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I have the best job in the world. I get paid to visit spas and experience spa services all over the world. I also own a spa and get to evaluate my staff members by receiving facials, massages, and body treatments from them on a regular basis. Not a bad gig, huh?
As you might imagine, when I talk about what I do, people tend to ooh and aah, mention that they’d gladly trade places with me, and then ask for a free sample of massage from me on the spot.

Having worked as an individual massage therapist long before I opened a spa, I have to say I really noticed a difference in people’s reactions to my job – that is massage therapist versus spa owner and consultant. Once I added spa into the description of my livelihood, I saw people’s eyes sparkle and wallets appear. It was amazing!
So what is it about going to a spa that is more appealing to clients than getting a facial or massage at a hair salon or chiropractic office? After all, getting services in these alternative locales can often be more convenient, affordable, or accessible to people who want and need to relax and be pampered. And the professionals who work outside of spas are usually just as talented and educated about their field as those who work in spas. So what gives?
I’d like for you to take a moment right now to think about your most memorable spa experience. What was it that made that appointment or trip so special? Was it the light tan ceramic tile in the retail area or the granite fountain in the waiting room? Was it the product line that the technician used during your services? Could it have been the brand of massage tables in the treatment rooms that really stood out in your mind? While some of those things may have made an impact of some type on you, they are probably not what set that or any spa apart from any other.
When I ask most people about their favorite spa experience, the memories that stand out usually have more to do with the little things they noticed - the extras and thoughtful details – that were a part of their visit. A fresh flower on the massage table… a warm towel under their neck during a facial… perhaps a thank you gift when they paid their bill. They might also mention the relaxing music, calm environment, or interesting theme/décor of the business.
But above all, the level of overall care and customer service received from one or all of their service providers and other staff members is what most people remember. Great customer service, along with many of these other details and good treatments, is what makes a difference. The good news is that unlike many spa treatments and products, most of these details are not expensive to add but simply take a little bit of thought, time, and/or effort to implement.
Before looking at the various kinds of extras you can add to your individual practice or spa business through new treatments – waterless or otherwise – let’s talk a little bit about what spa clients are hoping for when they book their appointment. Most people visit a spa to:

  • improve health/well-being
  • enjoy a mini-vacation
  • escape from stress
  • be restored and renewed
  • have peace and quiet
  • decrease pain and discomfort

Unfortunately, many people do not get what they are hoping for during their spa visit for a variety of reasons including poor organization, inadequate training or just plain apathy on the part of the staff or service providers. Here are a few examples of how the spa experience can actually be for clients:

  • confusing
  • scary and overwhelming
  • frustrating or tiring
  • disappointing
  • expensive/low value
  • stressful

And in most cases, no matter how wonderful the spa treatments and products offered are, if clients are feeling any of the above, they will leave unhappy, unsatisfied, and without rebooking. Obviously none of those outcomes are what you want.
So what can you do to make your clients feel at home, comfortable, and relaxed during their entire visit? Begin by making sure that the client/spa experience begins as soon as your clients walk through the door… not just when the actual service or package begins. Have quiet music playing throughout the business. Make certain the business has a clean, consistent look or theme throughout. Use simple tools like aromatherapy and soft lighting to create an instant atmosphere throughout the space.
I remember one massage I received where the therapist did not start the music until she came into the room to begin the session. I thought that was a little tacky but quickly forgot about it once I started to relax. However, after the massage was over, she turned off the music, took away my foot pillow, and flipped on the overhead light before she said “OK, we’re done now.” As if it wasn’t totally obvious at that point. What an abrupt way to end my hour of relaxation!

How to make every appointment or spa experience better for your clients:

  • Assess all you do through the client’s eyes.
  • Ask clients what they want and deliver.
  • Anticipate potential problems and find solutions ahead of time.
  • Put good systems in place and keep your processes smooth.
  • Be flexible, understanding, and helpful.
  • Always work to make things better.
  • Remember clients’ preferences, tastes, favorite services/techniques/products, etc.
  • Go above and beyond to make every visit special, memorable, and more than the clients expect.

When clients arrive, they should be greeted warmly and guided gently through the entire client process. This includes being shown how to fill out a client intake sheet, being given a tour of the entire facility (even if there is only a treatment room and bathroom), making introductions to any other service providers, and of course confirming the service they have scheduled.
Throughout the day, spray or diffuse your aromatherapy oils around the waiting area or treatment room(s) before clients arrive. (You can also use aromatherapy scented oils or lotions during your treatments.) Dim the lights or use candles to create a softer atmosphere and keep eye pillows or covers available for those who want an even darker room during their treatment.
Once you get to the service itself, there are a few key points or issues that I feel are critical to making the service a success in the eyes of the client. First of all, it is imperative that the provider confirm the service that is scheduled and answer any questions or concerns the client may have about the service. Also, it is imperative that the therapist be courteous, professional, and able to respond to (and sometimes read) the clients needs and requests.
I also believe that it is our responsibility as professionals to educate our clients about the need for self-care and what specific treatments, regimens, or products will help them achieve their desired results or goals. Lastly, the provider must invite the client to return again and/or to rebook another appointment.
And don’t forget about the details! At my spa, we use hot towels throughout each massage at no extra charge if the client wants them. As the therapist finishes working on a particular area, she drapes a hot towel over the area between the sheet and blanket. (It stays warmer longer and stays clean too!) For facials, we use hot stones like what is used in a hot stone massage to warm up the neck and shoulder area of the clients before doing massage on that area.
Here are some simple tools you can use in the treatment room to enhance the client or spa experience:

