We’ll be talking – and talking and talking – to leaders in the spa world about their careers, the paths they took to get where they are, and about their joys, challenges, and insights.
Magdaleena Nikolov is the Director of Spa at Bacara Resort and Spa, Santa Barbara. She’s been a spa director and manager, and before that a therapist, and has worked in Miami, New York, Dallas, and now Santa Barbara.
Magdaleena answers our questions here – and shares a lovely but heartbreaking story about Bacara.
By what path did you become a spa director?
I have a business degree and I started in finance, but finance is so hard core and cutthroat. I was on the trading floor, and I thought “this can’t really be what life is about!” I wanted to heal and care for people and do something giving, but still have a decent job.
So, I got into massage and into the treatment room, but that wasn’t enough, because I was still a business person. I’m also an aesthetician, and a nail technician. I had a great mentor who was like “Why don’t you be a spa director?” And it all kind of came together.
I get to use both sides of my brain where I’m creating all the time, working on treatments and designing menus, but then I’m also looking at PNLs and running numbers. So I’m constantly stimulated.
What do you like most about your position at Bacara?
My staff is phenomenal, the team is amazing, and our guests are the best. So it’s them, as well as the location. I’m in Santa Barbara and if I want to have a meeting overlooking the ocean I can, regularly.
What is your biggest challenge as a spa director?
Recently I’m starting to see the trend of being short staffed on therapists, especially in certain categories. Salon and nails is really difficult, particularly in remote areas. I also cover Napa Valley and I find that I don’t have enough seasoned therapists. I don’t know if there’s a decline in people going to school for this or what it is, but I just feel like I’m struggling for really good senior level staff.
I remember the days in Miami, where qualified people were knocking down my door, and now I’m wondering what happened to them.
What is your greatest joy?
Making people feel good. We get to heal and care and create memories. Also, being a good leader and teaching. I love being able to pass on what I’ve learned and see someone grow and come into their own in this industry. I was fortunate to have great mentors and if I can give that back it brings me joy.
Who do you most admire in the industry?
The therapists who give of themselves every day to heal and comfort others. The people that have committed their lives to caring and healing for other people.
What would you like to see more of or more focus on in the spa world?
Health and wellness in a true sense of the word, and from a cultural perspective. There are many ancient, effective modalities that are part of people’s culture – Ayurvedic therapies, for example – and a lot of the time I think we’re too focused on being cutting edge, especially in skincare. I don’t think that here in America we know enough about those ancient or cultural modalities or are exposed to enough of them.
Do you have any amazing or great stories to share about your experiences as a spa director?
We’re working with Make a Wish Foundation to grant the wish of a terminally ill 17 year old whose last wish is to have a spa day. They chose us and I feel honored to be able to give her that experience We’re designing an entire day of custom treatments for her, and have invited the whole family. We haven’t even done it yet and the story has just hit me really hard. I can’t wait for that day, to have her here.
Really, it’s all about the human experience and something like that is so impactful for me.