Woman receiving a massage.

The Spa-Massage Connection
By Melinda Minton

Whether you work at a spa or for yourself, it behooves you as a massage therapist to stay on top of spa-massage trends. For those of you in spas, read on to learn about add-ons to massage that can make bodywork sessions super-special. You self-employed therapists will find information here about adding spa services to your massage sessions.

From hot towels to hot rocks, back facials to body wraps, facial steams to steam tubes, therapists nationwide are upselling spa treatments, and adding spa therapies into their practices - and finding that doing so helps build a loyal clientele while taking some of the "work" out of bodywork.

Tara Edwards owns a small massage practice in Ostin, Vermont. About a year ago, her clients started requesting more spa-type services.

"I started to look around for options that weren’t expensive but would offer a hint of spa flavor," she said.

Edwards started with a simple towel warmer to offer clients a mini-facial steam with aromatherapy-infused towels at the beginning of each massage. The cost? $23 for a Crock-Pot, $5 for hand towels, and $20 for two bottles of essential oil. For less than $50 Edwards began her exploration of the spa world.

Clients at Belavi Day Spa in North Laguna Beach, California, are also treated to hot towels. Owner Belle Tuckerman, a massage therapist and paramedical esthetician, recommends doing a massage with hot towels for the exfoliating, moisturizing and body-polishing effects.

"Doing a massage with hot towels is magical," she says. "You can really do so much with the concept. You can use essential oils and apply hot towels to each section of the body before you massage it. I like to do a hot-oil scalp massage followed by a steamy towel wrap as a part of the massage."

Alan Share, owner and president of New Life Systems spa, salon and massage product company in Minnetonka, Minnesota, thinks it is wise for massage therapists to extend their practice to spa modalities, both for their businesses and for their bodies.

"Even if proper body mechanics are employed, doing hours of massage is hard on the body and can lead to a shortened career," says Share.

Spa treatments, he says, can be a massage therapist's saving grace - and a treat for clients who benefit from these luxurious offerings right in the comfort of their massage therapists' office.

woman getting a body wrap treatment"Body wraps are just a step beyond massage and are thoroughly enjoyed by customers," Share says. "Body wraps are such a hit because they are so therapeutic. They help to increase blood circulation, reduce swelling, nourish the system, eliminate toxins and much more."

What’s more, many body wraps don’t require a wet room or shower. New Life Systems, for instance, offers a seaweed body-wrap product that can be used on the face and removed with steamy hot towels.

"This body-wrap system can be performed in an hour, costs a few dollars in product used and can add $40 or more to a massage session," Share says.

Other items that are useful for performing body wraps include cotton sheets, a hot-towel cabinet, Mylar foil, plastic table sheeting, wool warming blankets and a loofah or natural-bristle brush for exfoliation.

If cost is a big concern, don't worry. Many of spa products can be found in your local shopping mall.

"There are so many things that you can do in a dry room," Tuckerman says. "[But] there seems to be this myth that doing spa services has to be expensive, with a lot of fancy equipment."

Instead of a hot cabinet ("cabi") for steamy towels, for example, towels can be warmed in a Crock-Pot. Instead of a mylar body-wrap sheet, go to any sports or outdoor store and purchase survival aluminum sheeting for $2-3. To protect your table, a neutral-color shower curtain can replace plastic table sheeting.

Mike Lapp, president and co-owner of cosmetics company in Littleton, Colorado, thinks that transforming a regular massage into something more "spaful" can be as simple as using a different product while doing the massage.

"We custom-blend aromas so you can have a signature fragrance that is unique to your business," says Lapp.

The company also offers antioxidant massage oil that includes therapeutic essential oils and vitamin E.

Add a back facial to your massage session.Marti Morenings, co-founder of Universal Companies spa-product supplier in Bristol, Virginia, started her company in part to help provide a resource for hard-to-find spa equipment and sundries. Universal Companies has grown over the years to be one of the industry’s leading sources of both typical and exotic spa offerings.

