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Massage Today
November, 2003, Vol. 03, 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,

Building a spa is like remodeling a house.

There's a snowball effect and before you know it, you're making purchases you never dreamed would be necessary when you started. This is true even if you've put together a solid business plan with budget projections, cost analyses, timelines and "plethora proforma." In every case, reality steps in rudely and changes things. In your case, there were a number of factors you didn't count on: While changing some of the exterior siding, you found a horde of carpenter ants, which necessitated some rebuilding; the ancient plumbing needed upgrading; and choosing the best fabrics and carpeting shot the budget up another few thousand dollars. You needed some help managing this expensive, unwieldy project, so you hired a spa consultant - another expense in and of itself!

Don't worry; this consultant will save you money in the long run. You've negotiated a good fee structure with a $2,500 monthly retainer guaranteed for six months - enough to inspire your consultant to work on the project 50 hours a month and bring the expertise of her colleagues to the table. Considering the scope of your project, I think you've made the right decision.

Working Together

It's time for you and your consultant to roll up your sleeves and get to work. But what first? You're in the middle of this huge project, and she came on board just last week. How can she catch up to you? First, understand that she's done all this before. She's run into the same roadblocks, solved the same problems, and dealt with similar personality conflicts. Your job is to get out of the way and let her help you. I like some of the design suggestions she's offered; and now is the time, while you're still under construction, to implement these ideas.

Idea Number One: Slightly expand the waiting room and use a large ceramic bowl for spa foot treatments there. This might never have occurred to you because it is such an offbeat idea, but I've seen it work well in other spas. Think of it this way: How much will your customers pay for waiting? That's right - zero dollars; nada; nothing. Does that have to be the case? No! While sitting in a cozy room surrounded by other robe-clad "ladies-in-waiting," your customers can be treated to a fantastic foot treatment that will not only up the square footage of your revenue-generating space (RGS), but also entice other clients to follow suit and do the same thing next time they are waiting.

Using an ornate ceramic basin, one of your therapists can soak the client's feet in aromatic water sprinkled with rose petals; apply a warm-towel-wrap, reflexology and a peppermint sea salt scrub; then trim the nails. The application of polish is optional, but only if it is a noncaustic, odorless product. This treatment not only soothes and relaxes the guest before their spa service, it acts as a live billboard for your therapists' skills. It is a way to spread goodwill and create a holistic caring environment.

Idea Number Two: Create a "river wall." I saw this concept at the Nemacolin Woodlands Spa in Pennsylvania by renowned spa designer, Clodagh ( Your consultant has suggested turning the wall between your waiting room and your treatment rooms into a "waterfall" by inserting natural rock outcroppings and a small trough along the wall/floor joint. This doesn't need to be hugely expensive; with a small, inexpensive pump and a little creativity, you'll achieve something important: bringing the outdoors in and giving your clients a little touch of nature. At the Nemacolin Woodlands Spa, this feature extended into the hallways, turning them into "stream banks" in a forest. You can create this effect on a smaller scale by imbedding smooth river rocks along the floor near the wall and letting the water lap up naturally onto a lipless edge. I've also seen this done well at the Avalon Hotel & Spa in Portland, Ore.

Idea Number Three: Use multipurpose tables for your treatment rooms to do facials. You knew about multi-use tables already, didn't you? But you didn't think about using them in your two facial rooms. It makes sense, doesn't it? Why not have two more rooms you can use to do massage, wraps or scrubs in when they are not in use by your estheticians? Golden Ratio makes some good multi-use tables that I've used before; check them out.

Hire "Higher"

Your consultant's ideas about hiring spa staff are good, too. As someone who has helped assemble teams of spa professionals before, you can rely on her to give an informed opinion about potential candidates. It helps that she does not live in your community, too - she doesn't have to worry about stepping on any toes or creating political enemies and can voice her opinion without qualms.

Let your consultant conduct the initial screening of job applicants. You should step in during the next level of interviews, concentrating on the higher hiring values of camaraderie, rapport, "energy" and so on. After that, schedule yourself to receive a test massage or facial from each of the most promising recruits. Maybe I'll talk more about receiving test massages in my next letter - believe it or not, there's an art and a skill to it.

Don't focus all of your attention on hiring the "hands-on" staff. Though you are a therapist and your inclinations may lead you to focus exclusively on the massage department, remember that other staff will make a profound impact on your guests' experience. Your receptionist, for example, will most likely speak to every guest who comes through the door. Doesn't it make sense to proceed slowly and wisely when it comes to choosing this key figure in your operation? Almost anyone can answer a phone and write an appointment in a book. A good number of people may be quick at entering information into a computer. But how many of them will have your customers' best interests at heart?

While it's important to find qualified people, I think you'll do better across the board - from janitors to front-desk staff to therapists - if you look at the person first and the skill set last. Skills can be taught. The intrinsic person remains, and no amount of training, scolding or rewarding is going to change the underlying character much at all. Ask yourself one question: Would you want this prospective receptionist working in your own home? Now it's time to start assembling a great team!

Until next time,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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