. X., the spa director, couldn't take the pressure of an up-and-coming therapist who was liked by both management and staff. She was afraid for her own job, perhaps rightly so, and she must have pulled the right strings to get you ousted before you irremediably blocked her own corporate ascension. It's funny, isn't it, how you became a therapist in the first place to escape corporate politics, but now find yourself deeply affected by them once again?

What advice can I give you now that you're out in the big world again, soon to be in need of a job, cut off from the security of the spa that had become more of a home than you had realized? It's not so easy to just stand up and walk away from the spa industry entirely, as you had thought you might be able to do. It's gotten into your blood, hasn't it? The friendships you formed with therapists and other professionals in the business have become important to you now. To leave the spa world would be to leave a part of your family behind. So what are you supposed to do now?

ISPA Was the Right Move

First of all, I'm glad you took my advice and attended the International Spa Association (ISPA) conference in Anaheim, even though you were there as a free agent. It was the right move. The easier thing to do would have been to fold your tail between your legs and slink away. The spa was no longer paying for your trip or your conference registration. You had no support structure to take care of you, no corporation backing you as you continue to grow in the industry. Well, Lou, in the long term, that's the best way to grow, even though it may hurt you in the short term, especially in the wallet.

Attending the conference was a positive, proactive step. Instead of licking your wounds, you put yourself precisely in the spot where the largest concentration of people were gathered who might be able to help you with your next step. And look how it turned out - not just one, not just two, but three new job possibilities!

A Step Backward?

I'm sure the first of these new job possibilities came as a complete surprise. After less than a month, you've been asked to come back on board at the spa. While attending a breakout session entitled "Making Retail Work in your Spa," you ran into your former employer, the owner of the spa, who was attending the conference. When he saw you proactively investing in your own career and education, attempting to learn all you could about making spas work profitably, he took you aside and made you a secret offer to come back on board as the spa director, ousting Ms. X!

You probably made the right choice not to go directly to the owner in the first place, letting Ms. X. and the general manager conspire in the matter of your firing. That way, you had even more clout when you ran into the owner himself. There you were, on your own dime, eagerly soaking up the kind of information a spa owner so dearly wants his employees to focus on - profitability. And where was Ms. X. this whole time? Receiving a manicure in the spa to look her best for the grand ball? I can't believe it. She seems to have chosen the worst possible time to relax and take care of herself. It would have been better for her career if she had taken her manicure before the conference, rather than take time away from valuable learning experiences in order to spruce herself up for the ball. I can just imagine how that looked to the spa owner.

Now you have to decide if you want to head back into the political intrigue you've just been ejected from. The owner will be on your side, but the general manager and his allies might well make things difficult for you. It's definitely a feather in your cap to be asked back by the owner, and he'd protect you in your new position, but this move might be a step backward. It's a tough call.

A Step Up?

A rival spa, across town from the one in which you've been working, spotted your talent, and the owner swooped down upon you at a cocktail reception. I've seen many spa careers get boosted at ISPA cocktail receptions. What a heady experience to be stalked by headhunters, isn't it? You'd start as an assistant spa director, but you'd still be making more money than you were, with better benefits, and more prestige. This spa has a bigger name, a loftier reputation. You can see yourself shooting up the ladder of the spa world, can't you? Within a few more years, if you continue the way you are now, you could end up as an executive in charge of spa operations for a worldwide chain of luxury resort spas. It's happened before.

Hmm, this one is definitely worth considering.

An Intriguing Possibility

Perhaps the most intriguing possibility, from my point of view, is the conversation you had with the woman at the networking breakfast who has gone onboard with a new medical spa startup and thinks you might be a good match for their team. It would mean starting over again as a therapist instead of a supervisor, but you'd be learning a lot in a cutting-edge environment. In my opinion, medical spas are the wave of the future, with prestigious institutions on the verge of opening their own versions on that theme in the near future. The doctors involved with this project were all trained at the Mayo Clinic, which is a pretty good pedigree. This opportunity may be the least certain of your options, as the spa isn't even open yet, and it would require moving to another state. On the other hand, the adventure quotient here if high, and the rewards as far as experience and learning go could be tremendous.

The Right Track

Wow, so many choices. Do you see how this industry works? People keep revolving in and out of positions at a furious pace. It's up to you to keep yourself educated, informed, and well balanced in all applicable disciplines in order to maintain your value as an employee. I think it was wise to take the CranioSacral workshop after leaving the spa, further honing your hands-on skills. And attending ISPA was crucial. Try and see yourself from an employer's point of view now: you have proven therapeutic skills, you're effective at managing people and capable of making tough decisions, and you're learning more about daily operations and profitability. What's it all boil down to? You're becoming a well-rounded valuable asset for any spa, and that's what it takes to succeed in this industry today.

Have no fear. You're on the right track. All you have to do is keep doing what you're doing. One of these new possibilities will work out for you, I'm sure, but as usual, the decision will not be a simple one. Your career, and your future, hangs in the balance.

I look forward to hearing what decision you make.

Until then, take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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