"There is so much that a massage therapist can do to dabble in spa treatments without spending a lot of capital," she adds. For example, she says, "with a $50 wet sheet, a massage table doubles as a wet table."

Other services that Morenings suggests therapists include in their massage practice are body buffs, wraps, clay packs and paraffin wraps.

The initial investment in a one good spa product could pay off in many ways. A simple paraffin tub, for example, can be used for a number of spa treatments. "You can coat the feet and hands in paraffin and let the client wear heated booties and gloves until the end of the massage," Tuckerman says. The client can also be painted in paraffin for an extra-nourishing body wrap.

Another easy spa treatment is a foot bath, Tuckerman says. "Get a big easy chair, an aromatherapy diffuser and put your clients’ feet in a pedi-bath to offer that extra luxurious perk," she says. And have fun: The choices for foot-bath treatments are limitless. Goat’s milk, essential oils, Epsom salts, rose water, rose petals, glycerin, alginates or peppermint can all add a special twist to a foot bath.

"Take a really grainy scrub and offer a thorough exfoliation. Follow up with ... a rich glycolic cream for extra softness," Tuckerman suggests.

A back facial, which involves steaming the back with hot towels, exfoliating the skin, application and removal of a "facial" concoction and then performing massage, is another spa treatment that is easy for massage therapists to incorporate into a practice.

"We use a honey-based lotion that is sticky," Tuckerman says. "Using reverse percussion movements during the massage portion of the treatment makes for a very tactile touch. The movement of the fingers sort of snap away from the skin for circulation and physical comfort."

The treatment ends with removal of the honey product with steamy towels. A misting with toner on the back and an application of moisturizer rounds out the service.

Woman receiving a stone massage.Another spa/massage offering, stone massage, has become very popular in the past three years. Massage therapist Sonia Alexandra, of Boca Raton, Florida, believes this is because the stones make massage more effective, relaxing and exotic.

"The variety of stones available make for hot and cold therapies to loosen up muscle tissue, aid in circulation and act in a variety of therapeutic modalities," she says. "There is such a variety of stone types and sizes that working with stones is really an extension of the therapist's imagination and skill set."

Steam It Up!
Massage therapist Jeff Roth, of Boulder, Colorado, recommends adding a steam unit to your massage practice.

"The single-person steam unit is only three feet in diameter and 65 pounds. It can be disassembled to be stored against a wall or in a closet. You can allow the client to steam before or after the massage," Roth says. "You can use it without having a wet room or shower. It’s just a great compliment to the basic massage."

Massage therapist Steve Scuddler, of Fort Collins, Colorado, purchased a steam canopy for personal use while in massage school. Then he realized he could augment his massage sessions with the canopy.

"The steam was so completely relaxing and the treatment created the opportunity for other health benefits, like detoxification. I was sold," Scuddler says.

Today Scuddler rents space in a salon/spa, and has a thriving practice. By adding the steam treatment before a massage or both before and after a massage, he has attracted a loyal clientele that would be hard-pressed to find a similar service elsewhere.

"I would say that on average I make an extra $25-35 by adding the steam, per treatment," Scuddler says. "The steam doesn’t really cost me anything and [having clients use it] gives my body a chance to rest in between massage clients."

Charlie Slater, owner of Spa Central in Minneapolis, Minnesota, agrees that steam is an easy spa perk to offer. If you want to start very small, Slater suggests a facial steamer.

"For $300 [initial layout for equipment] you can do herbal facial steams, mini facials or full-blown facials if your licensing allows it. Everyone enjoys the hydrating effects of steam," he says.

The Right Table
Purchasing the correct table for doing massage as well as for spa treatments is crucial. Slater advises that it is worth the extra money to get a really versatile table.

"Look for a table with adjustable arms and legs. Also having a tilt feature to elevate the client's upper torso is wonderful for doing facial services," he says.

Today, some massage tables feature a warmed surface, water-filled cushion, built-in foot-treatment tub, and hydraulic positioning that allows therapists to do spa treatments with ease.

