Spa owners and managers from across the country speak out about what’s boosting their business, from client greetings and effective advertising to the best web tools and more.
In today’s economy, many businesses are struggling. But skin care centers, esthetic offices and spas may suffer more, because facials, body scrubs and manicures are just not budget essentials like food, gas and shelter (though many of us would beg to differ). Add the double whammy of summer when vacations and long weekends interrupt many clients’ established beauty regimens, and you’ve got a surefire recipe for empty books and dwindling revenues.
Fortunately, when times get tough, spa professionals get going—sharing, learning and coming together to help strengthen their businesses and the industry as a whole. Why else would these beauty vets be spilling their secrets? Here are 20 top tips from successful spa professionals who’ve managed to cut costs, gain new clients, and increase referrals and retail sales, and look great while doing it. You can, too. Here’s to a summer of full treatment rooms and booked massage beds.
building your brand
Be known as unique. “Before I bought a spa,” says Susie Galvez, the former owner of Face Works Day Spa in Richmond, Virginia, and now founder of her own skin care line, “I went undercover to find out what everyone else was doing.” That is, she visited the spas in her area to research her own options. To differentiate her business from the established ones, she carried product lines that no one else did and developed services that no one else offered. “When you’re unique, clients think you have the latest and greatest.” If it’s too difficult to offer specialized treatments, she suggests you create a seasonal service menu that is available two to four times per year. “Make it relevant and make it fun, like a facial smoothie.” Your special services don’t have to be gimmicky: For example, chocolate body treatments might be trendy, but says Galvez, the antioxidants in cocoa are actually great for the skin. Even after you’ve set yourself apart, keep innovating. Your long-term clients will look forward to experiencing something new every now and again.
Market yourself as the expert you are. Don’t be afraid to market yourself as you want to be known, says Galvez. If you want to be known for great anti-aging treatments, write a press release on your offerings and send it to local media. If reflexology massage is your thing, teach a class at a community event. Over time, you’ll become the “go-to” person for these services. If you have no specific area of interest, Galvez recommends you put “beauty expert” on your business card. “But you can only do that if that’s what you truly are!”
Incorporate small touches as your “signature.” Every spa believes they offer great customer service. But what’s going to make a client really remember you and come back? It’s the small things, say our experts, like warm and friendly service. Hot towel service on the neck during nail treatments. Personal phone calls to confirm appointments. And at Sunshrine Day Spa and Salon in Lakefield, Ontario, one special touch that clients never forget—the spa’s signature homemade raspberry lemonade. It may seem minor, but “everyone who tries it remembers it,” says owner Tammy Blair.
Be top of the (virtual) heap. If you’ve ever Googled something on the web, you know that the simplest search can yield thousands of results. How do you ensure that clients searching for spas in your area will find you? The answer, as Roxanne Vbinden, owner of Cielo Spa Boutique in Santa Barbara, California, discovered, is to hire an internet web optimizer. “If your spa is 10 pages back in search results, no one is going to find you,” says Vbinden. “Our goal was to have our website show up within the first few results.” Web optimizers work by sifting through key search words within your industry and attaching certain phrases to your website so it shows up in more search results, and higher up the list. Vbinden found her web-optimizer professional though an ad in a local publication and says that, within two weeks, “we had 10 new clients who said they found us on the web. One found us when she was searching for eyelash tinting, and said that we didn’t show up in her search just a month ago. So I know that it is working for us.”
management and operations
Open communication lines with your staff. Nicole Grossi, owner of Spa Ni’joli + Salon in Methuen, Massachusetts, says great customer service starts with consistency. When staff know the steps to take in any given situation—whether booking an appointment over the phone, handling an unhappy client or fulfilling a special request––they can do their jobs with more confidence and clients will sense they are being taken care of. But how to get your staff on the same page? “That is the hardest thing to manage,” admits Grossi. But she and her staff of 41 have found biweekly team meetings are a big help. There, they discuss service and retail goals, resolve any staff issues and together contribute to building a better spa. “We’ve found that keeping the lines of communication open has greatly improved our working environment,” says Grossi, “and this helped grow our sales.”
Rethink your cancellation policy. Like many spa owners, Maryling Yu of Pavia Day Spa in Saratoga, California, was at a loss about how to enforce a cancellation policy that was fair to both clients and staff. Clients became upset when they were charged for missed appointments, but her service providers were also frustrated when they lost income. “It seems like goodwill is lost, no matter what,” she thought.
Finally, she came up with a solution that she shared via newsletter with 2,300 clients and asked for their feedback. Her new plan? “Basically, it goes like this: As a spa, we want repeat business. That means we’re interested in a long-term relationship with our clients, not just one-night stands. So if ‘life’ happens to them, then we want to be understanding of that fact. We will charge a 50-percent cancellation fee, but we will then allow the client to use 100 percent of that fee towards their next service, so long as it occurs within three months of the original appointment that was canceled. This way, the client doesn’t ‘lose’ the value of their money. They will simply have pre-paid for part of their next appointment.
“That preserves their goodwill, and meanwhile, it also ensures that they will, indeed, come back—if they want to use up their credit on file.” According to Yu, client feedback has been very positive.
Green practices bring greenbacks. Many spa owners have embraced eco-friendly practices as being in line with the mission of their spa. Cheryl Currao, owner of Bella Vita Salon & Day Spa, in North Andover, Massachusetts is one of them. “We have set up an in-house recycling center where our clients can return old bottles and jars from products they have purchased here and, for each one they bring back, we reward them with a discount towards their next retail purchase.” Not only do clients respect Bella Vita’s goal, but they appreciate their rewards as well—and take full advantage. The spa’s assistants created the program, and they take all the old bottles to the town recycling center, making it a win-win program for owners and the Earth alike.
Be upfront with staff about your retailing expectations. If you expect your estheticians to sell as much as they service, let them know their goals. Lysa Kustek, owner of Le Petite Retreat in Los Angeles, California, says, “We tell our estheticians that 50 percent of their job is to promote product.” Think it won’t work? Kustek claims an average retail on a facial in her spa is $100. And the spa’s facials run $100-$150, so that’s nearly a 1 to 1 retail to service ratio. Kustek says it helps that they carry only a private label line, which is used in all their treatments and promoted in the spa and on their website. “It’s great, because you can only get it from us.” And when her staffers have clear instructions on retail goals, they’ll start aiming high from the beginning.
Make booking a breeze. Rowena Yeager, owner of Studio Wish, in Streetsboro, Ohio, offers eyebrow shaping and hair removal services to her clients—services that require particular maintenance schedules. Fortunately her software, Harms Milennium, makes it a snap for clients to book their next visit. At the front desk, a scheduling screen pops up automatically upon client check-out. “A coordinator always remembers to book the next appointment, and the system makes it easy for them to scan weeks ahead, or search by the type of service the client is looking for,” says Yeager. Even easier: Clients can book their own appointments online, cutting down on the need for front-desk staff, back-ups at the checkout desk, and ringing phones. “We have our clients’ e-mail addresses and we give each person a password to book on our website,” explains Yeager. “They just search for availability, check the time slot they prefer and click ‘Schedule.’ Their appointment immediately pops up on our screen, and they get an e-mail confirmation. Now, they can make an appointment any time—even at 1 a.m.!”