For a salon owner, nurturing a fledgling spa component is like operating a second business. While there’s obvious overlap in the hair/skin arenas, there are certain differences any owner should note: While pop songs might fill the cutting floor, calming string music is a suitable choice for the treatment room. Constant chatter is omnipresent at the styling chair, but minimum small talk is the preference during massages or spa facials. And while a salon owner likely has a background in cutting hair, the popularity of adding a spa component to existing salons necessitates a strong skin care staff that, while under your lead, can provide knowledgeable skin care, and more importantly, efficiently operate as a self-supporting spa business with a life and purpose all its own.

Where to start? This planner will help you find the right estheticians, massage therapists and spa manager through effective interviews, training and more. So if you’re not happy with your current staff, or looking to add to it, we’ll point you in the right direction. People make the business, and here’s where to find yours.


Drawing a Blueprint

Though spa and salon owners alike bemoan the lack of qualified people or loyal employees, often the problem is not so much with the candidates, says spa consultant Douglas Preston of Preston Inc. It’s with the owners themselves.

Before rushing to judgment, consider this: “The main issue is the quality of the interview process,” explains Preston. “Most owners hire out of desperation, without any background checking or a thorough idea of what they’re looking for. It’s not until after they hire someone that they realize the person doesn’t meet their expectations for professionalism, which probably wasn’t well defined in the interview process.”

The lack of clearly defined expectations is compounded with fresh cosmetology graduates. “Someone just leaving school may not have a real understanding of what it will take to build a career in this profession. They don’t realize it will take six to eight years to build a clientele,” he says. If staffers aren’t aware of the specific standards of service and care required in your spa, and don’t realize the amount of time it takes to build their books, then they don’t have the tools they need to succeed.

At Canyon Ranch Spa in Lenox, Massachusetts, Charlene Boettcher’s job is to discern the candidates who will be able meet the high level of service that Canyon Ranch is known for. “They have to have both the technical background and service aptitude,” says the director of human resources. “Every single person has to have the personality and desire to care for their guests and fellow co-workers.”

To ensure each hire understands and meets these criteria, the interview process is thorough and detailed. For example, a massage therapist is first given a personality assessment to measure different strengths and help human resources professionals find the best fit. After a prescreening, the therapist has three auditions where
she demonstrates her skill on supervisors and
management, followed by at least one to
two conversations about customer aptitude.
Boettcher also presents them with a detailed job description, which she walks them through. And a background check and reference check are non-negotiable at Canyon Ranch.


Laying the Foundation

If you want to guarantee your staff will succeed at your spa, you need to outline what you define as ‘success,’ and the steps they can take to get there. For example, what is your specific retail goal per month for your estheticians? How are you helping them achieve that goal—through product education, incentives, merchandise displays, recommendation slips, scripted sales techniques and follow-up from the front desk upon client checkout?

But sometimes, even all the assistance and procedure outlines in the world aren’t going to make a born salesperson out of a confirmed introvert. Canyon Ranch’s personality assessment technique—one that’s gaining popularity in spas and other organizations worldwide—is making human resources guesswork a thing of the past.

The tool is called the Predictive Index, and it’s a two-page listing of adjectives where candidates choose the qualities that they think others want them to possess, as well as the ones they believe the actually do possess. Used in hiring since the 1950s, the set-up allows participants to reveal more of their true nature than a simple question-and-answer format.

For example, it may be most important for your front desk person to be flexible, a strong multitasker and a “people person.” Perhaps your massage therapist needs to be comfortable performing routines, staying on schedule and working independently. PI Worldwide (, the organization behind the Predictive Index, works with companies to build specific job models for each position that describe how work should be done—as opposed to job descriptions, which just list the tasks—as well as the behavior that kind of position requires.

Mike Stewart is a business consultant who administers the PI, and he says it’s a management tool that can be used not just in hiring, but throughout a person’s career for advancement, leadership and team-building activities.

“It’s a reliable way to understand what the employee is going to do and where she will excel. It’s a very accurate predictor of performance,” he says.

The PI can be useful to administer before the initial interview, as the results will help the interviewer prep for an effective interview. Canyon Ranch says it has helped them understand what each job entails and improve methods of communication in their organization, which has improved job performance and satisfaction.


Building a Frame

When you know what your positions require, what kind of candidate you’re looking for,
how to communicate your vision and implement the standards and benchmarks to help future employees achieve success, you’re ready to start filling in open positions. Canyon Ranch says they recruit from job boards, trade conferences, magazines, journals, word of mouth and schools. Though they usually look for someone with a few years of experience they will take someone just out of school for certain positions, says Boettcher. Either way, all hires undergo Canyon Ranch training.

Preston, himself a former spa owner, says the most valuable attributes in a candidate are not taught in schools. Any experienced salon or spa owner has probably heard the phrase, “Hire for attitude, and teach the rest.” That’s because good judgment, humor and the ability to work under pressure and be flexible are so critical in an environment where the schedule can change dramatically from day to day or hour to hour, explains Preston.

He recommends observing whether candidates make eye contact when speaking with you, if they smile and if they are enthusiastic. “Ask questions about character and preference,” he advises. “One of my favorite questions is, ‘Do you enjoy shopping?’ I immediately look for their facial expression, regardless of their answer. That tells you everything. People who don’t like to shop won’t like to sell, and they won’t get any satisfaction from other’s enjoyment of shopping. They will impose their dislike of shopping on the client, and that impedes sales.” On the other hand, a candidate who helps pick out outfits for all of her friends or is constantly giving style advice is the person you want on your team.

