If the Shoe Fits

Q I've owned a day spa in Atlanta for the past few years. I'm looking to make a few changes and would like to start with the footwear I offer my guests. What should I consider when choosing new sandals or slippers for my spa? Also, what makes the most sense from a hygiene standpoint? And finally, how can I assure my germaphobic guests that their footwear has been sanitized?

A. To choose the best footwear for your spa, it is important to consider your spa's facilities. If your spa has few or no wet areas, then you may be able to use disposable slippers. However, if your spa has many wet features, reusable sandals will be the way to go, as they are ideal in a wet environment. If your answer to this conundrum is still not evident, let us examine some other factors that may come into play in your slipper selection.

 Havaianas, which can be found at several spas around the globe, are available in a variety of styles and colors.
Havaianas, which can be found at several spas around the globe, are available in a variety of styles and colors.

Determine What Fits Your Spa Best

The slippers you provide are one of your spa's most significant consumables in the guest experience. As with plasticware and flatware, there is an implied level of quality. You can simplify part of your decision-making process by determining whether your spa is inherently a plasticware or silverware environment. One business model is not superior to the other, but wearing disposable cloth slippers in a sauna or by a cold plunge pool may be awkward and uncomfortable. Conversely, acupressure reflexology spa sandals may seem out of place in a discount massage-only environment.

Fun accents and varied styles make Oka b. sandals a spa favorite.
Fun accents and varied styles make Oka b. sandals a spa favorite.

As your guests pass from the everyday world of traffic and deadlines into the locker room, they are slippered and robed as part of their initiation into your sanctuary. Not only should their attire enhance their journey through the spa but the entire process must be supportable operationally from a back-of-the-house perspective. In addition, the cost of acquisition and delivery must be addressed as part of your services' price points.

Consider Your Spa's Storage Space

First, there is the issue of storage. Disposable slippers are truly consumables, meaning you will need to have enough slippers in the right sizes on hand at all times. Minimum orders, frequency of delivery, storage space, and your spa's business volume are all factors that go into ascertaining the number and type of disposable slippers used. Needless to say, there is a direct correlation with the size of your locker room and on-site storage as well as off-site storage, if one exists.

Yeah Baby's Unisex Cloud 9 Spa Slipper (above) and Sensi's Maui sandals (below left) are both machine washable and easy to clean, sanitize, and dry, which can appeal to germaphobic clients.
Yeah Baby's Unisex Cloud 9 Spa Slipper (above) and Sensi's Maui sandals (below left) are both machine washable and easy to clean, sanitize, and dry, which can appeal to germaphobic clients.

Your spa's storage area must be large enough to meet its operational needs. Imagine that your locker room attendant has placed slippers and robes in all of the lockers for your anticipated morning appointments. At 11 A.M., a walk-in client with unusually large feet decides she needs a manicure and a pedicure. You, being the savvy spa owner that you are, have anticipated this scenario, and in the storage closet, directly adjacent to the locker room, you have stocked enough slippers to accommodate this client. So while she is filling out her paperwork, the locker room attendant is slipping those 13 EEs into the appropriate locker. After her treatment, either the client or the attendant will put the robes in the laundry and the slippers in the trash. In this situation, it may be helpful to clearly mark a receptacle for used towels and robes and another for used slippers. If your guests know that the slippers are being discarded, it will help reinforce the idea that the slippers are for one-time use.

Alternatively, if you elect to go the reusable slipper route, storage will still be an issue. However, the size of the storage area may be different due to the fact that your slippers are recycled. Your daily usage levels, delivery cycles, and minimum orders will all still play a factor in calculating your anticipated slipper volume and storage needs. In the reusable scenario, you will also need to create a way to "close the loop" and get the used slippers from the guests after they leave the spa and back to the area where they will be sanitized. This will most likely include a slipper drop in the locker room, which may or may not be part of the dirty towels and robes containers.

Resource Guide
Resource Guide

Many slipper sanitizers are approximately the size of a residential dishwasher. I have even seen circumstances where dishwashers were used as slipper sanitizers. In the sanitizing room, areas clearly marked for clean and used slippers are essential. Unlike linens, it is sometimes hard to tell if the slippers have been sanitized or not. Your clean slipper storage may also be your permanent short-term storage area. Remember that heat, water sources, drains, and noise considerations will all come under scrutiny when selecting where best to sanitize your slippers.

Address Clients' Hygiene Concerns

In terms of assuring germaphobic clients, I might challenge you to think of when you visit a restaurant. Do you actually know that the flatware and glasses have been sanitized, or that your server washes his or her hands in hot soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds after using the washroom? When you check into a hotel, do you know that the sheets have been washed and sanitized in accordance with industry standards? Technically, you don't. However, there are tacit messages throughout the restaurant or hotel experience that lead you to the reasonable assumption that health code standards are being supported. Absent a news story to the contrary or a bad personal experience, you move forward under the belief that the businesses you are frequenting are compliant with prevailing standards.

Your adherence to health and safety issues is an assumption that is contained as a subset of your general professionalism. For example, the way you answer your telephones, the cleanliness of your reception area and locker rooms, and the quality of your staff's uniforms telegraph your intent to run a professional, hygienic spa. In tandem with rigorous adherence to hygienic issues in your spa, focus on the unspoken message, and the majority of your customers will fill in the blanks.

If you want to leave no doubt, consider adding a statement that relates to your spa's hygiene standards as part of the intake questionnaire. An example might be: "We strive to make your experience at our spa as comfortable as possible. If you have any questions regarding our services or protocols, please do not hesitate to ask us. We are happy to oblige." This type of transparency speaks volumes and will often allay the fears of your somewhat germaphobic clientele.

And as for the über-germaphobic, be willing to take whatever measures necessary to address their questions and concerns. Do not write them off as demanding and obsessive. You never know whether they may have had a bad experience at another spa or have a health issue that requires heightened vigilance. Be prepared to take them on a back-of-the-house tour where you can proactively address your spa's cleanliness.

And as a parting shot, remember that reusable slippers can also feature your spa's logo and be retailed in your spa shop. If you elect to include this option, you will also need to calculate additional stock and storage as part of your retail operation. Clearly, there are no right and wrong answers to this question, but given architectural and budgetary constraints, storage issues, and customer expectations, there are better and worse fits.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU: IS THERE A DEVELOPMENTAL, EQUIPMENT, FINANCIAL, OPERATIONAL, OR OTHER SPA QUESTION THAT TROUBLES YOU?

Email questions to q&[email protected]. Your question and the answer may appear in an upcoming "Problem Solver" column.

Peter C. Anderson is a principal at Anderson & Associates, a spa consulting firm based in Santa Monica, CA. He is also on the board of advisors for the Spa and Hospitality Management Program at the University of California-Irvine. You can email him at [email protected].

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