Of the over 12,000 spas in the U.S., a full 70% of them are day spas, many of which are owned by therapists just like you, and countless other practitioners are offering their clients spa treatments as part of their massage practices. As a teacher of spa modality workshops for the past twelve years, I have watched as hundreds of LMTs have made the move into spa work. You would be amazed at the number of your colleagues who have been able to create a spa in the same room where they practice massage, with no additional plumbing or construction, and very little investment in the way of equipment.
Know Your Spa History
In order to round out your understanding of the spa therapies you will be performing for customers, you will want to have a fundamental knowledge of spa history. Spas, originally, were gathering places for all walks of society during the days of the Roman Empire. Spas in those ancient times included massage and exfoliation treatments, exercise chambers, musical performances, poetry readings, political debates, and always a fresh spring source for hot and cold-water therapies.
Roman citizens used on average 300 gallons of water per day each! The average modern American, by comparison, uses 75 gallons. Water, in fact, was the inspiration for the word SPA.
As legend has it, Emperor Nero claimed that Rome had achieved “Sanitas per aquas” (Latin for health through water), which lead to the acronym S.P.A. Also, perhaps, SPA may be an abbreviation of the Latin word Spagerre, which means to bubble up, like water in a fountain or spring. In any case, spas were originally linked with water sources, and they still are today, though many successful modern spas have been built far away from any natural spring.
Without doubt, the spa industry is thriving. In spite of downturns in 2001, spas have rebounded dramatically, especially the smaller day spas, which are being opened at a record pace. If you are considering opening a small spa or adding a spa component to an existing business, you have chosen the right time.
I would like to give you some encouragement if you are thinking about offering spa services to your clients because I truly believe that the work we do is some of the most uplifting and compassionate work in the world. When you offer spa services, you will increase your client base and bring in people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience your touch, thus expanding the scope of the work. It is a worthy goal. Think about add on services too. Al a carte “sides” can bolster your profits. Start the session off with a buffing exfoliation treatment or add on a spa foot wrap to compliment any body massage.
So, what will you need to get started? Just a few simple ingredients: 1.) spa products, 2.) basic supplies, 3.) a few pieces of equipment and 4.) some hands-on skill.
It is important to choose products that you feel good about putting on your clients’ skin. You may want to do some research regarding which company or product line best suits your own philosophy. It is best if you can actually touch the products before you choose which ones to buy. Try a sample out on a friend. Ask other therapists their opinions.
The main categories of products you’ll need to start offering spa services can include: exfoliants, body muds, seaweeds, clays, finishing products, herbs and essential oils. The following is a very brief explanation of each.
Exfoliants are used to scrub the dead skin cells from a client’s body, purifying and refining the surface. The word comes from the Latin, ex=take away, foliage=leaves. You are literally taking away the dead flaking leaves of skin, allowing for better absorption of therapeutic products and better elimination of bodily wastes. Typical exfoliation products used are Dead Sea Salts, micro-buff beads made from jojoba, and finely ground nutshells.
Muds are used to purify, and though several types of muds are used in spas. Muds are traditionally used for body wraps, also know as body masks and body packs, and are used in top spas to aid in detoxification, remineralization, and rejuvenation of the skin and entire body. They are especially effective when combined with massage and hydrotherapy.
Clays can be drying and drawing or moisturizing and nourishing, depending on their origin. Drawing clays not only soften the skin and release tension around joints, but they can also absorb internal toxic materials.
Seaweeds are great for remineralizing the skin and entire body. Several types are used in spas, and some of the best products use a combination of these for heightened effectiveness. It is common to find seaweeds used in muds or pastes to perform body wraps and masks to treat cellulite.
Finishing products can be either massage oils, creams, lotions or body butters. They are used to lock in moisture after exfoliation and body wraps and to therapeutically enhance post-treatment massage.
Herbs are used to detoxify the body, calm the nervous system and nourish the skin. They are most frequently used in body wraps and immersion baths. The reason for the wrap is to seal the substances placed underneath as well as to promote heat, which increases circulation and product absorption. Additionally, the resulting perspiration causes the body to eliminate toxins.
Essential oils are key to spa services because they add a powerful therapeutic factor to every treatment. Many essential oil blends have been formulated specifically to enhance the effects of spa therapies. With a change of oils, you can change the results of a treatment.
Retail products are very important to the increased success of your practice. You want to be able to confidently recommend that your clients purchase the home-care version of the spa products you use. How many times have you given away little sample jars of your massage cream to a client in need? How often have you “sold” a bottle of therapeutic massage oil at the same price you purchased it for? Yes, we therapists like to help, help, help. The great thing about spa products is that we can help our clients continue the benefits of their treatment and take a more active role in maintaining their skin’s health.
The basic supplies you need to perform spa treatments in a “dry room” (a room without plumbing) are sheets, towels, plastic wrap, some loofahs, a queen or full-sized blanket, and a “space blanket” (also known as a thermal blanket) which comes in handy for keeping clients extra-insulated while wrapped, and it also protects your table from moisture and products.
