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Massage Today
April, 2004, Vol. 04, 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,

You have, without a doubt, one of the most attractive little day spa operations in the United States.

I've seen hundreds of them over the years, and what you've created leaves me awestruck! It was so great to see you last month to help train your new staff, and check out the great work you've been pouring into this project.

Walking into the Spa House is like walking into a really comfortable and beautifully appointed home! The screened-in front porch is filled with sunlight, plants, a tinkling fountain, and the artwork of children from the community. It was a great idea to ask them to draw pictures of water - the origin of spa - in all of its manifestations: rivers, pools, the ocean, and even in their own backyards. The result is a blue splash of riotous color that will leave your customers in a calm and uplifted state of mind before they even enter the front door. And how much did this cost? Nada. You even got a local shop to donate the frames in exchange for displaying their name to your customers.

I don't mean to sound commercial about something that was obviously done from the heart, Lou, but think about the marketing coup you've pulled off here. Before you even open your doors for business, you've created a built-in clientele: the parents of those little artists and all of their friends. This was a stroke of genius from your partner, Barbara.

And speaking of Barbara, you didn't tell me she was such a knockout, Lou: gorgeous, sincere, smart, quirky - the woman has it all. Certainly a wise choice in business partners, and, I see now, a wise choice in life partners. You have to be careful, though, when cultivating a personal relationship like this, since you work so closely together and you both have invested money in the spa. But, as they'd say in France, "C'est l'amour." And there's nothing you can do about that.

After passing through the front porch and entering the door, I found myself in a homey sanctuary, with a welcoming wood reception counter, and a large waiting area that is like someone's living room. I was glad to see you'd taken my suggestion to offer foot treatments in this area, enticing other clients to do the same while creating a soothing atmosphere at the same time.

The treatment rooms are gorgeous, too - simple yet elegant, each one with its own music and lighting controls. It was fun and comfortable to train your staff in these rooms, and I'm sure they're going to enjoy working there on a daily basis, too; however, there are a few staff "issues" I noticed cropping up even at this early stage, and I wanted to pass along a little advice regarding your employees - things I've run into over the years that you might want to keep an eye on.

Staff Issues

Don't get me wrong. It has been a pleasure working with such a dedicated and enthusiastic staff. In fact, I'd go beyond the word "enthusiastic" - they are downright excited! It's a great opportunity for them to be part of a unique experience in the community. I wouldn't mind working there myself someday. Keep me in mind! However, the startup phase of a spa - or any business - is often the "honeymoon" stage, when excitement is greatest and the rigors (and, at times, boredom) of daily operation have not yet set in. Regardless of your staff's enthusiasm now, you will assuredly run into some problems down the road; it's best to know about them up front.

One thing I noticed in your newly appointed lead therapist, Jeanie, is what I call the "overachiever syndrome." Jeanie is well qualified for the job: She's smart, bright, attentive, customer-oriented, and she seems to want to give of herself for the betterment of the team. What could be wrong, you ask? Well, I noticed some traits in Jeanie that I've seen in other lead therapists who "crashed and burned" early in their spa careers. One was a male who was arrested and charged with assault on a female customer; another was a fellow who rearranged the whole massage department to his liking (without permission); he was ousted three days later. These are people, who, like Jeanie, are self-sufficient and highly skilled, but don't take orders well, and at any given moment they could create unrest among fellow employees or guests.

I am not suggesting that you fire Jeanie, but I do suggest taking her aside and laying down the law. You, for better or worse, are the boss. Remember when you worked at the resort spa and I told you there were going to be some unsavory aspects of being a supervisor? I called it "the boss trap." You are caught in it more deeply now because you are not only the boss, but also the owner. It is crucial, in my opinion, to let Jeanie know that you are watching over her closely, and that her power is limited to her job description.

Job Descriptions

That's right, Lou. It's time to get serious about job descriptions. I know this is yet another task that seems less than glamorous, but it is going to help a lot, believe me. It will improve your chances for having a happy staff if Jeanie knows exactly what is expected of her, and what lies inside and outside the boundaries of her authority. This, in turn, will lead to a proper understanding by the other therapists, the receptionist, the estheticians, and you regarding who is responsible for what. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when you are so busy with the daily rush of activities that these written job descriptions will be a lifesaver. They can, of course, be modified, discarded, or changed, but it is important that everyone agrees upon a working framework - especially as your grand opening approaches.

So, that is your homework: job descriptions for everyone! Add it to the endless list of things to accomplish as you move toward your dream of opening and operating a successful Spa House.

Talk to you soon,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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