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Massage Today
April, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 04

Explore the Benefits of Working at a Resort Spa

By Ann Brown, LMT

A year or so ago I wrote for Massage Today about the benefits of working in the resort/hotel spa industry and still feel I have some unfinished business on the subject.

I did a brief search about recent information on massage therapists in hotel/resort spa settings and really found some bullet points and statements that were farfetched or just incorrect. I wanted to clear up any misconceptions because I still think this is a viable pathway for massage therapists to build a rewarding and lucrative career.

I consider myself optimistic and lucky and I try to find the good in almost all situations, so my next sentence might go against the grain of my thinking but it is really how I feel right now. I think the economy is still having some "pains" in getting back to normal. Most would say there is no looking back because it will never be the same as it was in 2006 and earlier. I'm not sure I have adopted 100% of that theory, but I do know that at the resort spa I have worked at for the last 13 years, our revenues are down. Down from 2006 for sure, and down from last year, too. I have cut some of the expenses to make sure our profit margins are still okay and no hands-on therapist has taken a pay cut, but we have cut lots of other things including paper good, to goods for marketing, to toilet paper. We are also really trying to define whether our marketing strategies have worked and if there is really ROI (return on investment) because marketing can be very expensive and you must measure each and every effort in this area to ensure you are not trying to attract a client that will just never come to your spa.

resort spa - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark First, I want therapists to understand that a resort/hotel spa can be a great place to work. I know that most therapists getting out of school really want to be their own boss. With that title, comes lots of other challenges, duties and hats to wear including managing other team members whether they are independent contractors or employees, advertising/marketing, payables/receivables, linens, laundry, equipment, scheduling, menu/brochure treatment selections, mission, vision, culture, referral programs and the list goes on and on. It's a lot for someone that has just been skilled to do hands-on massage to bar all of that responsibility right out of school. Many of the top business books will tell you that the best massage therapists, guitarists, painters and even drywall hangers don't make the best managers. Their skill is their talent and what they love to do. Many that choose massage therapy as a second or third career have already "been there/done that" regarding management and running a business, and were searching for a career where they can do great massage, exceed guest expectations and not deal with personnel issues and P&L statements.

As I looked at some of the articles available about working in a resort spa, many did not paint a great picture; long hours, up to eight massages a day, being an employee instead of a boss, working hours that are not your favorite, seasonal and a little bit of "us vs. them" (big corp vs. massage therapist). I would be hard pressed to apply or send in my resume after reading many of the articles. I hope I am here to, at least, encourage you to try out an interview first and see for yourself.

I brought up the economy and how slow it is to recover because I see lots of good therapists that are in their own practice or a small practice and they are just suffocating. They are talented but have lost some of their clients to this slow economy and lost some to others being more competitive (less expensive) and they seem to be paralyzed. They seem to have this hope (I do, too) that the economy will come back and they will make the same money and grow in clients, but I have to wonder, how long do they try and hang on? What is the right amount of time before you regroup and think of other options. I know when you have invested time and money into your own business that it can feel terrible to have to throw in the towel.

This has got to be one of the hardest decisions to make because there is no perfect answer or just the right timing. And maybe your overhead is low and you think you can stick it out and get past this slump, but the more important question to me is, why did you get into your profession? I would think most of you would say you got into the massage profession to help others, do hands-on work, educate others, help reduce pain, provide relaxation and stress reduction, etc. So why not hang your hat somewhere that you can see clients each day, raise the bar for the client to understand massage, assist with health/wellness/stress relief or pain reduction, spend the bulk of your time doing hands-on work and get paid for each massage.

You have the ability to inform and educate your clients and hope they will prioritize getting massage/bodywork in the future, whether at a resort/hotel spa or a local spa/massage business in their area. What if you could see multiple clients a day, a steady supply of new clients, be supplied uniforms, linens, equipment and oil/cream and have your taxes taken out by the employer and not as a independent contractor or self-employed? Sounds appealing to me! I know our resort offers medical/dental, complimentary lunch, CEU training based on some minimal requirements, provides liability and professional insurance for the hands-on staff and allows the staff to trade with each other for the benefit of their own bodies and allows their friends and family to receive discounts for spa services. Again, sounds good to me.

The marketing of the spa and the booking of clients is done for you and we even supply business cards for the staff and referral cards so they try and promote themselves for request massages and to build relationships with our local clientele. I really have come to love the team spirit and having a team around since I do not know everything or every modality. It is a nice way to refer a client to someone within your brand that has the certification and ability to do a modality that may benefit the client even further. I think this is a win-win for you and the client.

I have heard over my 20 years in the spa industry, more when I first started in the mid 90's, that the spa will take a big percentage of the treatment price. I know you could make 100% if you are self-employed, but with that 100% you have expenses and these must be weighted into each dollar. Insurance, rent, overhead including equipment, linens, marketing, laundry, etc., and many of these expenses can really take from each and every dollar you make. Additionally, if your business is down and you are not seeing the same number of clients as two years ago, that dollar is getting stretched more since many of your expenses can be fixed like rent/lease which is the same amount of money with more or less clients. And we all know it gets more expensive to do business with less clients.

I think most massage therapists have weighed this all out at one time but I am hoping, if you have a reduction in clients, you will put this back on your list for reflection. I know there is a shortage of good therapists in the spa business and many hotel/resort/ medical/destination spas are doing much better than two years ago and need good therapists on their team. Just go for an interview and see if there is a fit between your style/ethics/mission and the spa. Good luck and send me an email if you have any questions.


Ann Brown, a licensed massage therapist, is a member of the International Spa Association's board of directors and serves as spa director at Spa Shiki at The Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo. She also provides management consulting services through Spa Insight Consulting.

 

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