Becoming A Spa Director: 10 Important Skills You Must Absolutely Master

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by Douglas Preston

The rapid development of new day and resort spas has made news in recent years. That news, as traditionally occurs in emerging growth industries, creates a corresponding demand for qualified employees to occupy key management and support positions within the facilities that were built to capture a hot market. Higher human resources demand can deplete the supply of available talent, and that scarcity of skilled employee candidates can force wages up and threaten service quality. Particularly hard to find has been the truly qualified spa director, that conductor of all moving parts within a busy and complicated resort or day spa. While many have or aspire to the title, few spa directors have found themselves solidly up to the task of successfully balancing the competing needs of spa owners, therapists, and the customers they serve. The director is host, cop, mom, confidante, punching bag, referee and superstar. The spa director is also subject to the praise, indifference, or the wrath of everyone they supervise or to whom they answer. The prestige and satisfaction available in this career is earned through the exposure to conditions and situations that contain a potential to negate many of the perceived benefits. To the wise in that dream of becoming a spa director, I offer this important advice; learn before you leap!

Spa Management Tool Belt
To head up a busy day or resort spa you'll need to research what skills and talents will be needed to successfully pilot the business. Expect to have a strong grasp of organization, multi-tasking and priorities, financial comprehension, operating budgets, personnel recruitment, training, and performance management. You'll need a solid background in retail sales and customer service, as well as skill in conflict resolution, communication, and team motivation. The truly valuable spa director knows how to balance the competing interests of both employees and owners, not to mention your personal agenda. Everyone expects action on the spot, whether it's improvement in treatment room occupancy or a more absorbent cotton pad; it's up to the director to handle these demands expediently and in order of importance. You will also need some effective marketing tricks, negotiating skills, and an eye for the kind of detail that savvy customers are keenly aware of: things like consistently friendly concierge greetings, clean bathrooms, robes that fit, and quick answers for questions that may have little or nothing to do with their service program during their visit. The concierge team at my former spa arranged dinner reservations, recommended hotels, fetched flowers for special events—one even shed her pantyhose for a frantic customer that, late for an important meeting, discovered a massive run in her own. Extreme I know, but the point is that something positive was done, and this odd but interesting story circulated for years after the fact. Great directors create great problem solvers throughout the company.

Next, you'll want to inventory your own stock of talents and experience to see where you might need some additional training that your spa director career may expect from you. Know how to read a profit and loss statement? Have you ever worked with a sophisticated computerized point-of-sale program? Can you manage a service team equipped with professional credentials that you don't have? As spa owners increasingly awake from the slumber of idealism to face a profit-challenged business, they're going to expect you, the polished director, to possess a few solutions for their problems. But do you know what these problems are and how to solve them? Gone are the days when a spa director could simply direct a spa! You now must serve as a surrogate for the spa owner that wanted to simply OWN a spa —not to have to deal with an ever-evolving headache, courtesy of operations and employees. You'll be sent directly to the front where the opposition will be waiting for you.

If you find yourself coming up a little short in direct experience or tricks of the trade, you can find training programs that can help you to prepare for the director role. Select your education from a company that has working experience in spa management and a solid reputation for quality training programs; you can find them.

So what are the most desirable skills sought in the highly effective spa director? Employers and candidates will note the following in my list of "absolutes" whether your goal is to become a valuable spa director or to recruit one.

1. Personal and professional fortitude
You are emotionally mature and level-headed, have reasonable but inviolable boundaries, and can deal with the volatility of customers, supervisors and employees. Empathy is always tempered by an insistence that employees fulfill the responsibilities they accepted with their jobs.

2. You're a recruiting and hiring genius
A massively important skill at any spa, but particularly critical where competition for qualified spa employees—or a shortage of them—is characteristic of your labor market, such as in resort areas. A spa technician may be great with their hands but how do they rate when reliability, stability, cooperation, and flexibility under difficult circumstances is measured? The savvy spa director will be equipped to look beneath the gloss of the résumé to sniff out clues for behavioral traits that only reveal themselves on-the-job. That's too late. Directors are often under pressure to fill vacant spa positions at the cost of having enough time to make prudent personnel selections. You'll need to do both.