One company just came out with a spa/massage table with built-in foot-treatment tub, for $5,000. This might seem like quite a lot to pay for a table, but you need to think long-term. Ask yourself: How long will the table last? Will you get more clients because of the additional perk? How much can you add to the cost of your services because of the additional feature? How flexible does this piece of equipment mixed with your skill set make the opportunities for future treatments?

Before purchasing equipment and supplies, sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm on the types of services that you can offer with that equipment. Write down the amount of money you feel that you can charge for the additional perk or treatment, to estimate the cost/profit ratio.

"It is best to have a treatment menu, business plan and a clear vision for the scope of your practice before purchasing equipment," Slater advises.

Maybe you're ready to incorporate some spa therapies into your regular massage practice. How do you learn these special treatments?

Accessing information about education about simple spa therapies is as close as a massage publication or the Internet. Training in stone massage, body wraps, uses for paraffin and other spa treatments is readily available throughout North America, at massage schools and through specialized programs.

Marketing Spa Services
Once you begin offering spa services, how do you let your clients know?

"Clients have the tendency to request Swedish massage because they understand what that is," says Ursula Longo, spa manager at the Givenchy Hotel and Spa in Palm Springs, California. "We have wonderful body treatments and we train our reception staff heavily in promoting them. When a client calls in for a regular massage, the staff is trained to suggest a body therapy like a body scrub or a body wrap. The receptionist explains the benefits of the treatment, how long the treatment lasts and what to expect. We have found that when clients know more about body treatments, they are less intimidated and much more apt to try something new."

"I do all sorts of things to let clients know that I also offer spa treatments," says massage therapist Alexandra Flavin, owner of Angel Touch Therapy massage business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "My answering machine mentions the spa treatments that I offer. My business card says 'Try one of our relaxing spa therapies.' When a client calls in for an appointment our reception staff asks if they would like a steam with their massage or maybe a salt glow. We have pictures of spa treatments being performed in our window display."

Angel Touch Therapy also mentions spa treatments in their yellow-pages ad and has a listing under "beauty" as well as under "massage" in the phone book.

Scuddler offers this: "I did some research in addition to the business schooling that I received in massage school. I also spent money on creating a logo that included the concept of steam treatments. I have business cards and a brochure on my services. Word of mouth and client referrals is also a powerful way to let potential clients know that you don’t just have a generic massage practice."

Getting a write-up in your local newspaper can also boost your bottom line. This option is much easier than you might imagine. Larry Oskin, owner of Marketing Solutions in Fairfax, Virginia, suggests hosting a charity event or soiree to create a story for the press.

"Getting written up by the press is as simple as getting their attention," he says. "Create a signature treatment that is truly unique or invite a reporter in for a spa treatment. Having pictures is also a great idea. If you can generate a press release to be sent seasonally to the press, that is also very helpful."

Marilee Houser, a massage therapist and owner of Relax day spa in Charleston, North Carolina, started integrating body-polish treatments as a regular part of her massage routine. The offering was so popular that she eventually opened her own day spa. Now Relax has a wet room and offers a variety of signature body treatments.

"When I had my one-person practice out of a small office, it occurred to me that my clients would enjoy a little more than just a 60-minute massage. The body-polish treatment gave me a leg up on the competition," Houser says.

Marketing for Houser was essential to the life of her business. The spa-marketing portion of her plan was almost accidental.

"I received a body polish at a spa and loved it. That experience gave me the initial idea to add the treatment to my regular massage practice. I let clients know when they were shopping around for a massage that it included a body polish.

"We also do body wraps, hydrotherapy treatments, clay packs and esthetics services, says Houser. "I am so thankful that I considered offering spa treatments right from the beginning."

No matter what your practice currently involves, you can add in a few, or several, spa services to your existing regimen. Once you've found the spa options that fit your clientele, skills set and personality, you’re set!

Melinda Minton, L.M.T., is an esthetician, cosmetologist and former spa owner. She currently works as a spa and salon consultant, E-business expert and free-lance writer. She calls Fort Collins, Colorado, home.