Shane Bird of Turning Stone’s SKANA Spa on what it takes to run an award winning spa

Shane Bird Turning Stone

Skʌ:nʌ́: Spa at Turning Stone Casino Resort was recently named Best Spa by Casino Player Magazine (while the resort was also named best in a variety of other categories), and has been awarded 4 Forbes Travel Guide stars for the last two years running. It’s the only spa in upstate New York that can lay claim to the latter, which is no small feat. What makes Skʌ:nʌ́: and Turning Stone stand out among the competition? We asked Shane Bird, Director of Spa and Environmental Services Operations at Turning Stone, to talk about what’s most important when it comes to running a world-class, award-winning spa.

Bird is responsible for the operations of the Tower Fitness and the Skʌ:nʌ́: and Áhsi’ Spas. He oversees a staff of 67 at the casino report, which is located on land belonging to the Oneida Indian. A hospitality veteran and trained massage therapist, Bird previously served as Spa Director at the Aji Spa at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort. Prior to that, he spent 10 years with Canyon Ranch where he was instrumental in the opening of several properties.

What do you think is the most important element in running an award-winning spa?

I would say the foundation to any award-winning spa is the staff. When you look at different spas, you’re not necessarily going to see a ton of variation between, say, products or massage tables or even décor. Everybody tries to have a great facility, but you’re not going to have an award-winning spa without that staff. Anybody can do product and nice linens and good tables, but it takes a lot to gather the staff together, to get them marching to the same drum, maintaining the same standards, and forming a tribe, for lack of a better word.

What do you look for in a team member?

When it comes to receptionists, attendants and those guest service front line roles, you’re looking for somebody who is engaging. As you bring them in to interview, you’re trying to see if you can just sit down and just have a pleasant conversation with this individual. That’s the first step. Because it’s harder and harder nowadays to find people who can have a coherent conversation and connect. If you can do that and if they’re showing that bit of passion, you can train them to your expectations. And 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be successful.

For providers, You want somebody who is engaging and amicable, but then obviously you need that hands on experience. You want a level of communication and engagement within a treatment, – whether it’s massage, skin care, or facial – where you feel like their intention is there, they’re pampering, they’re in the moment, they’re all about that moment in time and giving you their all.

Why do you say that it’s increasingly difficult to find someone who can have a conversation these days?

Younger people engage through technology. So, I find that when I’m faced with a 19 or 20 year old in my office they have a hard time having a conversation. To put this person on the phone or the front desk where it’s expected that they will lead the conversation, engage, and be proactive with our guests’ wants and needs, that’s going to be a big learning curve. This is a challenge we’re going to be facing more of in the future.

What do you think is key to managing a successful team once you have one?

Being willing as a manager or director to do everything,  and to really get in the trenches. To be able to get in there and work with someone, whether it’s at the front desk or collecting towels, and to do whatever they are doing. You cannot stay in an office. Your team has to see you engaging the guests in the way you want the guests engaged. It’s being a part of the everyday operations as much as you possibly can. I’ve always been very hands on. At times, I’ve actually been chided by my superiors that I’m a little too hands on.

 What are the key attributes of successful spa directors?

I believe it comes down to personal attributes. I have a little whiteboard, and I don’t even know why it’s a whiteboard, because I haven’t changed that whiteboard in years, but it’s right by my door and it has a list that reads:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Real intent
  • Consistency

That’s what it takes. You can have a lot of different technical skills and have mastered all the business acumen, but I feel that if you lack certain personal attributes as far as just maintaining human truths, you’re going to lack something.

How do you keep guests happy?

Keep your staff happy. If you’re treating them the way you want your guests treated, that sort of stuff is contagious and they’ll treat the guests as they should be treated. I know it sounds overly simplistic, and obviously, there are outliers with whom you’re going to have issues, but if you’re right there with your staff and you’ve trained them properly and given them the tools and the resources they need, they’ll take care of the guests.


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