Advice on time management, sales skills, professional appearance and handling downtime

To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Your Spa Career: Achieve, Progress, Succeed,” by Peggy Wynne Borgman, in the October 2012 issue. Article summary: Being a spa employee can bring a refreshing change of pace from working as an independent massage therapist. Many therapists prefer to focus on massage rather than the minutiae of managing a practice—and a spa job allows for that focus.

by Peggy Wynne Borgman

1. Time management. Many spas, particularly in the resort-and-hotel sector, schedule massages on the hour to maximize productivity. The 50-minute hour can be a challenge for some massage therapists.

Despite the importance of the experience flow, spas rarely require massage therapists to follow an exact treatment blueprint.

“Each therapist has different strengths and specialties,” says Lisa Starr, a spa consultant and former spa director in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “We want them to give the best treatment that they can, and that means giving them the opportunity to showcase their unique abilities.”

Supporting this is the trend of customization and personalization. Spas today are looking for therapists who do not want to repeat the same massage six times a day.

2. Sales skills. Spas depend on retail sales for about 20 to 30 percent of their total revenues. This means massage therapists will usually be asked to recommend home-care products to guests, ranging from accessories like heated wraps to consumables like analgesic gels, body butters and scrubs. Essential oils, bath salts and supplements may also be part of the offerings.

Good spas offer sales training, since this skill is new to many massage therapists. Working smarter, not harder, requires that you augment income from your hands-on work with income from home-care sales. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the spa’s retail offerings. Even finding a few favorites will ensure you can speak enthusiastically about the home-care collection. A good massage therapist can generate 10 percent or more of her total sales from retail.

3. Looks count. Professional image is emphasized a great deal in spas. Many spas require team members to wear uniforms and comply with specific grooming standards. When clients are paying top dollar for a treatment, they demand a polished, professional appearance from their massage therapist.

Many spas’ dress codes forbid visible tattoos or piercings other than through the ears. They may also have standards for men’s and women’s hair and the size and type of jewelry that can be worn.

4. Dealing with downtime. Another challenge for some massage therapists is how to deal with downtime. Spas receive many last-minute requests for appointments—and this trend has intensified during the recession.

Blanca Caballero, owner of AvantGard spa in San Carlos, California, relates to this experience. “One therapist wanted to be present only if she was booked and felt that she should be able to come and go as she pleased. She told me she did not want to sit around and waste her time waiting for the next massage.

“After a coaching session, she learned that in the spa world, schedules change constantly and therapists can start with a light schedule and leave with a full one,” Caballero continued. “For the spa to serve its clientele, we need therapists available, on-site, to accommodate these last- minute calls.”

5. Boundaries. Virtually every massage therapist will maintain a private practice of some sort even when employed by a busy spa. Yet, another crucial difference between life as an independent therapist and life as a spa employee is that the clients provided to you belong to the spa—period.

“Even someone who requests you is not your customer,” explains Caballero. “The spa may have spent $100 or more on marketing to get that client to come in. They’ve built a website, they run ads, they do everything they can to get that phone to ring. Your job as a massage therapist is to retain them for the business, and you benefit from that relationship as long as you’re an employee.”

Diverting a client from a spa employer to your private practice is highly unethical, even if your client initiates that conversation—which clients might do, often in an attempt to save money.

Peggy Wynne Borgman is president of Wynne Business Spa Academy (, an online school that specializes in management and employee training for the spa industry. She is also the owner of award-winning Preston Wynne Spa in Saratoga, California. She has won American Spa Magazine’s Professionals’ Choice Award three times for her work as a spa consultant.