Optimize Spa Operations and Massage Therapy Services, by Janice Gronvold, MASSAGE Magazine

Massage is the most requested treatment at spas, according to Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, a national membership association for massage therapy and bodywork professionals licensed in the U.S. In fact, within the last two decades, massage therapy in the United States has become mainstream, increasing the demand for qualified massage therapists in a wide array of spa settings, including day, resort, hotel, cruise line, medical, hospital, lifestyle real estate communities and brand-specific enterprises.

The opportunities for massage therapists will continue to grow, and according to the 2006-2007 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for massage therapists will increase 18 to 26 percent from 2004 to 2014.

Supporting this growth will be developments for more schools and organizations dedicated to the advancement of the profession, as well as employers who recognize the need to staff their spa projects with qualified individuals. Establishing national industry standards–-especially as the industry integrates more with the health-care profession, such as hospitals, sports facilities, physical therapy clinics and private practices-–will be essential.

Support and develop existing staff
Fundamental to the diverse settings in which massage therapists provide their services will be specific factors that contribute to operational optimization of service delivery. This begins with sound management practices that recognize employees as the most important assets of the business. Clear job descriptions, in-depth training, enhanced internal communications systems, ongoing review and refinements to operational procedures, competitive compensation packages and continual staff education with opportunities for advancement are paramount for any spa organization that seeks to develop and maintain a competitive edge.

The industry is dynamic with new products, equipment and technologies, and spa businesses need to stay current with these developments as well as the impact of globalization and multicultural influences in the therapeutic massage and healing arts professions. Conferences, alliance partnerships with educational organizations, visiting guest speakers, customer service, employee forums and retail sales training are just a few examples that can contribute to a high-performance business.

Many spa projects are developed around visual themes that may be attractive and successfully designed to create “an experience” for the client, yet compromise the business with weak operational flows, poor space allocation and ergonomically incorrect work areas. Massage therapists are exposed to diverse physical demands, and a selection of appropriate equipment with flexibility for different body types needs to be considered to ensure massage therapists are working safely without unnecessary strain. Operational flow from the customer and employee experience needs to be analyzed within a wide variety of scenarios in the preplanning stage to ensure the final interior design supports an efficient operation for service providers, with multitreatment room flexibility and a relaxing experience by design for guests.

Embrace a customer-centric approach
Consumer education is an important factor for the massage-therapy field, and spa businesses need to include informative facts in marketing initiatives for consumers to understand the therapeutic benefits from massage therapy. The Touch Therapy Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, the first center in the world devoted to the study of touch and its application to science and medicine, has sponsored various studies that identify the benefits of massage. These include reduced pain from migraines and arthritis; decreased glucose levels in patients with diabetes; greater attentiveness in children who have autism; improved circulation; heightened movement of lymph fluids; reduced blood pressure; increased oxygen; the release of “well-being” chemicals, such as endorphins; and faster healing of strained muscles and sprained ligaments. As the general population, including medical professionals, becomes more aware of the benefits of therapeutic massage, greater expectations will occur and more specializations will develop for massage therapists seeking to differentiate themselves.

Organizations sensitive to these trends will work closely with massage therapists to create signature massage treatment programs for diverse markets. For example, more spas are specializing in pain and stress management programs for oncology patients. At the California-based Greet the Day program-–partnered with Spa Gregorie’s and nine participating hospitals-–cancer patients receive a complimentary day of rejuvenation each month that can include a yoga class, mediation, relaxation techniques and a massage. These services have demonstrated a significant increase in well-being by participating patients and have helped decrease anxiety, nausea and fatigue while providing a supportive network. 

In 2006, the Greet the Day program expanded to offer a Chemo Comfort Touch program at five California Orange County infusion centers. These services are provided by massage therapists who have been certified in Greet the Day’s nationally accredited education program that prepares massage therapists, aestheticians, and health-care professionals with the knowledge and skills to provide clinically effective massage oncology massage for people in or
with a history of cancer treatment. For more information, visit www.greettheday.com/education.html.

Most individuals attracted to massage therapy and the healing arts are nurturing individuals with kinesthetic and emotional sensitivities to the other people. Successful spa-management professionals recognize these attributes and value the technical training required by massage therapists to provide a variety of bodywork modalities, but also their intuitive abilities and communication skills to identify issues a client may be experiencing. Challenges can occur when spa management does not differentiate between protocol-based spa treatments, such as wraps and scrubs, and the art and science of massage therapy with adequate time provided for an appropriate pretreatment consultation questionnaire process.

Experienced massage therapists seeking to expand their career into management are uniquely positioned to add additional value to an organization. Benefiting from their personal experience in the field, requirements for licensing, required training and the many modalities of specialization, they understand what motivates therapists and the elements that contribute to a positive work environment for employees and delivery of quality services to clients. An individual with hands-on experience as a massage therapist can help optimize communications, service selections, ongoing educational programs and operational planning between management and massage therapists, as well as other employees.

The importance of continuing education
As the spa industry, educational organizations, accreditation and regulatory standards for therapeutic massage evolve, there will likely be more educational and licensing levels established for clinical and nonclinical therapeutic massage services. Forward thinking organizations will stay current with these trends and invest in ongoing staff education programs and/or align with other educational organizations, committed to advancing the industry. These initiatives will contribute to a competitive edge when supported with sound management practices, integrated internal and external marketing communications programs, ongoing operational training and opportunities for education and advancement.

About the Author                                                                                                         

Janice Gronvold, Optimize Spa Operations and Massage Therapy Services, MASSAGE Magazine

Janice Gronvold is founder and director of Spectrec, a business development and marketing communications service specializing in the spa, resort, medical and hospitality arenas. Actively involved in continuing education, Gronvold serves as an instructor and advisor at the University of California, Irvine Extension, the pioneer of the first Spa and Hospitality Management certificate program on the West Coast, and the first and only fully-online certificate program of its kind in the U.S. Gronvold graduated from the Stuart Graduate School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the eBusiness Strategy Program at the University of Chicago. She received a master’s degree in marketing communications and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

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