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
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
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
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
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
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
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