3. O-R-G-A-N-I-Z-A-T-I-O-N!
All of your ducks in a nice, neat row. You know where your files are, you maintain precise records, and everything is up-to-date and in its proper place. A sloppy spa director is a time and money waster, and given to making excuses for poor execution of duties. There is simply too much information and too many details in this position for someone that can't maintain an orderly desk. This is a great job for the Virgo with an expressive personality!

4. A serene but expedient crisis manager
Oh the fire you will feel! Incorrectly scheduled customers, emotional employee breakdowns, personnel shortages when a VIP spa group is slated for the day, clogged and cascading toilets—are you ready for this? Think of an Olympic skater in the final round whose butt hits the ice on a critical jump—they get up and finish the segment smiling despite the humiliation. Expect to be publicly chewed-out, expect having to correct a careless employee for the tenth time, and to face resignations without notice.

5. You're a great salesperson!
Spa packages, retail products, a new compensation plan, the denial of a vacation when an employee wants one—you're able to sell it all, convincingly. In the spa business sales is as important as service delivery, maybe more so, since sales is money and money sustains the spa. You have to find a way to move slow products, fill vacant appointment slots, and convince a job candidate to work (happily) for less than their dream scale. And, by the way, if you're competing for a spa director position, be sure to emphasize your sales skills on the résumé and during your interview. You'll be a leg up on other candidates if you do!

6. Expense management
Spas are costly beasts to operate and the line between profit and loss is razor thin. Tiny, seemingly insignificant things like an extra push on the cleanser bottle pump, or a few extra soiled towels in a treatment room, add up to a river of overhead in time. These small leaks in company cash can be found almost anywhere in the spa's operations. Make the evaluation of your company efficiencies a quarterly obligation. Your employer will thank you for it.

7. Leadership
Can you inspire others to perform at the peak of their ability? Are you a consistent and exemplary model for professionalism and responsibility? Will your team meetings be inspiring, educational, and fully attended by employees? A great leader is simply someone others will follow even when the objective is one that runs contrary to an employee's comfort or confidence. Leaders earn the trust, respect, and compliance of others through their own admirable example. They   value fair play but are not easily manipulated. Impulsiveness or knee-jerk reactions have no place in the leader's role. You need to be a cool and accurate judge of people and events, never choosing sides in a dispute but remaining rational and in control. And you have a healthy but well managed ego that loves to work in the service of others. You're a first-rate and accessible communicator!

8. You're an over-the-horizon visionary
A great spa director has eyes and ears tuned into the latest trends of the industry. This is one fast-evolving market where's today's hot venue is tomorrow's old news. How will you keep the spa relevant and exciting in a crowd of competitors? Directors need to be education hungry—always reading, web browsing, and attending industry events to make sure the future doesn't sneak up and pass you by. Is your Neo-Classical spa décor appealing to the twenty-somethings that must now repopulate the ever-eroding ranks of customers? Is your new age music relaxing or even tolerable to them? Could ambient techno be the next soothing spa sound? That is correct, so open up to it or you'll fast become a relic of a bygone era!

9. You're a realist
You know what the job demands of you and what you can expect to earn doing it. No surprises or disappointments. The more valuable you make yourself to your company, the more your compensation can be elevated. If you're hired by a brand new spa you can virtually count on its owners discovering just how expensive it is to operate and your salary may be one of the first places they look to slim costs. There may even be some thought of replacing you or eliminating the position altogether. It's not uncommon, particularly when an owner/investor's own performance expectations have fallen far short of the dream. Make sure that you're seen as an asset and not a burden. If you have the ability to relocate for a director's spot, that's a +++!

10. You're not afraid of long hours and hard work
May be a bit succinct, however if you don't want to, or can't, handle this, you need to think carefully.


The talented and capable spa director is truly a hot commodity in this expanding professional market. For those among you that aspire to this career, be sure to stay in the loop of trade events, seminars, and professional associations so you'll be privy to the  best information and opportunities for your growth and development. "Spa Director" is a great profession for those that are well suited to its demands and nuances; just be sure to know this before the fact rather than after. Best of luck to you!

For more information on Preston, Inc., visit  www.prestoninc.net