Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, May/June 2008. Copyright 2008. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Some massage therapists are adding selected spa treatments to their private practices as a way to offer clients new options for wellness. Spa body treatments are fun to plan and provide massage professionals with a creative outlet for their bodywork talents. Spa can also generate new income streams for the massage business, while protecting the therapist's body from repetitive stress. You don't have to price out expensive wet-room equipment, or hire a contractor to tile the floor, because many spa services can be offered successfully in your current treatment room with a minimum of expense.Your Spa Program
Some therapists start small and add enhancing services before venturing into full-body treatments. For example, a spa massage might include a paraffin dip of the hands, a foot scrub and mask to revitalize tired feet, a soothing face massage with rejuvenating creams, and a sage steam with hot moist towels on the back. These small enhancers round out the massage with spa flare, but require little expense or product inventory.
Another option is to create a spa package and actively market it as a gift certificate item. In a package, the therapist combines two to three services with some smaller enhancing treatments to create a well-rounded and sumptuous session. The therapist maximizes treatment time while minimizing set up, clean up, and spa product inventory. It is important to point out that during a spa package, time should be scheduled for the client to take a break, use the restroom, and eat a small snack. Otherwise, the client is likely to feel overstimulated, stressed, and possibly shaky from low blood sugar.
Think carefully about your spa program to ensure it matches your personal ideas about wellness. Perhaps your focus is the environment, and you pride yourself on your eco-friendly business. You are likely to be drawn to natural products like seaweed, mud, herbs, and mineral salts, because these products connect clients to fields, forests, oceans, and hot springs. Alternately, you may enjoy treatments that pamper clients and introduce them to luxurious sensations. In this case, chocolate, honey, kaolin clay, orange blossom, papaya, and rose petals are your allies. Your interest in yoga may inspire a program based on ayurveda, while a certificate in reflexology might jump-start a menu with the theme Barefoot Bliss. Packages
Here are three sample packages that may help stimulate your own creative planning process. Once you plan your spa program, practice and refine each treatment until you feel it is ready to launch with clients.Herbal Remedies (2 Hours)
Dry skin brush and massage each area on the posterior body with an herbal infused vegetable oil. Apply an herbal scented body wash over the top of the oil with some warm water, then remove the wash with hot moist towels. Repeat the process on the anterior body. Add herbal touches, like a steamy sage scented towel, at the conclusion of the face massage. Take a short break and offer the client a light snack. Soak the client's feet in herb infused water to increase core body temperature and then move the client to the treatment table for an herbal body wrap to conclude the package. Reflect, Relax, Renew (2.5 Hours)
Begin with a lemon-ginger foot soak and dip the hands in paraffin before massaging the shoulders. Next, perform a gentle scrub and then brush melted shea butter infused with cardamom, cypress, frankincense, and orange blossom onto the skin. The client is wrapped in a warm cocoon of blankets while the face and feet are massaged. The client is unwrapped and the shea butter, still on the skin, is used as the lubricant in a full body massage.Prana (3.5 Hours)
The session begins with an ayurveda consultation and a cup of hot chai (spiced tea). This is followed by an herbal foot soak, Indian head massage, full body dosha massage, and a break for a small snack. In the second half of the treatment, ubtan (an herbal paste) is applied to the skin and buffed off with dried towels before a classic shirodhara treatment (a thin stream of oil is applied to the point between the eyebrows or played across the forehead) is delivered. To end the service, the client soaks in a tub filled with flowers and herbs. [Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning vital energy or life-sustaining force.]A La Carte
Many therapists like to offer spa services, al a carte so that clients can pick only what they like in an hour to 90-minute time frame. In this case you will likely design four to six body treatments that complement your massage offerings. Providing lots of massage in the delivery of spa services increases their popularity with clients. For example, instead of applying mud or seaweed with a brush, use gloved hands and massage strokes. This layering of textures creates a unique and satisfying client experience.
