Square Pegs in Round Spa Holes

Here is the problem as I see it: it is twofold, but it begins with training. At most aesthetic academies, skin care is taught solely from a European perspective.
08/16/2012 12:52 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2012

I just read an interesting article in one of the leading hotel industry papers. The editor, who happens to be a major spa aficionado, was bemoaning the fact that despite the development of more spectacular retail space and extended product ranges, including candles and apparel at hotel spas, there is a lack of focus on the client/therapist experience with regard to sales. She illustrated the problem with her recent experiences at a number of five-star hotels in the Middle East in which she received very robotic facials with no recommendations afterwards by the therapists for home care. Her colleague, the co-owner of a popular boutique spa oil brand and world renowned expert on essential oils, admitted to experiencing the same problem worldwide. However she suggested that since the majority of treatments purchased at hotel spas are based around the body, i.e. scrubs and massages, the solution was for management to focus on making body product sales the priority. In other words cater to the comfort zone of the therapists rather than the other way around.

Well, I thought, clearly this is not the solution but how interesting. She wants to squeeze a square peg into a round spa hole.

Here is the problem as I see it: it is twofold, but it begins with training. At most aesthetic academies, skin care is taught solely from a European perspective. Everything, from which products to use on different skin types to the facial measurements employed for an eyebrow waxing, is viewed from the standpoint of working on a white client. This means that overseas therapists excluding those in Europe are never taught to work on their own skin. This also means that the therapists in the U.S. are severely handicapped in their ability to cater to a diverse clientele. However, in the case of rapidly growing markets like the Middle East which builds much of their tourism around their spa trade it means that the therapists will be robotic, uncertain and uninspired. Why? Because inherent in their training is the message that their own skin care is a non-issue and not worthy of understanding. So how can they be expected to be excited for someone else's? I cannot for the life of me grasp how it is possible for a global industry to ignore 80 percent of the world's population in their training curriculum.

The second half of the problem is the inability of the therapists to confidently engage with the client. Engagement is the foundation of sales and stellar customer service. More than likely any five-star experiences you've had has involved a high level of staff engagement. The majority of therapists, particularly estheticians, tend to be introverts (this is not hard to figure out). Who but an introvert would choose to work one on one in a dark quiet environment? Sales training would be extremely helpful because it would help them to interact with more confidence but unfortunately it is rarely provided to therapists and it should be. Most managers seem to believe that "retail training" i.e. learning the properties of a product, is the same as "sales training" when in fact it is worlds apart.

In the U.S. where therapists may have difficulty in engaging with ethnic clients anyway for a variety of societal reasons too numerous to mention, the inadequate curriculum training they receive and lack of sales training creates a handicap that impedes the spa industry from moving forward to embrace the new emerging demographic.

Language issues notwithstanding, it is a bit of a stretch to expect engagement from therapists if they feel insecure about their skill sets. Proper training is fundamental to building confidence.
GCI Magazine, a beauty business resource, reports that by 2014 sales of beauty products around the world will reach $91 billion in sales. Imagine the revenue potential to the spa industry if the other 80 percent of the world was taken into account. It would be mind-boggling.

Linda Harding-Bond is President of Moontide Consulting specializing in ethnic skin training and retail sales with a global perspective.