Preston also asks candidates if they do volunteer work. “It tells you if they are stingy with their time, if they will step up to the plate and be flexible and cover a shift. They are not clock watchers.” Perhaps the most important question of all, emphasizes Preston, is this: “Do you have a realistic understanding of how long it takes to make a reasonable living from your work?” One of the biggest reasons people leave their job, he says, is that they feel they aren’t making enough money. Commissions are
dependent on their clientele, and most spas do not provide a regular salary to fall back on. Judge if their expectations are too far fetched to be realistic for your spa and if they’re giving you qualitative answers, not just rehearsed “beauty pageant” responses.

And if they’re late for the interview? It signals a problem with responsibility and reliability, and Preston writes them off altogether. If that sounds too harsh, then you haven’t heard of the employee-management manual, “Hire Tough, Manage Easy.” (Mel Kleiman, Humetrics, Inc., 1999). The converse is also true: Hire easy, manage tough.


Filling in Brick...

Even if interview techniques and personality assessments yield the best possible staff for your spa, training is essential so that everyone at your spa shares your vision on services, customer service and overall experience for each and every client visit.

Explains Boettcher, “We train them to perform services our way, and we have customer service training to enhance those skills. We also offer additional certifications and leadership training.” Before any technician can work on a client, there is a “check-out” process where the technician will perform a service on a supervisor and prove that she has mastered the skill.

Training is especially critical not for just those who are straight-out-of-school, but also the staff members who’ve worked at other spas. Preston, who says he generally prefers to hire inexperienced members that he can train in the ways of his spa, explains that employees who are still stuck on a former product line or insisting on bringing in a system used at her old spa, are going to be “self-terminating.” “For some people, change is just not welcome. She’ll try to sneak in her old products to use in treatments or badger the owner to conform to her own way of doing things. Instead of trying to learn the new way, she’ll expend even more energy trying to bring back the old way.”

If you’re simply looking for independent contractors, that may be a different story. “By law, you can’t train them or tell them what to do,” asserts Preston. But for anyone building her own staff, putting a special emphasis on the reasoning behind your methods—including services, retail and scheduling and other policies—may help establish your ground rules.

To help any new staff member adjust to your spa, don’t underestimate the power of praise and recognition. Appreciation serves as encouragement for them to do their best. Continued training is also a must, and spa owners who have been burned by disloyal employees are making a big mistake if they attempt to protect themselves by forgoing training altogether. “Education is the number-one value you offer your staff,” says Preston. Some employers may have new hires sign contracts that obligate a trainee to pay back the value of his education if he chooses to leave, but Preston says these are rarely enforceable and questions their
efficacy: “You really can’t make someone pay for knowledge that you had to give them to do the job you hired them for.”

With the average esthetician only working 10-12 months at a spa before moving on, this may seem like an unfair burden on an owner, but Preston says to consider it a cost of doing business—much like printing up 1,000 fliers for a discounted service, only to have 10-12 of them actually redeemed.


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One of your most important hires will be your spa manager or director. It may also be your toughest, as a 2004 ISPA Industry Study reveals that many owners believe schools are not offering specific courses in this area and are therefore not graduating enough “businesspeople.” Your job is to provide the person you hire with the training and benchmarks so that she or he understands how your specific business works and the scenarios that will make it better.

A manager or director ensures that everything is running smoothly at the spa and that the guest experience is the best it can be. Staffing issues, event planning, developing new treatments and creating and meeting business goals all fall under the range of the spa manager at Canyon Ranch. As with regular staff members, clarifying your expectations of this position and providing concrete goals is a must. For example, your spa director can focus on helping you cut expenses, or reduce turnover.

Implementing consequences is a necessary method for a spa manager to effectively do his job. For example, says Preston, if you have certain retail expectations for your spa team, the director needs to let the staff know what will happen if they are not met. “Making less money is not a consequence,” says Preston. “In my spa, you were let go. But no one ever was actually let go, because they made their numbers.” (Though there were a couple of staff members who left voluntarily rather than be held to those standards.)

The job of the spa manager is to watch the team’s numbers and be able to step in and offer guidance before someone is in serious trouble. Ask how you can help them succeed and implement a plan that breaks down goals into manageable steps. “Just saying, ‘You need to get your numbers up in two weeks,’ isn’t going to do much,” notes Preston.

But having a manager doesn’t mean your job as owner is finished. “Owners are looking for someone to lower their workload, particularly things they don’t enjoy doing, but they really need to delegate, not abdicate,” adds Preston. That means resist putting too much control in your manager’s hands. Your job
entails working with that manager, constantly monitoring your manager to make sure she’s doing her job, but also to be able to take over everything she is doing in case she leaves.


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Boettcher recommends evaluating a new hire’s performance at the six-month mark, and then annually thereafter. But ongoing communication is key, so Canyon Ranch also has department meetings on a monthly basis and emphasizes open lines of communication between staff and management so that all members know what is expected of them and that they have full support behind them.

Full-time estheticians are typically scheduled from 28-32 hours per week and have input into the hours they work. Their compensation system is a “fee for service,” meaning they get a set fee for each service they perform, which is evaluated on an annual basis. Canyon Ranch also offers extensive employee benefits and employee recognition and reward programs.

What you can pay in your own spa will vary, although it’s important to institute a structure where employees feel rewarded the more they learn and grow. An open door policy will also let employees voice their concerns and feel a valued part of the team.

As for yourself? It might pay to invest in management education in recruiting, hiring and leadership to ensure the longevity of your spa.

Staffing your spa is a lot of work, but when you find the right people, you know your spa has its best chance of success. And the last thing you need to do? Throw your doors wide open and invite your clients to experience all that your spa and its professionals have to offer.




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