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      A Strategy to Combat the Spa Staffing Crisis

      by Ilana Alberico

      We have all felt it.  There is a staffing crisis hitting our industry as a result of Covid-19 shutdowns, safety concerns, and, frankly, static business models that do not fit today’s workforce requirements.  As a result, demand is outpacing supply and overall coverage levels are plummeting.  In the April 2021 ISPA Snapshot Survey, 67% of respondents said that it was either more difficult or significantly more difficult to find a qualified Massage Therapist.  The same was true for Nail Technicians (55%) and Estheticians (45%)1.  And at the same time, spa guests are returning, seeking the healing and relief of spa services after a long year+ of stress and trauma.  This staffing shortage is a problem that will not simply resolve itself and one that demands innovative solutions.

      For a moment, let us put ourselves in the shoes of our providers to understand the basis for this staffing shortage.  For many, they were laid-off as spas shut down during the pandemic and either had to go on unemployment or had to seek income from other sources.  And, for a number of them, this meant taking more contract work and generating income from multiple sources.  You have heard it called the Gig Economy or the Slashie Generation – a term made popular by Millennials to describe their multiple passions and income sources (i.e., Massage Therapist/Environmentalist/Musician).   This trend towards contingent workforce is one that both workers and businesses are finding more and more attractive.  Approximately 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe work as independent contractors2.  For some, this was by choice, and for others by necessity.  But regardless of the cause, the fact is that we as a spa industry now must compete for candidates with varied job opportunities both within and outside of the spa industry.  And for much of our workforce, they have learned the benefits of being an independent contractor.  These include the flexibility of making your own schedule, the ability to choose where you will work without the drama of politics and static procedures, the diversity of experiences and workplaces, and the fulfillment of controlling your own business and the creation of income sources.

      For the spas my team manages and supports through the ISM network, we’re solving for our staffing needs by leaning into this trend towards independent contracting and offering the benefits of flexibility and control to our workforce.  As a result, we are delivering an 85% provider to treatment room coverage all while reducing overhead expenses by as much as 51% (reduction of indirect labor expenses)3.

      Here is how:

      • Let technology lead the way.
        Recognizing the need for a more flexible spa management business model, we developed a new SaaS platform called Spa Space that enables our facility partners to tap into a network of highly-skilled providers for demand-based staffing needs.  Gone are the days of providers sitting idle in-between services and the reliance on under-utilized labor.  Spa Space works by gathering specific details based on individual guest preferences and needs.  Then, using proprietary algorithms, the Spa Space mobile platform matches guests to a network of highly-rated, expert wellness providers based on the guest’s own unique requests.  Spa Space then directs all scheduling, staffing, quality control, and real-time payroll to the providers.  It is a total spa management solution that drives revenue and guest satisfaction while alleviating the burden of overhead expenses.  The result is a dynamic staffing and revenue management solution that improves operating efficiencies and increases guest and therapist satisfaction.

      Our spa facility partners in Central Florida were amongst the first to adopt the Spa Space platform.  These include Poseidon Spa at the Grand Bohemian resort in Orlando, Poseidon Spa at Casa Monica Resort & Spa in St. Augustine, and Cypress Spa in Orlando.  We are pleased to announce the opening of our first new spa in Central Florida at the Orlando World Center Marriot launching in June, and we have plans to expand the Spa Space platform throughout all of Florida in the coming year.

      • Lean into the “independence” of independent contractors
        As with real estate, the spa industry has become a seller’s market. Our providers are high in-demand and, as such, are in the controlling position to choose where and when they want to work.  Enabled by the flexibility of the Spa Space platform, we can attract the best and brightest by giving them the ability to choose the facilities they want to work at and open up their availability themselves vs. having their schedule dictated to them.  This may seem concerning to some in the industry as there remains the need to ensure coverage.  However, what we have experienced is that, by empowering our providers, we have opened our access to a broader talent pool – one that previously rejected working at resort and day spas due to the inflexibility.

      And, through technology, our providers get paid within days instead of weeks.  Real-time payments are becoming the norm across all categories of commerce.  And providing quick, reliable payments to providers increases overall satisfaction and loyalty.

      • Encourage the relationship between provider and guest

      By focusing on improving satisfaction for our guests AND our providers, we create a virtuous flywheel effect.  We attract guests and providers by improving and evolving our spa services model, they then come back again and again, and, most importantly, they become advocates for the platform, recruiting their friends and colleagues to join.  We have found that there is a direct correlation between satisfaction and the level of personalization of the spa experience.  This is not surprising given the overall trend towards customization in other industries.  The spa industry is late to adopt this model and, once it embraces a model of customization, will transform the relationship between provider and guest.  Thus, we now offer personalized spa services that match the provider to the guest based on the expertise needed.  By doing so, our providers can practice their training in unique modalities because the platform replaces the generic and confusing service model by enabling our providers to create a unique experience based on the guest’s needs and reason for the visit.

      So many of our providers have felt stifled by ridged menus and protocols and the inability to use their diverse training in modalities not commonly seen on spa menus.  By empowering them to create their own treatment plans, they now have greater professional fulfillment and have formed deeper relationships between provider and guest and, thus, repeat visits and overall loyalty.

      Without a doubt, we have learned a lot about ourselves, our businesses, and our world throughout the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  What I have learned is that we are all a lot more resilient than we might have thought and that we can learn from adversity and be better for it.  However, we cannot and should not expect to go back to the old ways of working.  Our workforce demands that we evolve to attract and retain them and that, we are smart to listen to them.  And, by doing so, we build more flexible, resilient business models that will weather this and any future economic unpredictability to come.

      Boilerplate:

      Ilana Alberico is an award-winning business visionary and entrepreneur. Her 20+ years in the spa industry spans from folding towels in a spa locker room, to the treatment room as a massage therapist, to the boardrooms of leading developers, owners, and hotel companies as a spa operations partner. Today, she leads a dynamic collection of wellness companies including boutique wellness design and spa management firm ISM Spa, luxury skincare line Privai, and Spa Space Chicago, a successful urban day spa.  Ilana’s latest venture, Spa Space,  an innovative technology platform that pairs guests with expert therapists at beautiful spas based on their unique needs and preferences.

      As CEO of Spa Space, Alberico oversees the role-out of this turnkey spa management platform to markets across the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Midwest with plans to expand throughout the US. Clients include Poseidon Spa for the Kessler Collection, Grand Hyatt Nashville, Marriott Vacation Club Properties, The Spa at the Inn on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, and Autograph Collection Hotels.

      In recognition of her many achievements, Alberico was awarded the 2015 Entrepreneur of the Year in Asheville, NC. She views spa services as vital to lasting wellbeing and is dedicated to empowering people to think of self-care as essential to the health of individuals, families, and society.

      Sources:

      1iSpa Snapshot Survey, April 2021

      2Harvard Business Review “Thriving in the Gig Economy” by Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford, and Amy Wrzesniewski, March-April 2018

      3Case study, Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook, AL