Many spa industry professionals have their own opinions on what makes a great spa manager, and as a result of this there has been many healthy debates on the topic. Some spa managers come from a therapist or even receptionist background, others from a managerial background. Having worked with, interviewed, and recruited—as well as mentored several aspiring and existing spa managers through the Raison d’Etre online spa business management course—I have seen the pros and cons of each background. These are the top 10 qualities that I believe a spa manager should have in order to be successful:
1. People Skills
Spas are unique compared to the other departments in a hotel or resort, as they are an emotional environment not only for guests but also for staff. Spas have the innate ability to positively transform a guest after a one-hour treatment. Which other hotel department can do that? A spa manager needs to be intuitive when listening to their guests and their staff. Happy staff will look after their guests, which then achieves the goal—happy guests. It takes excellent social skills from a spa manager to achieve this. Moreover, a spa manager needs to be able to create a strong rapport with both staff and guests, motivate spa team members, and manage staff performance issues quickly and effectively.
Like any successful business, strong leadership is critical, and a spa is no different. Great spa managers lead from the front. They are everywhere—checking on this, observing that, talking to their guests, and motivating and supporting their staff. This is all what we call role model behavior. Good managers also need to be able to see and encourage the potential in their staff by giving them opportunities to grow and develop at work.
Meetings are also an important part of any spa manager’s leadership role. Staff needs to be aware of what’s going on in the spa and also be able to give feedback. A great spa manager will use this open communication as a tool to motivate, inspire, and develop staff.
3. Business Acumen
Any great spa manager must have a solid business background. Spa managers are often dealing with million-dollar budgets in a spa, therefore, business acumen should be an essential part of their skillset. Knowledge of budgets is important, however the analytical skills needed to review a budget and take necessary actions is critical. A good manager should be able to decide how a spa is going to achieve its revenue budget, allocate their staffing budget and manage expenses.
A spa manager also needs to know the spa key performance indicators (or KPIs), such as capture rate, therapist utilization, room utilization, revenue per room, and other benchmarks, so that he or she can compare and plan and act accordingly. No spa will be successful if a spa manager does not know numbers. A spa manager must have targets and goals for the spa and know exactly how they are going to achieve them.
4. Good Understanding of the Industry
A good spa manager does not need to be a trained therapist or a fitness instructor, but they must be familiar with all facets of the wellness industry. When needed, of course one can dive deeper into the world of wellness and learn more about treatments, products, fitness programming, alternative treatments, and more, however when discussing whether a spa manager should come from a therapist background versus a managerial or supervisory hospitality background, I would say that one needs to possess enough knowledge to be on par with the staff, understand the spa operations, follow industry trends, and be able to follow and lead any relevant discussion to generate new ideas for the business.
5. High Standards and a Keen Eye for Detail
A great spa manager should always have a big picture vision that allows them to identify future strategies and trends, however a keen eye for detail is extremely important too. The finer details of a spa experience are what guests often remember, and team members who recognize these often-missed elements are more likely to improve on them. These team members usually have high standards which is an important quality. They value first-rate customer service and see which areas of the business can be improved, even with just the slightest of tweaks.
6. Understanding the Importance of Marketing
A successful spa manager knows that perfecting the spa experience is only half of the task at hand. Effectively marketing the spa, both internally and externally, means developing a unique offering that cannot be found elsewhere to ensure that the spa has a rightful position in the marketplace. They will understand that the business needs to communicate with audiences outside of the spa just as it communicates with its own guests.
It is not uncommon that hotel guests sometimes won't visit the spa, either because they're not aware that the hotel has one in the first place, or alternatively, they don’t know where it is. The spa market is constantly changing, so it’s important that spa managers of the future have the right skills to ensure they can stay ahead of the curve and whatever movements or trends the spa industry may bring.
Sadly, spas are often managed on a day-to-day basis with no advanced planning implemented. How is a spa expected to be successful when there is no plan in place to make it happen? Planning documents are key in order to maintain and ensure success in a spa, including a business plan (vision, core values, business objectives, market analysis, key strategies, goals, and a key action plan) a marketing plan, (broken down by month) a human capital management plan, (development plan, succession planning, performance appraisals) and a training and development plan. Great spas are constantly training staff, implementing an annual training plan to ensure all aspects of the spa's operation are covered—this is vital both to maintain standards and develop staff. There are not many spas in the world doing this, but this is such a critical component of making a spa successful.
8. Goal Oriented
An important part of a spa manager’s role is to set goals for the spa which are designed to bring success to the business and motivate its staff. This can include revenue targets, retail percentage goals, maintaining costs of sales, reducing expenses, and general daily, weekly and monthly targets. But when considering goals it is simply not enough to declare what you want to achieve, you need to consider how you will achieve them.
When setting goals there are important steps spa managers must follow:
- Set the goal
- Objective—What do you want to achieve?
- Action Steps—What actions will you take to achieve the goal (including dates)?
- Measurement Criteria—How will you know that you have achieved the goal?
Another key element is to make sure all goals are communicated with the wider team, otherwise how else is the spa going to achieve their goals? Also, use the goals current status as a motivational tool when updating the team particularly when these have been achieved or overachieved.
9. The Ability to Make it Happen
A wise hotel general manager once told me there is nothing that can’t be done to make a hotel guest happy. Whenever I would go to him for guidance, his advice would always be "make it happen." I have seen and heard hundreds of stories of staff going above and beyond to make their guest happy—all within legal and moral boundaries, of course. Great spa managers need to adopt this thinking style, having the ability to analyze the situation, solve problems, prioritize issues, and be proactive are all important qualities and will help to create the best possible guest experience.
10. Love for the Industry
Last but not least—and most importantly—you must have a passion for the job. This is particularly important in the hotel industry in order to really succeed. A spa manager’s role is a unique opportunity to change people’s moods and transform their lives into a relaxing experience at least for a few days or even make a longer lasting impact.
Utilizing therapeutic and relaxing massages, body treatments, a rejuvenating facial, meditation or having a yoga class are just some examples of activities that can really change the way people feel after visiting a spa. In order to be able to provide and coordinate this experience for guests, staff must have a true passion for their work, particularly when it can be so rewarding and enjoyable.