You should also purchase a small to medium sized insulated cooler, which you will use to keep products and towels warm.
The one substantial piece of equipment you will need to offer spa services is a heating unit. This can be either a roaster (there are models made exclusively for the spa industry now by Nesco), a hot towel cabbie or a hydrocollator. In order to perform herbal wraps effectively, a hydrocollator is recommended. And, of course, you will need a treatment table. If you have the money to invest, a good choice is a multi-purpose table that you can tilt up for face treatments or use flat for wraps or massage.
In your quest to introduce spa offerings into your practice, you will receive a lot of information from multiple sources. It is up to you to synthesize all of this information into the unique offering that is your practice. Spa services can benefit you and your clients in many ways.
Benefits to You & Your Practice:
Spa services can dramatically increase your income potential, especially if you take spa retailing seriously. Adding a simple foot mud treatment with a retail sell through can increase you profit on one treatment by $40.
Less stress on your body and your hands. With the exception of cellulite treatments, most spa services do not require as much pressure as massage treatments.
An opportunity for a new marketing push when you introduce new services. Think about the possibilities for promotion. Create seasonal menu ideas or bring new customers in with free add on offers.
An opportunity to revamp the image of your studio/office/clinic. The word “spa” invokes the idea of a more upscale environment and can give you the opportunity to rework your image, not to mention your menu prices.
Benefits to Your Clients:
Added therapeutic benefits of powerful spa products from around the world. Your choices are surprisingly unlimited. The healing and beautifying secrets of exotic regions are readily available. Seaweeds from the Brittany coast, Shea products from Africa, Clays from Provence and Muds from deep within the Baltic region.
Convenience. Clients will love the fact that they will not have to make separate trips to the spa for their spa services because they can receive them from you.
Privacy. Some clients might never receive spa treatments at all because they do not feel comfortable in the public setting of a spa.
Value. You may be able to offer more attractive pricing because you do not have the high overhead of a full-scale spa. With a small decorating budget, you can bring the spa atmosphere into your therapy area. Small touches like shoji screens, a small fountain and glowing aroma candles can begin the transformation.
In order to have integrity in your new spa venture, you will want to know about proper protocols, sanitation, contraindications, therapeutic benefits, and step-by-step procedures. To start, you can get basic techniques and steps from manufacturer’s procedure brochures and from books on the subject, but hands on is the way to learn in this industry.
This is where the fun part comes in! When you sign up for an educational spa workshop or course, you will learn these hands-on details through personal experience. During a 2-day spa workshop, for example, you will receive five or six spa treatments, plus
continuing education hours, plus the know-how you will need to provide treatments to your clients, all for far less than it would cost to go to a spa for the weekend. More and more massage schools are offering spa classes as part of their curriculum or CEU offerings, and several qualified instructors lead workshops across the country.
Offering spa services makes sense for a large percentage of therapists, even those who primarily consider themselves clinicians. There is no reason why you cannot make a spa service a healing service. The prejudice some people have against spa services as being superficial “fluffing and buffing” is a result of insufficient information and a media focus on “new” and “exotic” treatments, which are mostly just hype. Spa treatments are actually “old” and “fundamental” to our health, incorporating elements of hydrotherapy, massage, exercise and nutrition. Spa ingredients can heal. The body can be nourished through these services. You can use your intention, your skill, your energy and your enthusiasm to make the spa modalities you offer truly beneficial to your clients
It is my belief that we as therapists owe it to our clients to present a therapeutic alternative to the sometimes-shallow spa offerings out there. And we owe it to ourselves to benefit by the popularity of these services because we are, after all, the ones most qualified to offer them. And I hope to meet you somewhere along the road while you are making it happen.
About Steve Capellini
Steve Capellini has been working in the spa industry since 1983, first as a massage therapist, then as a trainer, supervisor, consultant and writer. Travel & Leisure magazine called him “the best massage therapist in the U.S.,” and SELF magazine ranked him in the top 30.
He received a James Michener fellowship for writers and has published dozens of articles and 3 books: The Royal Treatment: How You Can Take Home the Pleasures of the Great Luxury Spas, Massage Therapy Career Guide, and Massage for Dummies. Currently, he is working on a new book, Spa Therapy, a text for training massage therapists and other who are seeking to build careers in the spa industry.
As a media spokesperson and spa expert, his services have been used by Lands’ End, Glade, the California Avocado Commission, and Unilever. He has a good deal of experience with all media formats, including radio, print, and television interviews, live presentations at press events, and satellite media tours. He has appeared on the CBS Morning Show and dozens of other programs around the country.
As a spa consultant, he was recently in charge of developing the spa program for the Pritikin Longevity Center in Aventura, Florida. Currently he is working with Biotone developing and teaching the training program for their new line of spa products. Also, he’s creating a 200-hour Spa curriculum for the East West College in Portland, OR. He teaches spa workshops around the U.S. and Canada for massage therapists and entrepreneurs interested in capitalizing on the booming spa market.
He lives in Miami, FL with his wife and two sons.