Efficiency, management, operations….  What do these words mean to you?  In this saturated climate of spa management these words become stale. They are just words. Moreover, you may be able to manage it, measure it, control it and operate it very well one day but not the next. The art of management is truly a marathon of will, genius, patience and continued evolution.  Sounds easy, eh?!


I constantly ponder business. I watch new stores come and go. I observe how long it takes for my meal to be served at restaurants and then how hot, tasty, healthy and well-presented the food is. Some companies, methods and concepts blow me away. For instance a hot towel service on an airline is a nice touch to an international flight. The flip side would be the airline I fondly refer to as, “a terrible airline.” Put the letters together and there you go. At some point these geniuses had my 1 year old boarding a plane solo—we were suddenly on separate flights. “Does anyone actually run this airline I said in astonishment…?  I mean, you know, is there someone in charge somewhere?”  How can companies be so vastly different in their ability to provide quality products and services?  Is there a product and service Force out there that controls the madness?

In the customer service industry, if you can’t provide customer service well, go home. I mean give up now. Take a long vacation. Think about a new vocation. I like to think of customer service in the spa as dealing with a group of brides all day long. Think about it.  A bride is hypersensitive to every detail of her “big day.” If any detail isn’t completely as she envisioned the entire experience is lost. Similarly at the spa clients are at the very least taking some of their time to be at the facility. They don’t want to think. They don’t want to talk to an esthetician about her boyfriend. They don’t want to feel like a cog on a conveyer belt.  Today’s spa clients want to experience an exquisite escape of results-oriented rapture. As more and more spas open the anti is up to provide not only excellence in the quality of service, but also excellence in the individual’s perception of their experience. What does this mean?  The devil is in the details. Who is Ms. Smith and what does she want?  Does she really like an extended facial massage?  Does she like to discuss her family?  Does she like a beverage immediately after entering the spa?

Additionally, doesn’t everyone appreciate the tiny amenities in life?  Spa-goers are like guests in your home. In my home I try to make my loved ones welcome for visits by stocking the refrigerator with their favorite midnight munchies. I try to set out bath goodies and fluffy towels. I put items in their room that they may enjoy like books and magazines. I try to prepare for those items they may not have packed like a robe, a hairdryer, cold medication. One (yes, one) hotel has this art mastered: “whatever you need or forgot we have, dial zero.” What little things in your spa can you offer that will make clients feel loved, welcomed, pampered and appreciated?  It doesn’t have to be extravagant. The little things in life are truly the things we remember. Think about the little things in your spa.

Empowerment—That Word from the ‘80s

“At some point everything became the same restaurant, strip mall, brand identity or middle of the road grocery store. During this process the staff was encouraged to do A, B and C in that order. No one is expected to think anymore,” I read in a letter to the editor comment the other day.

In my lectures I sometimes share an early spa horror story, “A lady died from a body wrap at a well known resort a few years back. She was allergic to shell fish and it was a marine wrap. Despite her pleas that something was terribly wrong the spa staff refused to let her off of the table. In fact, they left her in the treatment room alone as they fled to find the manager. When they returned she was dead,” I said. A tiny bit of empowerment would have saved her life. Your staff should do A, B and C; however, please teach them how to think as well.  I pay and reward initiative. Give them a bit of room to make decisions like the occasional refund that doesn’t fit within the parameters of your policy. That five minutes that it takes for them to check to see if they can give you an additional towel or to find out from a manager if gift wrap is free, or some other trivial, ridiculous policy is enough to make many of us want to run away.  Some call this disease of poor service “inertia—the inability to act.”  Any way you slice it, your customers hate it.

Offering a list of “what if’s” is another way to prepare for the inevitable. You must know that Herriet the Hypochondriac is going to have a panic attack in the steam room. Carla Crabby is going to return an empty bottle of $75 moisturizer wanting a full refund. Betinna the Bad is going to not like the slippers and Mary the Maniac is going to expect her husband to stop cheating on her after she receives a signature facial. So, what do you do?  Moreover, what does your staff do? Preparing them in advance is like preparing your children to call 911. It is also a simple guarantee to not drive away business.


Maybe I am the crazy one but don’t some companies seem rather insane?  For example, I stayed in a five star hotel in Manhattan a few years back that was very nice and equally pricy. They had motion detectors on their courtesy bars that automatically charged a guest when the door was touched or open. As a result, as you might imagine, a lot of guests amassed charges that were not legitimate. The hotel (a boutique chain) had obviously received a fair amount of complaints. Instead of fixing the hotel-wide problem the all-knowing rulers that be within the upper management had decided to post signs everywhere. The signs said things like, “we cannot refund mini bar purchases” and “use courtesy bar at your own risk.”  There was even a paper seal across the door of the refrigerator.  I took the signs to my one-day class after an evening at the hotel, which was otherwise a fine place to stay. “Hello…,” I screamed as I displayed other stupid things and props.  “What on earth were these people thinking?!”  Gosh, 99% of our guests hate our courtesy bar modality. Why change a thing?  Can you get a degree in this type of stupidity?

So, sit down. Take a rest. Have a beverage and think about your facility. What do your clients love and what do they hate?  Is there something that is consistently irritating about your spa? If you aren’t masochistic you might want to make some things simpler for those folks who pay your bills.  You know?  Those trivial guests who get spa therapies and then purchase homecare?  Here is a short list of the nightmares I have personally witnessed.  Locker rooms that are impossible to navigate, cold wet rooms, uncomfortable massage tables, facial tables that are more rigid than a straight jacket, wax that is hot and not warmed, and on and on.  Oh, goodness, how could I forget beepers that should be vibrating that are turned on to ultra-loud-beep!  Just fix it and definitely don’t produce signs. We don’t care why it is such a nightmare. Just say no to incredible inconvenience, discomfort and backward thinking.


Yep, let’s call operations methodology. That takes the load off, doesn’t it? Do you have a method?  I am always impressed when I get consistency with a personal approach, charisma, a friendly smile and that touch that exudes sincerity.  I can’t guesstimate how many spas I have audited and then trained where sales were increased exponentially by attitude. (Sure other ingredients were also implemented, but how valuable is friendliness?!)  I actually trained one spa’s staff where the employees were simply put, angry. At the end of our first day one employee raised her hand. I had softened them up by that time and she volunteered, “Do you think if we were friendlier to clients we might sell more?”  “Yes, I think you are onto it,” I declared. “In fact, BRAVO!!!,” I screamed with glee.

The other thing that I find mesmerizing is the concept of your front desk as a group of brown lipstick wearing folks who sit around and talk to each other all day. I mean if they can’t sell, display the attitude of the spa and describe treatments to the 9th degree, why do they exist at all? These people are the clients’ first impression of your spa. These people answer the phone and either land the appointment or kill it. These people are your physical advertisement and they control retail movement. Pay them well and worship them if they assume the behaviors expected. Show them the door and wish them well if they don’t. Oh…and lips aren’t naturally brown. Get them a lipstick color that might resemble the shade of lips.

Am I radical?  No, I expect what your clients and guests expect, which I think is completely reasonable.