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Massage Today
April, 2003, Vol. 03, 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,

What a relief! That's the only way to describe the sensation you must have experienced after learning you were not responsible for injuring one of your massage clients at the medical spa. I'm sure being interviewed by a battery of lawyers was not your idea of fun, and depositions were not what you had in mind when you envisioned your dream life as a massage therapist, but look at all the things you've learned.

First of all, now you know for certain that the owners of the medical spa are not on your side. They completely abandoned you when it came time to face the lawyers, and they've distanced themselves even more since, as if associating themselves with you is a bad idea. I don't blame you for wanting to disassociate yourself from them in return.

You've learned that your fellow therapist at the spa, Barbara, is a true friend. When the situation turned nasty and the client's lawyers were talking about having you arrested, she was the one who stood by your side.

You've also learned, or perhaps re-learned, that your therapeutic skills are intact; you know what you're doing; and you were not endangering your client through your actions.

Finally, and most unexpectedly, you've learned what pseudo-atrophy is.


Pseudo-atrophy is a medical term for depression of the tissues caused by a cortisone injection. It affects people who received injections that were not properly administered, especially when the injections are high-dosage. Your client at the medical spa received a massive cortisone injection several weeks ago to the very site she claimed you injured through your massage with Endermologie® equipment. The injection is what caused the depression in her skin she was attributing to you. So, it has been proven to everybody's contentment (even the lawyers) that you were not culpable, and neither was the medical spa or the equipment manufacturers.

Who could know that a cortisone injection,received several weeks ago by a woman you'd never met, would have such a massive effect on your career? The lawsuit has been dropped, and you are free to continue your work at the medical spa, but the question is: do you really want to? It looks as if you're facing a major decision: stay at the spa that employs you, the one you became so enthused about, the one that gave you stock options and promised you the moon, or take the hint and realize that beneath the slick exterior of this place lies a heart of ice, and that it is not your true home?

Should You Stay or Should You Go Now?

I hate to tell you this now, but I had a funny feeling a few months ago, when you started talking about stock options and "new models for rolling out a nationwide spa success plan." I was excited about your new job opportunity at first, but as you became more deeply involved, I began to think you might be getting yourself into an untenable situation. As in any enterprise, those who bite off more than they can chew end up with indigestion. It may have been better if this medical spa ownership team had started out with just one facility in mind and then tried to make it the best it could be, rather than start a roll-out of franchised properties too soon, built on a model of success they aren't even sure works!

Many physicians and spa entrepreneurs are taking this wiser, step-by-step course and finding success. (A good number of them can be found within the ranks of the Medical Spa Association, founded by Hannelore Leavy, president of the Day Spa Association.) My advice to your owners would be to seek some networking and education from these experienced professionals.

In the meantime, you have to decide. Should you stay, or should you go? Let's weigh the evidence, taking everything into consideration:

On the one hand, if you quit right now, you leave behind stock options and the unique position of being part of a start-up team. You'd have to start over again somewhere else, and you're not sure where. Your employment record would begin to look checkered, as you move from one place to another, and you'd face the judgment of your employers, with whom you signed a contract.

On the other hand, the stock options are probably not going to amount to much, considering how things have gone thus far, so don't worry too much about that. Also, the spa world is filled with people moving from position to position, so leaving the medical spa is not going to be much of a negative on your résumé either. Your employers quite likely want you to leave anyway, judging by their recent attitudes and behavior.

The fact that you'd be taking a leap into the unknown is the strongest argument for staying and for going. Let me explain. 

The Risk/Reward Ratio

The spa industry, like many industries, is a forum of opportunities. The people who reap the rewards in this forum as the ones who take risks. I think you've stumbled on an opportunity to take just such a risk yourself, and discover a level of success you haven't envisioned yet.

The key here is Barbara. You told me she has been considering the possibility of opening her own small day spa, and she might be willing to take on a partner. Your first reaction is probably to dismiss the idea as too much work. You don't want to get tied down to just one place. You want to leave your options open. You're afraid of taking the risk with your time and your money.

I understand these concerns, but at the same time, I have a gut feeling about this, and I'm willing to share it with you now as a friend. You should stay close to Barbara. She's proven her dependability, which is exactly the quality you want most in a business partner. I think the time is right for you to move onto the next phase: to take on more responsibility, take a risk, and possibly receive the rewards. It's time to open your own spa.

Entrepreneurs talk about the "risk/reward ratio, which refers to the amount of capital ( time and money) they're willing to invest to receive a certain amount of possible payoff in the future. The spa world right now has a pretty attractive risk/reward ratio, but only if (and this is a big "if") you're willing to take a hard look at the realities of the business, and do everything necessary to give yourself the best shot at success.

Have a serious talk with Barbara about what she wants to do, and share your vision with her. Take the leap. Leave this sleek-but-heartless medical spa behind, and strive for something you can call your own. I'll offer any input and support I can. I have a feeling this is the start of a great new project.

Good luck!

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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