When you design your services, think about your current clients and treatments that will appeal to them. If you work regularly with athletes, you might design services using fangotherapy (therapeutic mud), which is well known in Europe for its musculoskeletal benefits. Therapists who work with corporate business people will want to offer straightforward treatments with clearly defined goals. An "executive lunch" menu that includes a soothing foot soak, deep-tissue massage, seaweed back masque, and firming face massage is likely to be popular. The basic treatments described here work well on an a la carte menu. Each service can be adapted with different smell-scapes and products to create a variety of options. Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is both a complex area of study and a simple enhancing technique that can be added to any service. Even the simplest aromatherapy treatment can benefit clients immensely by decreasing stress and increasing the pleasure they derive from the service. Aromatherapy baths, enhancers, foot soaks, massages, polishes, and wraps are used widely by spas. Ayurveda Body Treatments
Ayurveda is the 5,000-year-old healing system of India. It includes a wide range of external body treatments that are beneficial for clients and introduces them to the balancing principals of ayurvedic living. Ayurveda is not something that could be added to a spa menu without some serious study on the part of the therapist, but these treatments are currently very popular in spas. Cocoons
A cocoon is a type of body wrap where the spa product is not dissolved in water but is applied directly to the client before the client is wrapped in plastic and a blanket. Aloe vera, aromatherapy, cellulite-reducing or firming products, chocolate, clay, cryogenic products, mud, paraffin or parafango, peat, seaweed, shea and bambasso butter, or other natural substances like mashed papaya, honey, pumpkin, or yogurt make fun cocoons. Dry Skin Brushing
Dry skin brushing is a technique in which the skin and circulatory system are stimulated with natural bristle brushes, rough hand mitts, or textured cloths. Fangotherapy
Fangotherapy is the use of clay, mud, and peat for healing purposes. The sensation of being covered in thick warm mud is a unique experience for clients and services featuring fango are popular at spas. Fango is messy; attempting to remove fango from the entire body with hot moist towels is possible but time consuming. Spot treatments are recommended if a shower is not available, or the therapist can break out body areas for step-by-step treatment, as described in the Spa Ãlan article, "Mud Massage," on page 122. Hot Sheet Wraps
In a hot sheet wrap, the treatment product is dissolved in hot water. Two sheets (or a sheet and a bath towel) are steeped in the dissolved product and then wrapped around the client and covered with warm insulating blankets. Coffee, herbs, hot chocolate, milk and honey, spiced wine, and juices like apple cider, orange, papaya, and pomegranate make fun hot wraps.Salt Sugar Glows
Imagine the sensations for the client in an integrated salt or sugar massage. Oil is applied to a body with a full range of massage strokes. Salt or sugar is sprinkled on the area (this feels like cool water droplets) and rubbed across the surface of the body in stimulating patterns. Next, hot, steamy, rosemary-scented towels warm the skin and remove the salt in a long, elegant sweep. Finally, velvety aloe gel locks in moisture. Each of these steps is repeated on each body area, except for the face. Spa Foot Treatments
Treatments that focus on the feet are well liked by clients and make a nice addition to a massage clinic menu. Most foot treatments include soaking and cleaning, exfoliation, the application of a treatment product (mud, peppermint masque, paraffin, etc.), and basic massage. These fundamental steps can be improved with reflexology techniques, aromatherapy smell-scapes, and enhancers that tie in other areas of the body like the hands and face.Specialized Massage
Unique massage modalities like lomilomi, Thai massage, and stone massage are always popular with clients. Therapists can think about interesting ways to enhance these massage techniques with culturally based spa enhancers. (For example, use hibiscus--the official flower of Hawaii--in a foot soak before your lomilomi massage). Thalassotherapy
Thalassotherapy is the use of marine environments and sea products, particularly seaweed, for healing and wellness. Seaweed boosts body energy, stimulates circulation and detoxification, reduces muscle soreness, and leaves the skin hydrated, soft, and radiant. Seaweed in a gel form is easier than powdered products to remove without a shower. Note that seaweed is contraindicated for some client groups. Equipment
A wide range of equipment is available from spa suppliers, but there is no need to spend large sums of money. Some basics will allow you to offer a number of different treatments. Body Wrap Plastic And Mylar
Plastic and Mylar sheeting are used to wrap clients when they are covered with messy products like seaweed or mud. Plastic and Mylar come on large rolls; sections of about six feet per client are cut and placed sideways on the table so that the long edges are brought up and around the client. Heat Lamps
The biggest challenge with delivering a spa treatment is that the client might get cold. For this reason, a heat lamp is a must-have equipment purchase. Heat lamps can be hung above the treatment table and placed on a dimmer switch to allow for more or less heat, or ordered as a freestanding unit. Heating Unit
An 18-quart roaster oven like those used for stone massage is an affordable and flexible option for a clinic adding spa services. Make sure to get the deep as opposed to shallow roaster. Roasters are used to heat towels, warm products, soak sheets applied in a herbal or coffee body wrap, and for stone massage. Heavy Wool Blanket
A washable wool blanket (80"-90" long works well) is needed for body wraps to trap body heat and insulate the client effectively. Paraffin Dips
Paraffin dips for the hands and feet make enjoyable enhancers. It is best to use a high quality professional unit on a rolling stand rather than an ordinary home-care unit, which usually heats up more slowly and does not have good temperature control. Soda Cooler
Use a small soda cooler (9-12 quart) when the therapist removes product with hot towels, as the towels must be close at hand to keep the process quick and efficient. Walking back and forth to a roaster disrupts the flow of the treatment and is time consuming. Instead, transfer the towels from the heating unit to the soda cooler and place this near to the treatment table for convenience. Spa Clothing
Keeping disposable undergarments on hand is highly recommended, as many clients are modest about the degree of exposure in a spa treatment, even when draped. A fluffy terry robe and washable spa slippers allow clients to move about in the clinic or to take a break between treatments in comfort. Thermal Space Blanket
A space blanket is a heavy emergency blanket. It is plastic on the outside and has foil on the inside to prevent loss of body heat. Towels
You will need a minimum of six bath towels and 30 hand towels if you plan to deliver one to two spa services a day. Wrap Sheets
Wrap sheets (for wet wraps like herbal or milk and honey treatments) are made of 100 percent cotton, heavy muslin, or a combination of linen and either cotton or fleece. Flannel is never used with hot wet sheet wraps, because it is difficult to wring out completely and so may burn the client. The Spa Menu
A spa menu is an important promotional item as it can be offered to clients to take away after each visit, mailed to clients, or sent out in a mass mailing to attract new business. It is important to consider a few items when drafting a menu. Clients will often be attracted to a treatment because of the way in which is it described. For this reason the treatment description must be clear (clients need to know what they are getting) and evocative. Strong sensory language captures the client's imagination and elicits an emotional response. The menu writer wants the client to smell, taste, and feel the treatment just by reading the description. In a lighthearted description of a seaweed wrap, the treatment might be named the Mermaid Shimmer and start with the line "Feeling scaly, waterlogged, and listless?" A more sophisticated interpretation might be "Release yourself to the body slimming benefits of pure marine algae." Think carefully about your descriptions and read them to friends and family before printing your spa menu. Retail Sales
The spa industry makes a rather large percentage of its income by retailing home-care products to clients. Some individuals are concerned that the power differential inherent in the therapist-client relationship gives therapists undo influence over clients. The differential may be exploited when therapists seek to sell clients products or items like vitamins. This is a difficult issue because retail could provide an additional income stream for the massage therapist in private practice. Each therapist must make his or her own choice about this issue, but a few guidelines for minimizing client influence may be helpful if you decide to sell retail.
