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Massage Today
January, 2003, Vol. 03, 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 of the author.

Dear Lou,

So, you're in your new city, already hard at work at the medical spa. You probably didn't anticipate that, rather than getting your hands on patients and interfacing with doctors right away, you'd end up doing construction first! I should have warned you about some of the pitfalls of the startup phase in the spa business. Everyone's running around like crazy (even the MDs), and now you're forced to jump into the fray to prove you're a part of the team. That's OK. It's been my experience that when you're part of a startup team, you feel more invested in the project once it's underway. The people you're painting walls and hauling furniture with are going to become your close friends - and remember, they're also your partners. It's great that you were able to work out a profit-sharing deal with the new medical spa, and that stock options are part of your new reality. It must be rough being in a new city, though, with new friends to make, on top of the stress of starting a new job. These first few weeks, as the doors are opened and the customers start to arrive, are going to be exciting, but trying.

Thanks for sharing the vision of the new medical spa's founders. I can tell they have big ideas and want to roll out a large number of facilities rather quickly. However, it's important now to concentrate on first things first, so I'll offer my two cents' worth on what's most relevant in a medical spa environment, and what you can do personally to work toward the success of the entire enterprise.


Your new bosses, the doctor/owners of the spa, talk a lot about branding in their materials. That's all well and good, but there's more to a spa than the brand under which it operates. For instance, consider the strategy of a spa branding company called Stonewater, which held a press luncheon at the International Spa Association (ISPA) conference in October. They're in the process of buying up successful day spas and placing them under the umbrella of the Stonewater brand, but they're leaving the original names, décor, philosophy, and most of the employee team intact. The lesson? Leave a good thing alone, and add just enough recognizable branding to make the place palatable to a wide range of people. For example, what was formerly the Kiva spa in Chicago is now Kiva, A Stonewater Spa.

The folks at Stonewater are pretty smart. They realize that what works in the spa industry is the personal touch. That's why they leave these spas alone and let them continue to operate as they were, to the extent that's possible. If you and the new team you're working with in the medical spa create a successful operation, it too will be built one client at a time, over time, much like in the spas Stonewater is taking under its umbrella. By the time you've created that level of trust, you'll have something so personal and unique, it will be almost impossible to brand it in the way your doctor/owners are talking about. It would be like trying to brand your dog. Sure, chocolate labs are a breed that can be reproduced, but your chocolate lab is irreproducible, completely unique, and what you care about most is that exclusivity and uniqueness. No other dog can be your dog, and over time, you've built up a bank of memories and meaning with him.

Believe it or not, I think this scenario applies to spas, too. While you're creating something one-of-a-kind, the owners are thinking about reproducing it in cities all across the nation. Please know that this will be difficult, if not impossible It's great that you have stock options, but don't start counting your money just yet. This will definitely be a challenge.

Do Your Best, One Day at a Time

I don't mean to discourage you with this type of talk. What I'd really like to do is make things more realistic for you. After all, the primary reason you took this job (not to mention the primary reason you became an LMT in the first place) was to help others and dedicate yourself to useful, meaningful service. All this talk about your potential rewards in the future may have obscured the essential present, and your deeper goals, at least temporarily.

So, let's see, what advice can I give you? I think I would just say, "Do your best, one day at a time." Forget about the stock options. Forget about branding. Forget even about the giddy excitement you've been sharing with your partners over the past few weeks. All that is coming to an end in the next few days, and you're going to open those doors and be faced with people, real people, one at a time in your treatment room. What you do then matters more to the ultimate success of the medical spa, and your career, than anything else. It will be a defining moment.

A Defining Moment

So, what are you going to do in that treatment room that is different than what you did in the treatment rooms at the resort spa you just left? What's going to differentiate "Lou the Spa Therapist" from "Lou the Medical Spa Therapist"?

Of course, you'll still be the same Lou giving substantially the same treatment, but one thing will be different: your intention. You'll be working on clients who have individual problems to address, and reasons for being there beyond relaxation and stress relief. In your new role, your intention will have to be aligned with your partners - the doctors and other health providers who are working as a team to meet the goals of these clients.

Now is the time to bring your advanced skills into practice. Medical spa clients will not expect the same thing from a massage as they do at a resort. They will trust you to provide effective treatment. To accomplish this, follow three simple rules that some friends of mine in the medical spa field have followed successfully.

  1. Communicate more thoroughly. Clients in the medical spa will be more open to dialoging about their conditions, and about the treatment you give. Take advantage of this by spending more time getting to know the patients and their conditions.
  2. Document more thoroughly. The medical spa is going to be a collaborative effort between many professionals, and your notes, SOAP forms, and observations in general are going to have to be top-notch. You'll be spending much more time with a pen in your hand than you did at the resort.
  3. Study more diligently. You're going to have to redouble your efforts to keep abreast of the latest techniques, and to become as proficient as you can in your chosen modalities. Only the best will be accepted.

As always, I'm excited to find out what's going to happen next as your massage career unfolds, and look forward to hearing about the opening of the medical spa. Good luck!

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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