  • good pillows, bolsters, and table padding
  • table warmers, hot packs or stones, heated towels, electric booties and/or mitts
  • soft sheets and blankets
  • cooling products, packs, or stones
  • wind chimes, meditation CDs, singing bowls, bells, or gongs
  • extras for clients (product samples, other goodies and gifts)

So what about the waterless spa treatments? As I’ve mentioned, there are many things you can do to create a spa like experience in the smallest of practices and improve the experience at an existing spa.
Some friends of mine, Richard and Edie Klecka, are two of the best and most unique therapists I have ever met. Richard uses music during his sessions that I have to call “ambiently and exotically intoxicating.” It is unlike any music I’ve heard anywhere and is always unique to the session. He also ends every session by ringing a bell or wind chimes to clear the energy and let the client know the session is over. Edie begins every massage session by washing her client’s feet with a warm, wet towel and then moves right into a deep foot massage. It is a lovely way to begin any facial or massage session. At Ten Thousand Waves in Santa, Fe, New Mexico, I experienced a body treatment that took this one step further by adding a foot scrub that was then removed with hot, lavender scented towels. It is an easy addition to a service and adds a lot to the experience.
In addition to foot or body scrubs with products, you can do a lot with dry exfoliations. In fact, I think dry brushing is one of the most under-rated treatments out there. Dry brushing is one of the easiest techniques to learn, is inexpensive to provide, and offers a number of great benefits including increased circulation and lymphatic return, elimination of toxins and metabolic waste, increased muscle tone, and possibly the reduction of cellulite. Try dry brushing or dry exfoliation with a soft bristle brush, loofah, textured mitts, or exfoliation gloves. Add to the service by including aromatherapy, using a refreshing body mist or moisturizing body lotion and giving away the loofah as a take-home gift for the client.
You can also add hand and foot treatments with a few simple tools and products. They can be done alone or as an add-on to any other treatment like a facial, pedicure, or massage. See sidebar for a quick “recipe” on how to do these easy spa services! The bottom line when it comes to adding any discipline or service to your practice is to do it to the best of your ability and to treat your clients as you want to be treated before, during, and after every service. Remember that fancy equipment or expensive products are generally not what bring people back, but rather the overall experience and the special attention given to the details and the clients themselves.

Begin the service by placing a warm aromatherapy neck wrap on your client. Ask the client to choose an aromatherapy oil and add a few drops to the warm footbath you have prepared for them. If soaking is not an option due to equipment/space limitations, you can use aromatherapy scented towels to cleanse the client’s feet at the beginning of the service instead.
After the client’s feet are clean and you have dried them off with a towel, dry brush the skin on their right foot and leg with from the tips of their toes forward towards the knee. The brushing can be done in small circles or light stokes, but should be done slowly and gently, passing over each area at least three times. Take special care around the heels, ankles, and knees, and make sure to get the back of the leg. Once you have finished dry brushing one foot and leg, do the other leg, repeating all the steps on the left side.
Next, using a salt scrub or body polish, exfoliate the foot, toes, lower leg, and ankle working the product slowly around each area. Remove the product with a wet heated towel or by using the water in the pedicure tub. Follow with a (warm if possible) dry towel to keep the client from getting a chill. Repeat the same steps on the left leg.
After the scrub, apply an aromatherapy mud or wrap and wrap the area in a warm towel (or in plastic and put inside heated booties)... Leave on for five to 10 minutes. During this time, you could suggest the client close their eyes and relax, move to a comfortable chair or listen to a guided meditation CD. You can also provide a neck and shoulder or scalp massage. Once time has passed, remove the mask with the towel that is wrapped around the area or another wet towel.
Finish the treatment with massage of the entire area for three to five minutes. Finish the service with a refreshing spritz of aromatherapy mist. This can conclude the service or you can move from here into your the rest of your facial or massage.

Felicia Brown, LMBT is a licensed massage therapist and the owner of Spalutions!, a consulting firm that strives to educate, motivate, and empower spa and healing arts professionals. Brown is also the owner of Inspire Skin & Body Day Spa ( in Greensboro, N.C. Contact Brown at or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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