The Case for Uniformity
The word “uniform” can conjure up images of police officers, firefighters, or military personnel, not necessarily an appearance that is consistent with the relaxation and escape represented by a spa visit. But if we take the word at its base definition, “uniform” means “consistent,” “equivalent,” and “homogenous,” which definitely do have a place in the spa industry. As consumers patronize more spas and look at service providers as trained professionals in personal care, the guest expectation regarding provider appearance has risen. Twenty years ago, when spa services began their rise to popularity in the U.S., most services were being performed in full-service salons, and staff members were often dressed accordingly, in the uniform of black or black-and-white personal clothing. Estheticians were always in white lab coats, while massage and bodycare staff typically wore a colored polo shirt and a pair of khakis. Then began the Asian influence, and the white lab coats gave way to tunics with mandarin collars or frog closures available in limited colors. In the ensuing years, as more hospitality companies have created spas, the array of uniform choices for spa staff has certainly reached a higher level of sophistication and wider selection of choices than ever before, which in itself becomes a challenge. It was easy to choose when the selection was limited, but now there are multiple companies manufacturing many style, fabric, and color options. The practice of outfitting your entire staff also engenders a whole host of questions. Should all staff members wear the same uniform? How many uniforms does each person get, and who pays for them? Who handles laundry and care? We spoke with both uniform creators and spa decision makers to hear today’s perspective on outfitting staff.
On the question of whether to have employees wear something uniform, most spa operators were in agreement that this is an important component of delivering top-quality customer service. “Clients seem to find it soothing, as a uniform helps them easily identify who to ask for help and establishes the therapists as professionals, hence making it easier to give them informed advice,” says Helen Brown, spa director at the Mayflower Spa at the Mayflower Inn & Spa (Washington, CT). Beverly Sosa, spa director at The Spa at La Costa at La Costa Resort & Spa (Carlsbad, CA), agrees, adding, “Our guests appreciate easily recognizing an employee instead of having to wonder who in fact works at La Costa.”
While most agree that uniforms are a necessity, there are many factors to consider, including style and color. “Ultimately, your uniform needs to represent your brand while performing as a uniform,” says Noel Asmar, owner of Noel Asmar Uniforms. As such, several angles should be considered, not least of which is the overall theme and vision of your spa. If your spa has an Asian theme, you’re in luck—there are plenty of uniform styles from which to choose. If your spa has a more clinical approach, you may be fine with traditional white lab coats for estheticians and white clothing or scrubs for massage and body therapists. A more sophisticated spa will likely want to project a polished image for the staff. Black is often chosen for its ability to conceal stains and the fact that it looks good on most people. But in a beautifully designed pale green and taupe holistic spa, black uniforms can look out of place. Instead, you might consider a color that complements the theme and decor for a more unified presentation. Asmar advises her clients to consider uniform style and color very carefully. “If your employees are cross-trained in multiple disciplines, it would be useful to have your staff in one style and one color,” she says. “This is also cost effective and an easier inventory to manage for the company. However, it is also charming to have departments in the same style but different colors, such as estheticians in white and massage therapists in navy or darker colors because of the oils and creams they work with.”
Another consideration? Deciding whether to outfit your staff from head-to-toe. While it has been common in the past for spas to supply a uniform top to be worn with the employee’s own pants, today we are seeing more spas outfit their staff from top to bottom, sometimes even including shoes. Tara Hitzig, strategic sales manager for Barco Uniforms, believes a complete uniform always looks cleaner, more professional, and more stylish. Asmar also recommends that employees be supplied with matching bottoms. “A uniform pant is made in a durable fabric and will be a color match to the rest of the uniform,” she says. “More importantly, it will ensure your staff is uniformly dressed and meets your brand standards.”
A Group Effort
Whatever choice you make, it is important to involve staff members at some point—after all, they’re going to have to wear whatever is chosen. It is important to find a uniform that employees feel comfortable in and that they can wear proudly. “Otherwise, it affects employee morale, and that has a big effect on customer service,” says Brown. “It’s always extremely challenging, but it’s well worth the effort to find the right look for all of the teams in your spa, as well as making sure that each uniform fits each individual correctly.”
Have staff members from various disciplines wear samples while performing services so that you can get valuable feedback on the comfort and fit before placing a big order. This was successful for Trish Mittelstadt, spa director at Nurture Spa and Salon at the Luxor (Las Vegas), whose spa recently underwent a uniform evaluation. “It makes sense to get employees to buy in on the decision and selection so they’re excited about the final result.”
It will be close to impossible to find a style or color that everyone agrees upon, so it might be easier to choose the color, then supply options in styling. What is most important to staff members is that they can work ergonomically and comfortably. Hitzig says that jackets with zippers or buttons and pockets and short sleeves tend to be ideal for estheticians. Pullover tops that are flexible and have a lot of movement with shorter sleeves work well for massage therapists. “The front desk likes to look more professional, so we may see them in long sleeve jackets or three-quarter sleeve tops with buckles and more designs and style,” she says. “Spa attendants can often be found wearing polo shirts or easy fitting pullover tops.” Nail technicians work with a lot of water, so something waterproof or with an apron can be very helpful to preserving their crisp look.
Uniform Care and Distribution
Certainly, outfitting your entire staff in uniforms can be a considerable expense, and planning should be done to ensure that money is spent efficiently. Hitzig, who was a spa director in a prior position, has the following advice when placing an order: “For a full-time employee, we recommend three tops and three bottoms, two at a minimum. For a part-time employee, you can usually go with one set, but if we give them a two-set supply, they do not have to wash the uniforms as often.” Drew Allt, owner of Drew Patrick Day Spa (Bayshore, NY), says all of his employees are provided with one uniform. “We pay for the first uniform and will share the cost of a second uniform,” he says. “Employees must arrive to work in an impeccable uniform, so many of our full-time employees purchase additional uniforms for themselves. Others simply do laundry more often.”
Larger spas, or those that are part of a hotel or resort, may also offer laundering onsite. At The Spa at La Costa, full-time employees are provided with three uniforms, and part-timers receive two. Sosa also encourages staff members to have their uniforms professionally cleaned with the resort’s contracted cleaners—all they have to do is bring the clothing to the uniform department. Brown says she factors fabric laundering and care requirements into uniform selection so that it is as easy as possible for the staff to look crisp and clean. “The Mayflower supplies new uniforms as needed, whether seasonally or simply based on wear,” she says. “We do not want to discourage staff from coming to ask for a new uniform if theirs needs replacement, as an impeccable appearance is so essential to the overall look of our spa.”
As the spa industry continues to grow and is identified with personal care and wellness, we will benefit by presenting a professional appearance to our clientele. “Our uniforms clearly define who is who, and I believe clients appreciate this,” says Allt. “When we have had evening events at the spa with therapists who were not in uniform, we noticed clients wandering around as if lost. When we have similar events with everyone dressed in their uniforms, we see clients clustered around staff listening or asking questions. It makes a big difference.”