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The Real Poop

Urban legend #643: Working as a spa manager is just one step away from managing attractive (but questionable) young ladies in the red light district. Clearly, that's not true, although it did get you to stop surfing through the careers, didn't it? Gotcha! Well, like many urban legends, this one has a shred of truth to it. Spa managers do supervise attractive young ladies who provide services to the spa's clients. However, that's where the similarity ends. Time to get your mind out of the gutter and back to a legitimate (and legal) career.

First, let's agree on the types of services a legitimate spa provides to its clients. At a full-service spa in a large metro area, you'll find licensed professionals such as estheticians, or skin care experts who perform facials and other specialized services. You may also find nail technicians who deliver impeccable manis and pedis, and who often create outrageous painted nail designs as a finishing touch. You might also encounter nutritional counseling, health education programs, and other specialized services at larger spa facilities.

Of course, many spas offer massage therapy services performed by state-licensed professionals. Licensed massage therapists complete a demanding multi-year program that includes lots of book work along with “hands on” practical experience. An ethical massage therapist would never engage in the dubious hanky-panky rumored to take place in the red light district. She would lose her license and perhaps face civil or criminal penalties.

You'll encounter these spa services in several types of settings. A day spa is frequently operated in conjunction with a hair styling salon. A hotel spa is often a self-contained facility located within the hotel; although some larger hotels feature a stand-alone spa building. Finally, a resort spa typically offers standard and specialty spa services in a luxury setting. Most importantly, the resort spa often functions as a valuable resort profit center. Keep in mind that hotel and resort spas are frequently owned by the host facility or by a separate company. In short, you will manage the spa for another company.

As a spa manager, you maintain oversight of all the spa's daily activities, although you don't necessarily perform many hands-on services yourself. For example, you maintain a professional rapport with your staff; and also ensure they deliver top-quality services to their clients. You may also serve as the facility's human resources manager. Besides handling employee concerns and resolving conflicts, you'll also be responsible for the facility's compliance with local, state, and federal employment-related regulations and laws. Finally, you'll be responsible for marketing and promotional activities, although you may enlist the services of a graphic designer or advertising agency.

But wait...there's more! You'll need to keep track of the spa's income, operating expenses, and general profitability. You may work closely with a business-focused CPA; however, her decisions will be based on the data you provide in a timely fashion. Remember that the data may not always produce the numbers you want. On the plus side, let's say the spa is constantly booked solid, which grosses you a cool million in annual revenues with $350k in expenses. That's a pretty rosy picture, and you might start thinking about a nice little vacation to The Bahamas. On the other hand, a tanked economy might cause your revenues to plummet to $300k per year. However, your expenses are still $350k annually. Hope you had some cash reserves socked away. If not, you and your CPA are sitting down for a soul-searching budget-cutting session.

Last but not least...you'll push...er...encourage the sales of overpriced spa products to clients who want to recreate that special feeling at home. Here's how the spa can make a nice little income stream: Let's say the Lemony Luscious collection includes a body scrub, body butter, body lotion, and lip balm. The esthetician or massage therapist has given the client a free lotion sample, which she absolutely adores. She wants more. The spa staffer introduces her to the entire collection, which costs the spa about $15 wholesale. The retail price is $89.95 if the products are sold separately, but the client can save some money if she purchases the entire collection for $80. Also, note there's enough wiggle room for a 5% commission for the spa staffer. Now you should begin to get the picture.

Clearly, you've got to have a good sense of organization to pull this gig off. Previous business and supervisory experience would be invaluable, along with a good general command of the spa's services. If a client asks you about a Swedish massage, for example, you'll need to know the term does not refer to a rubdown given by a strapping young blonde stud from Stockholm.

Finally, you'll need the ability to empathize with your clients and your staff. You won't want to tell a client with rosacea that her facial redness will disappear if she stays off the sauce. You also don't want to minimize a staff member's emotional difficulties in coping with a chronically ill family member. However, you must also keep your objectivity so you can make decisions in the best interest of all parties.

That's a lot to digest, so let's summarize for a moment. You've got a good idea of a spa manager's responsibilities, along with the professional skills and personal traits that would help you succeed. You've scoped out the different types of spa settings, especially those in your city or town. At this point, you're intrigued about a career that seems to have a lot of upsides. After all, you won't be working on a construction site, with jackhammers assaulting your senses from morning 'til night. You'd work in a calming, peaceful environment, surrounded by ladies who want to help their clients look and feel their best. What's not to like?

Well, keep in mind that as a spa manager, you're selling services that aren't essential for survival (unless you're competing on Project Runway). Facials, massages, mani, and pedis are all at the mercy of a client's discretionary income. If a woman has to choose between a spa day or paying her utility bill or car insurance, guess which one will lose?

On the other hand, let's assume you have a steady influx of clients, but you're currently experiencing some staffing glitches. Your massage therapist just fell and broke her leg, meaning she'll be out of commission for a couple of months. You're scrambling to find another qualified woman who's not already employed or who has some extra hours to fill. And did we mention your cleaning lady just got the flu? Guess who's staying late to clean the spa tonight? Hope you didn't have a real hot date...he'll have to cool his heels for a day or two.

Finally, let's say you like the idea of running the show, and enjoy working in a health-focused environment. However, the whole New Age well-being vibe isn't really your cup of tea. Maybe you'd like to utilize your management skills at a health club or fitness center. Perhaps you'd enjoy a sales career based on health-related products or services, such as selling fitness equipment to health clubs, or marketing your personal training services. If you've got a good business and medical background, a medical practice management or medical staffing agency career might also be worth a second look.

Kind of, Sort of, Semi-Related Careers:

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