The “one-size-fits-all” spa model no longer serves guests and spa therapists post-pandemic. As selfcare and paths to well-being have become paramount, today’s spa guests are demanding customized treatments that address their specific needs. At the same time, staffing has become the spa industry’s number one challenge as therapists are reluctant to return to work.
ISM has eliminated the traditional static spa menu in the 20 spas we manage and replaced it with customized massages and facials that meet guests’ personalized wellness needs. Our therapists feel empowered to use their unique skills, and love having the freedom to design a treatment experience that is unique and personal to that guest.
My Experience Starting as a Massage Therapist
Most spa therapists chose the healing arts because they are dedicated to serving others. When I went to school to become a massage therapist, I was interested in learning and practicing unique modalities that I found to be most effective. After massage therapy school, I took extensive training in a massage modality called Shiatsu. I also studied other modalities, including neuromuscular therapy and cranial sacral therapy.
As I started my career, I had two choices. I could go into a spa and have the security of the job in a spa, but at the cost of not being able to use all the tools in my toolbox. Although sometimes I may have been able to customize a signature massage, and pull in some of my expertise in Shiatsu or Reiki or Cranial Sacral, I was ultimately bound by what existed on the static menu of that spa facility.
My other alternative was to go into private practice: to rent a treatment room in a wellness center, chiropractic office, beauty salon, or day spa. Not only would I be responsible for purchasing a massage table and the linens, oils, and other products-I would have to wash all my laundry and invest in marketing. I needed to build a brand, set up a payment system, and negotiate with my bank on the merchant fees. Essentially, I needed to go into business for myself, which in my early 20s was a daunting proposition.
I chose to work in a large four diamond resort spa. This choice ultimately left me feeling unfulfilled. As an employee in a corporate environment, I yearned to have the flexibility, freedom, and control over both what I practiced on my guests and clients and the timing of when I worked. So, I pivoted and rented a treatment room in a beauty salon where I was able to craft a special space for myself and could focus on utilizing all of those modalities that were unique, that would not be found on a static treatment menu. I had the flexibility I craved, but was now accountable for rent, linens, marketing, doing the laundry, and providing all my own products. The dilemma massage therapists face today is the same I faced nearly two decades ago.
The Problem with Signature Treatments
Most resort spas develop signature treatments to pay homage to their region, with a focus on indigenous botanicals and therapies. Guests find exotic services on the menu-with standardized protocols and elaborate, choreographed ritualsthat align with that property’s brand identity and vision. Or they choose from specific treatments, or specific modalities like Shiatsu, Lomi Lomi, or Cranial Sacral. The challenge with this approach is twofold-once a spa director or spa consultant develops a specific signature treatment menu, it puts the therapist “in a box” while creating unique operational challenge for that location. These “off the shelf” types of treatments focus more on the property than the guest.
Staff training is also a significant challenge: spa directors must ponder, “How am I going to get all of my therapists trained on all the services of my menu, and at what cost?” Staffing is another biggie”If we do not train all the therapists on my signature treatments, I must employ a system to match a certain therapist trained with a particular treatment. My reservation system must facilitate that process, or management must train front desk and reservation staff on who does what (who can perform that specific modality and has the additional certifications and training) and who is available when.” This becomes a significant operational burden.
The Spa Staffing Conundrum
Let’s go back to the spa staffing conundrum. We have over 300,000 licensed massage therapists in the United States. The average massage therapist is a middle-aged female, often going into the profession potentially as a second career. For most, the application process to work at a resort spa is drawn out and daunting. They must apply and go through the channels of H.R. and the process typically takes weeks, if not months, from application to first day on the schedule making money for themselves and the spa.
According to Michael Tompkins, partner in Hutchinson Consulting, the staffing shortage has reached historic critical levels. Fifty percent of all massage therapy positions are currently unfilled! The reasons therapists are disgruntled include lack of true benefits, no insurance for part-time work, scheduling obligations vs. full control, lack of cohesion in wages, and an interview process that is too long. Tompkins recommends shortening the hiring process to less than 6 days total and interviewing on the spot with test-outs.
Technology Enables Staff Flexibility & Personalization
What became clear post-pandemic is that spa guests expect spa treatments to do more than feel good-they want them to improve their well-being. We see a need for the services we provide to not only be authentic and personalized, but to produce desired results that are individual to each guest. As in other industries, higher levels of customization, on-demand services, and the unforgiving power of public opinion will drive the future of spas.
When used smartly, technology frees up your spa workforce to focus more on optimizing the spa experience. This leads to higher levels of guest satisfaction and healthier performance metrics.
Shouldn’t the spa provide value by meeting guests based on their unique needs and preferences?
Instead of just having a signature massage or a signature facial on a spa menu, the needs and preferences of a guest define the spa experience. Pressure, style, area of focus, areas of pain, and then, based on their needs and preferences, then and only then, a provider is assigned to them. This is a provider who can match with their needs and preferences, and who is not bound by a generic and static menu.
In the future, leading technology companies will partner with the spa director to ease time-consuming administrative tasks and empower the spa director to rebuild their business by attracting the highest quality therapists and driving personalized guest experiences. Using next-generation technology beyond legacy spa software, including new apps and software-as-a-service (SaaS) programs, allows spas to develop a business model driven by entrepreneurial thinking and the flexibility to change with the demands of the time.
ISM’s Vice President of Operations Raye Vogler, who oversees many of the managed spas in our portfolio, is witnessing first-hand the benefits of a customized approach. “Getting rid of the static menu has allowed us to focus on the guest journey. Spa guests are happier, as well as the treatment providers. Our therapists have embraced it with open arms and feel very successful. We ripped up all the protocols and made it easier for our therapists and our guests to truly connect”.
Instead of the guest picking a deep tissue massage off a static menu, our staff is present to deliver what the guest really needs in that moment-to be the expert in that room. Maybe what that guest really needs is a combination of deep tissue, reflexology and Reiki all-in-one massage.
About: Ilana Alberico is an award-winning business visionary and serial entrepreneur. Her 20+ years in the spa industry spans from folding towels in a spa locker room, to the treatment room as a massage therapist, to the boardrooms of leading developers, owners, and hotel companies as a spa operations partner. Today, she leads a dynamic collection of wellness companies including boutique wellness design and spa management firm ISM Spa, luxury skin care line Privai, and Spa Space Chicago, a successful urban day spa. As CEO of ISM Spa, Ms. Alberico oversees a team of hundreds operating 20 full-service luxury spas across the US. Accolades for ISM include twice being named to Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies in the US, and recipient of the International Spa Association’s Innovate Award for Outstanding Leadership.
Article courtesy of Spa Executive.