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Massage Today
January, 2004, Vol. 04, 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 now your rooms are being built out, the paint is being applied, and the spa is taking shape.

People you didn't know until last week are bustling around, looking to you for guidance. These are called employees, and they must be treated with care. It feels funny to be on the receiving side of all those questioning glances, doesn't it? There is a lot more to being a boss and owner than you realized.

Now that you have your staff assembled - two massage therapists, two estheticians, a receptionist/sales clerk, and a part-time cleaning person - you're ready to rev them up into a customer-pleasing frenzy, but before you do that you've got to give them the tools they're going to need to succeed. You've got to bring them up to speed on the treatments they're going to be performing - the long list of offerings that will make your spa unique and memorable. That's right: It's time to create your menu of spa services.

The Benefits Paradox

As you move forward in putting together your treatment menu, you're going to run into what I call the "benefits paradox." Simply stated, it is this: typical treatments you find on thousands of menus at spas around the world work well and offer people results, but they're boring, boring, boring! New, avant-garde treatments may be more exciting and enticing to your clients, but they might have questionable therapeutic value. What to do?

When you think of spa menus, you might get the feeling that they're all the same: so much seaweed, so much mud, so many massages, so many scrubs. You definitely don't want a cookie-cutter feeling in your spa, and you don't want to bore people. But neither do you want to offer a bunch of "fluff and buff" and "razzmatazz" that will leave your clients asking, "Where's the beef?" What can you offer that is going to excite your clients, create noticeable benefits for them, and keep them coming back?

My suggestion: select judiciously from classic spa treatments and then add your own flourishes and personalizing touches to them. This will maintain therapeutic value and add a little something extra that will charm customers.

One From Column A, One From Column B

Many Chinese restaurants offer choices of food from multiple columns, allowing patrons to select from basics such as beef, pork, or chicken, and adding in spices, sauces, and vegetables to taste. You can do something similar with your menu.

The main categories of what spa clients have come to expect include massage, of course; body scrubs; body masks of some kind (whether seaweed, mud, clay, etc.); facials; hand and foot services; and wraps (herbal, detoxifying, aromatherapy, etc.). I suggest you create a category for each of these on your menu and then customize the offerings within each category in your own unique way. For example, since your spa is called The Spa House, I would suggest breaking down the treatments into these categories: Spa House Wraps, Spa House Body Scrubs, Spa House Massage Specialties, and so on. You could, for example, offer the Spa House Energy Rebalancing Massage, and use your resident shiatsu expert to apply the treatment.

In the descriptions for each of these services you can explain the benefits and backgrounds of each. The unique title will get your clients' attention while the description will put their minds at ease, letting them know these are time-tested treatments, many of which, like shiatsu, have been used for centuries around the world. In this vein, you could offer the Spa House Relaxation Massage for Swedish, and so on. Cap off your menu with the crowning touch of something truly special, something that will enthrall your clientele-the signature service.

Your Spa's John Hancock

The signature service at any spa is what sets it apart from other spas in the area. It's what gets people talking about your place. It does not need to be something that everyone rushes to sign up for, but it should inspire conversation and generate clients by word of mouth. This is the "quality, not quantity" section of your spa menu, something truly unique that could only be offered by you. When people think of The Spa House, they should think of this treatment, and they should think of you. Because the spa is you now, Lou, in a certain sense - it's who you are. You'll want to invest yourself in this special treatment, like the signature dish of a great chef.

What's the special treatment going to be? That, I'm afraid, is up to you. Here are just a few hints to get your started thinking in the right direction:

  1. Don't worry about making the price of this service a little high. It's supposed to be something special, like a bottle of fine wine, that people are prepared to spend extra on.
  2. Ingredients are key. The more exotic, the better. And natural is good, too. Is your area famous for anything: certain flowers? herbs? stones? trees? Seek these out from a local source and incorporate them into the service.
  3. Make it last longer. The signature service isn't a quick, 50-minute massage or facial. It's something people want to experience and savor for longer.
  4. Include several phases to the treatment, leading the client through stages toward ultimate relaxation and bliss.


Once you've gotten clear on what categories you're going to have available, you then run into the question of what products you're going to use, which supply companies you're going to choose and who you're going to give your business to. Use extreme caution here, for a few reasons:

  1. Once you are committed to a vendor of spa products, you're likely to build relationships with the people in the company that are difficult to break. Vendors specialize in making their spa owners and therapists happy, almost to the point of dependency. Later on, when a more attractive product comes along, you may miss it if you're slightly blinded by the dazzling customer service of your present vendor.
  2. Clients are acutely aware of the product choices out there, and they will judge your spa by the products you keep on your shelves and use in your treatments. If you choose one that is widely known and used in other spas, clients might lump you in with those other establishments, regardless of your spa's other merits; however, choose a produce that is too obscure, and fear of the unknown may frighten certain people away.
  3. Make sure that the retail products dovetail perfectly with the professional line you'll use in services, and that the retail packaging makes it easy to sell - this will be a big part of your spa's success.

Next time you write, let me know what you've come up with for your signature treatment and what products you're thinking of using. I'll do my best to help you out with any further suggestions, if I can.

Until then, take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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