Once you have all this cool stuff in place, you'll need qualified people to use it properly. Cosmetology schools are the best places to find personnel trained to handle the equipment and products found in a day spa. Gullo has a foolproof method for mining the best and brightest: His staff teaches classes at the local cosmetology school. "That way, up-and-coming students know who we are and what we offer," he says.
Many states require personal-care workers (including spa owners themselves) to have at least a cosmetology license; others require practitioners to have a certain number of hours of specialized training and additional licensing. Check with your state board of cosmetology to find out about the requirements.
The staffers you'll need are: aestheticians, who do massages, facials, waxing and specialty services like hydro-therapy; massage therapists, whose services provide stress relief and relaxation; electrologists, who remove excess body hair; and manicurists, who provide manicure and pedicure services. Other professionals you may need on your team include a makeup artist, a hairstylist and a spa manager, as well as staff for the reception desk. Debbie Elliott, 49, of Debbie Elliott Salon and Day Spa in Portland, Maine, suggests cross-training employees to handle more than one job, as well as hiring unlicensed assistants to handle tasks like escorting guests, changing treatment wraps and mixing treatments. "That saves the licensed people for the actual services, which improves our productivity and helps make the spa profitable," she says. She expects her spa to bring in sales of $1.3 million in 2004.
When hiring, she recommends looking for friendly and polite people. Says Elliott, "Personality is more important than skill, because you can teach people what to do, but you can't give them a new personality."
Spreading the Word
Advertising is also crucial for a successful start-up. Because it's likely that some people in your market may never have considered visiting a spa or are unfamiliar with the services you offer, it's up to you to tell them about the spa's many benefits. Besides a Yellow Pages line ad, you may find a well-placed series of ads in the local newspaper or publication targeting upscale readers is an effective way to introduce the public to your services.
Once you hook your customers, make sure you provide the best level of service possible. Word-of-mouth advertising is crucial in this business and can mean the difference between many years of tidy profits or ignominious defeat. Meanwhile, a savvy way to cash in on good word-of-mouth is by instituting a referral program, which rewards clients for referring new customers. "Every start-up should have a referral program," says Gullo. "It's a soft expense that can lead to a lot of new business."
Elliott swears by gift certificates as a great source of new business, which added $180,000 to her bottom line in 2002."More often than not," she says, "clients first come to us because of a gift certificate."
As a spa owner, you need to keep up on trends, both in the spa industry and in business in general. To keep abreast of what's new, consider joining a professional trade association like The Day Spa Association (201-865-2065) or the International SPA Association (888-651-4772). You'll also find tons of information online that can help you do business better, faster and smarter.
Gullo also recommends getting a general business education at a traditional college. "Industry-specific education is valuable, but you need to know sound business principles, too," he says. "You need to have an understanding of what makes business work to make your business thrive."
- Aestheticians International Association Inc., (972) 226-2309
- American Electrology Association, (877) 746-9723, (203) 374-6667
- American Massage Therapy Association, (847) 864-0123
- International Medical Spa Association, (201) 865-2065
- The Spa Association, (970) 207-4293
- SpaElegance.Com, (877) 200-SPAS
- Spa Massage Alliance, (800) 872-1282
- American Spa, (212) 951-6637
- DAYSPA magazine, (800) 624-4196, (818) 782-2913
- Massage Magazine, (800) 533-4263
- ComeAgain spa software, (713) 952-5600, ext. 8
- New Wave Salon/Spa Software, (888) 260-8181
- SpaBiz, (800) 632-5527
- The Spa/Salon Manager, (800) 682-2998
- Salon Equipment International Inc., (877) 461-2972
- SalonFurniture.com, (860) 399-2222
- Takara Belmont, (212) 541-6660
- American Spa and Skin Care Congress, (800) 427-2420
- American Spa Expo, (800) 427-2420, (218) 723-9130
- International Congress of Esthetics, (972) 226-2309
- International Esthetics, Cosmetics & Spa Conference, (800) 624-3248, (805) 995-2989
- International Salon & Spa Exposition, (800) 468-2274
- MedicalspA Conference & Expo, (877) ALL-SPAS
- Medical Spa Expo & Conference, (888) 267-3793
Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer and author who writes on business topics.