Surveillance Cameras Watch Over Spas

When Pam Margolis, president of Ivy Spa Club at Hotel Ivy, A Luxury Collection Hotel (Minneapolis), discovered her company credit card missing from the desk in her office, it didn’t take her long to find it. “After reviewing the spa and hotel cameras, we were able to determine that when my opening front-desk person turned her back for a moment to put something away, the thief ran down the stairs from the floor above us and proceeded to go through the entire spa,” says Margolis. “Because we were able to print a photo of him off the camera and give it to the police, they caught him two days later.”

It seems that Big Brother is watching everyone these days with surveillance cameras found on every street corner. Today’s spas are no different. In fact, many spa owners are turning to cameras to help deter theft, keep employees in line, and even boost sales. “Camera surveillance in common areas is not only recommended but, in my opinion, also essential to protect both the security of the spa and guests,” says Bruce Schoenberg, owner of Oasis Day Spa (Dobbs Ferry, NY, and New York City). Here are some things you should keep in mind when considering installing cameras in your spa.

Location is Key

According to Alex R. Thiersch, founder and director of the American Med Spa Association (AmSpa) and a leading healthcare attorney, laws vary from state to state about the legality of surveillance in certain areas. “Some states actively prevent cameras in places with an expectation of privacy, so it is very important for spas considering adding surveillance cameras to their facilities to consult a local attorney regarding the laws for this issue in their state,” he says. Cameras should never be used in treatment rooms, locker areas, bathrooms, or any place where guests may be less than fully clothed or a modicum of privacy is expected. According to Michael Tompkins, executive recruiter for Hutchinson Consulting and immediate past ISPA chairman, installing cameras in employee break rooms or over staff entrances and exits can also pose a liability from a human resource perspective and may even be illegal based on the state in which your spa is located. “I am not a proponent of surveillance cameras used for this purpose and for the added reason that it sends a message of distrust in your work environment,” he says.

Surveillance cameras, however, are proving to be useful in a variety of ways. “The obvious pro is to have instant access to see what is happening in real time in the common areas,” says Schoenberg. “In addition, it creates a record for security and legal purposes should there ever be a question as to any type of incident. In today’s world, we see almost on a daily basis how cameras become the basis for getting to the truth.” As a result, cameras are often used to monitor retail areas where theft can be an issue. “At spas I’ve worked in, cameras have been a useful tool to observe staff and guests in a common, clothed, public space where products can be touched, jewelry is tried on and put back in an open display, and small items of value can be dropped into a spa tote and stolen,” says Tompkins. “The sad fact is that shoplifters come in every demographic and income level.” 

According to Margolis, she has found cameras especially useful in preventing shoplifters from getting away with it. Cameras can shed light on an unclear situation. For example, you’re able to view guests from different angles, which may confirm if they are indeed shoplifting. “We have been able to discreetly approach a few guests who tried to help themselves to our retail products without paying for them,” says Schoenberg. “It helped us to avoid an embarrassing confrontation in front of other guests. When these sticky-fingered individuals were made aware of our security system, it changed the dynamics of the occurrence.”

Unfortunately, confrontation can open your business up to liability, says Tompkins. That’s why it’s important to be sure of what you suspect and actually be able to prove it. “Are you sure the guest doesn’t have an identical twin also in house, and you’re not accusing the wrong person?” says Tompkins. “It may sound ridiculous, but it happens.” According to him, guests often become defensive after they leave the spa, which is why he recommends acting in the moment or immediately after the theft. Otherwise, he advises against confrontation. “Make a note of it in your software system for the return visit,” says Tompkins. “An uncaught thief will always return.”

In addition to deterring theft, surveillance cameras can also be used to help manage staff. Violeta Chulpayev, partner at Flirt Spa & Brow Bar (New York City and Manhasset, NY), installed cameras in both of her spas and finds them to be useful in making sure staff members are focused on their jobs and not talking on the phone or texting all day. “Cameras help the manager manage,” she says. However, you’ll want to make sure your employees know they could be on camera. “In regard to areas where employees gather, in most states, surveillance cameras can be used to track employment issues,” says Thiersch. “However, the use of such cameras must be disclosed to employees in an employee handbook, and employees must confirm that they understand they are being used and why.”

Schoenberg also relies on cameras to make sure his team attends to all clients on time. “Straight away, we’re able to see if there are clients sitting in our relaxation area still waiting to be picked up for a service,” he says. “I am also able to monitor the spa remotely to see what is happening when I am off site.”

As for the video footage, Thiersch notes that it should only be used for security purposes. “Spas need to take measures to keep all footage and images as private as possible,” he says. “Limit the employees who have access to the footage and images and have a strict policy in place for how long the spa is going to keep them.” He also recommends making sure you safeguard the footage from hackers and others who might be able to access it from the internet.

While cameras provide a host of benefits, it’s important to be aware of the legal issues related to using them. Consulting with a lawyer before installing them can help ensure you’re well versed on the legalities. According to Tompkins, even installing fake surveillance cameras for the illusion of security can have liability issues. As a result, he recommends you check with your insurance company first. 

Also, keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable being on camera. That’s certainly something to consider when deciding on whether to disclose the fact that your spa uses cameras. “One item we discussed with our security expert was if it was necessary to advertise on the premises that there were security cameras in public areas,” says Schoenberg. “Because it is not a legal requirement to do so, we opted not to, as we thought it would detract from our guests’ comfort levels.” When utilized correctly, cameras provide an additional tool to keep your spa operating smoothly and securely. It’s certainly one way to bring things into focus.