How to improve operations with spa management training

A lot of companies treat employees as an afterthought. The customer comes first, it’s all about sales, and those very important team members wind up nearly forgotten. This happens in all industries, including spa, and it has a devastating effect on your operations and revenue. 

Employee wellbeing and training, including spa management training, should be a top priority, says Kathryn Dowthwaite-Blay, MA, Spa Education Academy Founder and Director, and provider of international online spa management qualifications.

Dowthwaite-Blay has been in the Beauty, Spa, and Wellness industry for 20 years, and has worked as a therapist, spa manager, and spa director all over the world. She holds a Masters in International Spa Management, and has managed University Spa Degree programmes and Further Education Curriculum departments. 

We talked with Dowthwaite-Blay about how spa owners, operators, and directors can improve operations with proper training, including higher education and degree programs, and rethinking our approach to leadership.

Here are three key takeaways from that conversation.

1. Provide your team with the tools they need to succeed

Wellness is a fast-growing industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s always taken seriously. When spa managers are faced with fellow executives in hotels and resorts and in any situation where they are talking with an investor or person who controls the purse strings, they should know how to do business. They often aren’t equipped, according to Dowthwaite-Blay, who says proper management training, including higher education and degree programs, can change that.

She explains, “If you’re working your way up in the industry from therapist to spa director, and you find yourself in the boardroom with the HR director, the finance director, and the GM, those people usually have degrees. It helps to have the confidence to speak the language, talk the talk, and be able to point to applicable statistics, theories, and models to get your point across. All executives should be able to stand in a boardroom and provide evidence to justify their arguments. For example, if you’re asking for a higher budget for training, they’re going to ask, ‘what’s the return on investment, and can you point to a successful example?’”

Training managers so that they can sit at that table and confidently take part in the conversation is a key part of a spa’s business success.

2. Spa is unique – and that should be recognized

Business success requires recognizing that spa is an industry with specific needs when it comes to recruitment, training, and management – and rising to meet those needs.

“We need to contextualize everything to the spa industry. When people from another background, like Hospitality and Tourism or Food and Beverage, move into spa, they usually have no understanding of what’s required,” Dowthwaite-Blay says.

“Gordon Ramsey running a spa, for example, wouldn’t be very effective. You can’t be shouting and swearing at therapists, who are sensitive and caring.” This matters, not just because you shouldn’t go around yelling and swearing at people, but also because the guest is directly affected by the output.

Dowthwaite-Blay explains, “When food comes out in a restaurant, you don’t know how the chef felt when they were making it. You don’t know if they were happy, sad, crying, or whatever, and it could still be a fantastic meal. But with a therapist, if they’re not happy, that output and the experience are completely different. We need to manage therapists in a different way – and that means training management to do that.”

3. Value team members as much as you value guests

Finally, Dowthwaite-Blay says we should be rethinking the way we approach management as a whole. This includes recognizing the value of our team members and treating them accordingly.

As we are always noting, there are a lot of spas out there. “There’s so much competition,” Dowthwaite-Blay says, “People are spoiled for choice. So our unique selling point is our staff.” That means that the wellbeing of spa staff members should be top of mind.

“If a therapist is in a great place, they’re going to give the best treatment and the best service. And that’s what’s going to make us stand out.”

We always talk about the “customer journey” she says, “maybe we should be talking about the staff journey. How do they feel when they come through the door, what’s their journey into the treatment room? What’s their staffroom like? How does that space make them feel?

“We should be thinking about their space the same way we think about the guest’s space. Is the staff room just a computer, a chair, and a water dispenser? We could be thinking about color, chromatherapy, or the hygge concept. Do they have lemon cucumber water and aromatherapy oils?

“We’re going to have to give our staff a little bit more. We are a growing industry and our pool of talent is getting smaller and smaller. If we’re not thinking like this we’re not going to have a sustainable business.”

Spa Executive magazine is published by Book4Time, the world’s most innovative spa, salon, wellness, and activity management software. Learn more at