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Massage Today
May, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 05

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,

Well, the opening of your new day spa is just two months out now, and you're going crazy trying to get everything together.

Don't worry; that crazed feeling you have is natural. It wouldn't be a true spa opening if you didn't feel like you were juggling at least a hundred balls in the air at once.

I must admit - you really "take the bull by the horns" when you need to get things accomplished. The job descriptions you've created for The Spa House are exactly what you needed to keep things on track as the business gets up and running. Without a clear understanding of what's expected, employees have a tendency to make their own rules, regardless of your best, albeit unstated, intentions.

Job descriptions are usually most effective in spas when they are included in a manual that you hand out to each employee. That means each employee benefits from reading the job description of every other employee, as well as his or her own. It is most important for you to include a job description for yourself and your partner/co-owner Barbara, as well as the people who will work for you. That way, you'll be perfectly clear about your role regarding authority, boundaries, and responsibilities.

There are just a couple little things I would change with the job description you created for Jeanie, your lead therapist.

Roles Explained

When writing job descriptions, it's important to remember that employees will often take them literally. So, it's important to include a level of detail that cannot be argued with or interpreted in different ways. For example, in Jeanie's description you say: "The lead therapist shall be responsible for the conduct, demeanor and appearance of the other therapists and estheticians." This can be taken several ways. Does that mean Jeanie can then reprimand the other therapists on these issues? Does she have the authority to send them home if one of the guidelines is broken? Does she have to come to you or Barbara first before making any disciplinary decisions? Is there some kind of logbook into which she can record infractions?

Each job description needs to list specific actions that employees can perform to satisfy their duties. For that, you will need to spend a little more time fleshing out the details. Then, when you have finished, you can insert all of the descriptions into the manual, which will include a list of general guidelines that all employees can refer to.

One other item in the job description that I thought could use some clarification was this: "The lead therapist shall be available to fill in for other therapists if they are sick or otherwise unable to perform their normal functions." First of all, this seems a little onerous to me, as it should really be your own responsibility, ultimately, to make sure the customers are happy and that somebody is available to perform their treatments. Passing this off to your lead therapist gives her a little too much power. This might make her resentful of the imposition on her time, and that resentment might lead to an abuse of the power you've given her.

I would suggest you strike this part of the description entirely and instead say: "The lead therapist shall be responsible for creating and monitoring the weekly work schedule for the massage therapists or estheticians, according to the guidelines written in this manual. He or she will report illnesses, requests for time off scheduling conflicts and potential uncovered shifts to the owner/director in a written report on the first day of the pay period every two weeks."

I think you get the idea. So, it's back to the drawing board on those. Sorry to load you with more work! But guess what? There is yet another form you'll need before opening The Spa House. It's called the "client intake" form.

Client Intake

It's very important that you safeguard yourself against potential lawsuits. Regardless of how professional your staff is and how closely you monitor every aspect of your spa's operations, problems can still occur. Remember when you were working in the medical day spa and that client complained that she'd been injured by one of the mechanical massage techniques you performed? It turned out to not be your fault, but it sure felt good to have that liability insurance provided by the professional massage association you're a member of, didn't it?

To that end, it's important to include in your guidelines that each and every one of your therapists and estheticians carries his or her own liability insurance, usually via an association. And it's a must for all clients to fill out an intake form before anyone on your staff touches them. The intake form should give you an idea of each client's general health and any specific problems that you may have to look out for when your therapists and estheticians apply products and procedures to them. Thus, it must be customized to complement your particular offerings.

For example, I've been working with Biotone lately, and have developed an intake form that addresses the specific concerns related to treatments performed with their line of spa products. (View this form at

Strategic Alliance

In other news, I was happy to hear that the hotel down the street has approached you asking to form a strategic alliance. It has customers in need of a spa; you have a spa (or will have in two months) in need of customers. It seems like a marriage made in Heaven. But how will it work?

I recently counseled another friend opening a spa, on the same issue, and I recommended that she get a written agreement from the hotel stating exactly how they would promote her spa. (Will they have brochures or table tents in the rooms, for instance?) In return, she agreed to offer each guest coming from the hotel a 10-percent discount. The guest receives the benefit, and you receive the business. It's "win-win-win." This, I believe, is a more effective strategy than charging full price and then giving the hotel a percentage of your income.

Keep on charging forward, Lou. You'll have your spa up and running sooner than you think!

Until next time,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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