Making Your Own Weather

During tough economic times, it's hard not to feel discouraged. While the economy has taken a precipitous drop, we know that another peak follows even the deepest valley. But you don't have to wait to start your climb to the top of the next one. In my 25 years as a spa operator, I've watched employees who consistently make their own weather, regardless of the conditions around them. I often tell new spa employees the story of one spa owner, who, after the dot-com bust of the '90s, regularly sent notes to clients who'd lost their jobs and no longer visited the spa. Some clients waited two years before returning, but her unwavering attention ensured that, as soon as they were able, they returned to her spa.

This month, I had the opportunity to observe the outcome of an interesting weather-making experiment. Cheryl is a dedicated, well-trained esthetician who joined our spa about six months ago. She started the same time as Amy, a highly focused new esthetician who chose a spa career after successfully beating acne with the help of facial treatments. Cheryl and Amy went through our training program together. Since then, Amy has been steadily building her clientele. Her schedule, while not yet full, is showing many repeat requests. When I run into her at the spa, she is often writing Gratitude Cards, making Gratitude Calls or making notes on her client-tracking log. She is passionate and energized and is too busy making her own weather to pay attention to the doom and gloom

Alas, the story is not so happy for Cheryl. Her book is often empty. Frustrated, she opts to go on standby when there are no appointments on her schedule. At Preston Wynne, as at most spas, we pay for production—there is no guaranteed base wage. We allow some flexibility on very slow days, enabling employees, with a manager's permission, to stand by at home in case their schedule can be filled. They must be able to respond immediately to any appointment. Such standby hours count toward benefits qualification. We all know, however, if there is also an idle esthetician at the spa, he or she will receive the walk-in appointment before the standby employee gets the call. The front desk staff does not—and should not—treat an employee who is standing by the same as one who is standing in front of them. In a recent management meeting, Cheryl's low retention numbers came to my attention. So I sat down with her to discuss her progress and came up with some tips to help her—and you—withstand this recession.

Rule #1: Be present to win.

"The less you're here, the less work you'll have," I explained. "Out of sight, out of mind. Our concierges will hand the appointment to someone who's already here, if they can. The less you're here, the less they'll think of you, and the less you'll be here in the future." I know our concierges won't perceive Cheryl to be as dedicated as the person who's hanging out, eager to take anything that comes their way, even a brow wax

Our operations manager then shared a story about another esthetician, Marta, who had come in for her scheduled shift, though there was not a single appointment on it. Cheryl was also scheduled at the same time. Her book, too, was empty. This sort of thing has been more common, as guests increasingly schedule at the last minute. Cheryl chose to go on standby and stay at home. It was an expensive choice. By the time the six-hour shift was over, Marta had performed four facials and gained several new fans. Had they both been present, Cheryl would have received two of those clients. She would have had the opportunity to upsell and reschedule them. She would have been building her foundation.

There are a variety of things for unscheduled estheticians to do to make their own weather in our spa, including acting as homecare advisors and assisting walk-in and non-esthetics clients with purchases or performing complimentary makeup touchups and consultations. There is also a steady stream of clients visiting the spa for services other than facials. A massage or nailcare client can be engaged in a conversation as they are checking in or out.

Cheryl shared that when she was not busy, she generally retreated to the staff break area. "Get on the floor," I advised her. Again, improving her visibility to the support staff will help improve her brand in the spa. She has to work to reverse the perception that she's not particularly dedicated to her work.

"But I feel like I'm in the way!" she protested.

"Clean the makeup testers. Dust shelves. Stock inventory. There's plenty to do," I said. "You'll feel better if you're busy."

Any service provider who objects that they're not being paid to do these things has definitely chosen the wrong career. The clientele-building phase of one's career is about investing copious time and energy for a long-term return.

Rule #2: If you don't ask, you don't get.

