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Is Your Environment Working For You And Your Customers?
Assess What’s Important

by Lorne Caplan

Managers and owners of spas and medical spas typically are owner/operators who either are esthetic professionals—estheticians, massage therapists and related technicians—or physicians and professionals. This poses some difficulty when the owner/operator must assess whether the spa environment effectively is delivering the right services, products and business message—not to mention profitability.

The difference between what spa customers need and what the principal and staff need to achieve optimal service, product and emotional satisfaction is not that vast. The key is to focus on profitability and longevity of the business while meeting the needs of all parties involved. The bottom line is: if the owner/operator isn’t happy with the time commitment, development and success of the spa, and if the staff and professionals equally are unhappy, frustrated or disinterested, then why be in business at all?

When considering the issue of whether the structural and work environment is contributing or detracting from the ultimate success and satisfaction of the spa owner/operator, staff and clientele, it is important to look at the complex issues of the staff in terms of personal and professional satisfaction, as well as more practical issues of monetary compensation, praise and support.

Ultimately, satisfaction within the esthetic dermatology and salon business is dependent upon achieving specific operational results; in the skincare discipline, this focus is on tissue replenishment, revision, restoration, regeneration, repair, reconstruction and replacement. This focus on global excellence will serve to satisfy the participants in the business, work (pay, professional, relationships, structural, etc.) and psychological environments.

Recognizing The Basics

Spas are retail businesses with services that, unlike a shoe store or quick-service restaurant, are not reproducible in multiple geographic areas. Basics such as demographics, climate, target audience, clients’ expectations and awareness of products and services must be incorporated into the design and operation of the internal and external spa environment.

For example, services in demand during the winter months in Boston differ from those in demand in Miami during the same time. The owner/operator must recognize these variations and build them into the spa program, perhaps as seasonal and holiday promotions.

Regardless of the various endpoint considerations, the owner/operator cannot ignore tried-and-true measures of financial success, including sales-per-square-foot, gross margin and other fundamental financial concepts. Spa owners and managers almost always obscure these financial basics by focusing more heavily on signature services, ambiance and other components of delivering the services and products. The owner/operator often will focus on the treatment-room music, the waiting area environment, reading material and other ancillary elements that are not keys to success, but ingredients for satisfaction, both real and imagined.

Unfortunately, when the emphasis is placed more on elements of the physical surroundings and not on the actual delivery of the service—including treatment of the clients/patients—the business loses credibility, return client visits, staff satisfaction and, ultimately, profitability.

To this end, the staff and employees may not have basic training, such as providing “at-home therapy” to their clients—which is essentially sales, often taboo to most staff—as well as merchandising and in-store marketing skills. Fundamentally, the successful spa business must combine financial and environmental goals, paying proper attention to profitability along with ambiance and customer/staff satisfaction.

Ultimately, owner/operators must ask, “Did the business succeed in providing the client/patient with the best external, physical and emotional experience?”

Client-Centric Principles

A new customer and an existing client have different needs. The simple motto, “know your client” often is lost along the new guest’s journey throughout the facility. The unknown expectations of newer visitors can be managed by providing a five- to 15- minute introduction to the facility, staff and products. With repeat visits, the spa management has an opportunity to accumulate information about each client, which can be used to guide future visits.

In compiling this knowledge, the owner/operator must ask, “What are the client’s expectations, desires, needs and dislikes?” Keep in mind that it is more affordable and beneficial to maintain a service for a happy, current client than it is to pay for new clients via promotions and marketing.

However, the owner/operator and staff cannot expect perfection, as not everyone’s expectations for ambiance, scents and sounds can be met, even if the basic minimum standards are well above acceptable levels. With client counts in the range of 100 to 1,500 unique individuals weekly, complete satisfaction is very unlikely.

In trying to address every minute aspect of each client’s personal profile, the owner/operator and staff can drive themselves crazy. The best a spa sometimes can do is balance client personalization with the other aspects of running the business.

Thankfully, clients generally are aware of the physical and emotional aspects of the business, and most will accept slight imperfections, miscues, waiting periods and other slight flaws during busy and slow periods.

Staff- And Management-Centric Principles

While an extremely important component of staff relations, compensation is not the only employee issue that needs to be addressed. Recognition—a feeling of belonging, success, professionalism, respect—also must be part of the overall work environment.

Unfortunately, most spas and medical spas are owner-operated and come with the unique relationship aspects of a dysfunctional family. The day-to-day operation of these businesses often can overshadow managers’ and staff’s feelings.

To avoid overlooking human aspects, expectations must be established, including job tasks and probable outcomes, both positive and negative. It isn’t the facility’s physical appearance and surroundings that drive the individual in most situations. There are numerous examples of crowded, noisy and unclean spas that only are 2,000 square feet, but practically are printing money. This usually is because the owner/operator is a highly motivated individual who drives the staff members, who often identify with the owner/operator over time.

Is this type of environment ideal? Not by most owners’ standards; but, in these cases, the client profile matches that of the spa and services. The limited overhead and a motivated, low number of staff match the needs of the owner and management. On the other hand, more spacious, organized and decorated facilities may offer premium services in a luxuriously cavernous environment, but the client can get detached from the staff and services of such a large operation. Such grand spa businesses can lack client follow-up and personalization, and often don’t turn such magnificent profits.

Therefore, each spa’s focus must correlate to the needs and the expectations of the owner/operator, staff and clients. Training needs, product understanding, delivery of services and ability to participate in the development of company promotions, marketing efforts, signature service development and delivery all are essential elements that must coordinate within the environment to meet the expectations of the crowded spa as well as the luxury spa/medical spa.

Measuring And Defining Success

An owner/operator can measure his or her success by first defining what his or her role involves, instead of just gauging the financial aspects and statistics of the day-to-day running of the business.

How does one know if the physical and emotional aspects of the business are working? How and by what parameters are they measured? What is the business roadmap? Is it just about profit, or is it also about the satisfaction of the client and staff/management groups?

Assess the owner/operator needs system. After all, if the owner/operator is stressed, losing money, has no personal life, and argues and fights regularly, the business isn’t a success. To combat this, introduce the simple aspects first, such as the base needs— time at work, profit motivation and creative needs—then fold in higher-level needs— delivering innovative therapy, community involvement and family development.

It equally is important to know the signs of both success and failure before they become systemic problems or copied as rote— success can lull us into failure if we don’t change or introduce new products, services and staff rotation. Remember, there always will be another competitor around the corner looking to take over your client database and staff.

By participating in this esthetics field, the owner/operator is compelled to address the perceptions and realities of competing staff and client needs. If the staff is empowered to provide the best service and skill, both sets of “centric” needs would mesh well and go a long way to meeting the defined success of the owner. Utopia it won’t be; but, what it will be is a fulfilling and profitable experience for owners, managers, staff and clients.

Lorne Caplan has more than five years of expertise building, managing and developing spas, medical spas, anti-aging practices and related products and services. As a former owner and operator of the 14, 000 - square - foot Danielle Spa/Aevium Institute, and adviser to SpaMedicus, Pure Laser and other entities, he has become privy to many of the pitfalls and opportunities that face new entrants or current competitors. He also has more than 10 years in additional experience in investment research and industry research.

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