- Do not sell vitamins, nutritional products, or any products that are taken internally for health. Clients don't necessarily understand that nutritional counseling is outside the scope of practice for massage. They may be unduly influenced by your credentials to purchase nutritional products from you instead of doing their own research.
- Focus on products for general relaxation and don't make any claims about the health enhancing benefits of a product.
- Don't actively sell products to clients. If you decide to offer retail items, have them on display, but don't make suggestions to clients unless they specifically ask for your advice.
- Offer only high-quality products and research product ingredients carefully to ensure that products won't cause allergic reactions or skin sensitivity.
If you decide to offer retail items, devote a space to them in your reception area and ensure that the area is visually exciting and positioned in such a way that clients see it when they walk through the door. To keep returning clients interested, the business may want to change the color, dÃ©cor, and some of the products seasonally for promotions. The retail area must be spotlessly clean and well organized. Testers should be available so that clients who come early to their appointment can try out different products. Therapists offering retail products must also keep a detailed inventory. Promoting The Spa Program
Plan some promotional activities to launch your spa program, alert current clients to your spa services, and attract the attention of new clients. These activities are likely to be similar to those you undertake for your massage business and include holding an open house, providing a free workshop, sponsoring an event to benefit the community, renting a booth at a community event or health expo, sending out newsletters, offering free foot treatments at a local walkathon, mailing flyers that include a special offer, personalized gift items, and referral programs to current and potential clients.
One of the best ways to promote spa treatments is to hold a monthly spa night at your clinic. Pick a recurring day (first Monday of the month, last Friday of the month, etc.) and invite clients to come and learn about spa. These events might include a presentation on the clinic and its spa program, a display that allows attendees to feel, smell, and try spa products, refreshments, take-away product samples, coupons for discounted treatments, a drawing for a door prize, and demonstrations. If you are in private practice, be careful about offering small services such as foot soaks or seated massage at your event. Even giving everyone a paraffin dip can keep you running. However, if you work with a number of other therapists, providing these types of services for free at your spa night can generate a better turnout to your event. It's important to have a receptionist ready to book appointments on the spot instead of waiting for the client to call in after the event.
Publicity for your new spa program might arise from an interview, news coverage of participation in a community event, or a feature story about the business or a particular service. For example, a local magazine might have a tips for better living section. Try sending in a press release outlining the benefits of spa therapy for stress reduction. If the magazine is interested in this approach to stress reduction, they may contact you about the treatment and highlight it in the magazine.
Newsletters are an effective way to maintain contact with current clients, educating them about your new spa program. Newsletters encourage clients to come back and try a new service, bring back clients who have not visited for some time with a special offer, promote products, build credibility for the business, and give clients information that can improve the quality of their lives.
It is helpful to plan a marketing schedule that gives detail on daily, weekly, and monthly marketing activities. Time moves quickly and opportunities to promote the spa program will come and go if a clear schedule is not maintained. A Well-Rounded Menu
Spa and massage work in synergy to benefit clients by providing them with more options to experience wellness. A well-rounded menu gives a therapist an edge when attracting clients from other massage businesses in the local area. While the private massage therapist might not have a fancy fountain and lavish dÃ©cor, attention to detail and exceptional customer service attract clients who might otherwise miss out on the benefits of spa. Anne Williams is a licensed massage therapist, esthetician, aromatherapist, certified reflexologist, registered counselor, educator, and author. The work outlined in this article and the images are adapted from portions of the author's textbook,
Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams Wilkins, 2007). Williams is also the director of education for Associated Bodywork Massage Professionals. She can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.