I knew that clients liked Cheryl's work, because I'd spoken with several who had praised her. She had mastered our protocols and product knowledge. "Do you ask your clients to reschedule?" I asked. Cheryl smiled ruefully and readily admitted that she didn't. She just wasn't comfortable asking, she explained. Despite having gone through our formal sales training, in which we emphasize that you must extend the invitation to every guest, every time, she was suffering from a crisis in confidence. Worse, she was repeating the same mistake day after day and losing business—not just for herself, but for our spa. In this day and age, shyness is a costly and dangerous liability. As a spa operator, I can't afford to let Cheryl continue this way. "You have to ask," I advised. "It's not going to happen for you otherwise."

Sometimes you need to present this fact in a different way. The notion of clientele building is pretty abstract. "A solid clientele-building goal for a new esthetician is about 100 clients," I explained. "Think of it this way—if you retain just two clients every week you work, and those clients schedule with you every month, you'll be up to 100 in a year. But it will only happen if you ask."

Rule #3: Get over yourself.

Every weather-maker I know has something in common—pure, unselfconscious enthusiasm for what they do. To ensure that this comes across, every employee should have an elevator speech. This brief sound bite lets them easily express what makes them different and special. "Are you confident that you're a good esthetician?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," replied Cheryl. "I'm totally dedicated to this career. I love what I do, I just don't want to seem pushy."

I once heard shyness defined as "morbid self-consciousness." In worrying that she might appear pushy, Cheryl let herself be more self-absorbed than client-absorbed. In our sales training program, we conduct an exercise in which participants create an elevator speech with the help of a buddy, who can draw out interesting differentiators the person doesn't always see. Even a new therapist's passion for his or her work can be a crucial differentiator to a customer who has seen one too many jaded estheticians or therapists. So Cheryl was assigned the creation of her elevator speech.

We can talk and talk about what our employees should do, but sometimes there's no substitute for a demonstration of the principles you're trying to get across. As well, there are nuances in everyone's approach we might not even think to mention in a conversation or a lecture, and I sensed that one of those little nuances might just be the key to help Cheryl defeat her shyness and inertia.

Rule #4: Stay congruent.

Scripting and choreography are very important in helping spa employees gain confidence. I find that many spa professionals don't know how to act in the spa's different settings. In the treatment room, they're confident. In the reception or retail area, they are not. Their incongruent behavior can transmit their discomfort to the client—not the sort of magic chemistry for which we're looking. For example, few massage therapists I've met are innately silver-tongued. Instead, they speak eloquently with their hands. Having the right words can make all the difference in the world for the kinesthetic communicator. Scripting—that is, having a few handy phrases that feel comfortable and natural—will boost their confidence.

Choreography is another neglected element of successful client building and sales. I recently did a practical review with James, one of our most talented massage therapists. I observed that, after we left the treatment room and moved to the checkout area, James stood stiffly with me, unsure what to do with his hands. "Put your hand on my shoulder when you talk to me about coming for another session," I suggested. Service providers will find that if they stay in the same energy they use in the treatment room, the client will feel more comfortable with them.

I also asked James to demonstrate products, such as neck pillows and wraps, by placing them on the client, and by applying body products from a tester gently to their hand so they could feel and smell them. The physical contact—his natural communication medium—enabled him to stay in his comfort zone and remain the wellness authority. James is now rescheduling guests and retailing products—learning to make his own weather.

A little positive reinforcement can go a long way. Cheryl will now focus on rescheduling two clients a week—a short-term goal that will help her feel successful. She's changed her thinking about standby hours and has new ideas about how to make herself useful in the spa.

Your business is built one service provider, and one client, at a time. The geometric effect of client retention and referrals means the time you take today to coach one therapist toward excellence can pay off in the long run. A slow day on the schedule may look like rain, but it's really the perfect opportunity to teach your aspiring weather-makers to create some sunshine.

Peggy Wynne Borgman is president of Wynne Business Spa Consulting as well as Preston Wynne, a day-spa operator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She recently completed Selvice: Seven Steps to Abundant Sales and Stellar Customer Service, a DVD sales training program for spas and salons. You can contact her at [email protected] or visit