Shane Upson on being a “passion transfer specialist”

Shane Upson talked with Spa Executive about why he calls himself a “passion transfer specialist,” why some spas struggle with retail, and what he’s excited about.

Shane Upson is a luxury hospitality leader with a passion for the high-end spa/salon, beauty and retail industry.

An eclectic career history began in culinary art and education and evolved into wellness and all things hospitality. On the way, Mr. Upson worked in the entertainment industry as a model and actor, and as a regional sales manager for Rock & Republic, with stints at Saks Fifth Avenue and some boutique beauty brands in between. His hospitality career includes positions at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, W Hotels, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

He recently took on a new role as Director of Spa Operations at San Manuel Casino in Highland, California. A bold personality, Mr. Upson takes a passionate and creative approach to leadership that motivates and begets positive results.

We spoke to Shane Upson about why he calls himself a “passion transfer specialist,” why some spas struggle with retail, and what he’s excited about.

Can you talk about your career trajectory and how you came to be where you are today?

My career started in food and beverage. I went to school for culinary arts, graduated when I was 17 years old, and started cooking for Steve and Elaine Wynn, opening up hotels in Las Vegas at age 17. But I realized quickly that my personality was too strong for the confines of a small kitchen, so I decided to go to the front of the house and make some tips.

I spent some time in the entertainment industry and fell in love with makeup artistry. I became passionate about it. There was something beautiful about empowering an individual by just making them a more glamorous version of themselves or showing them the way to embrace who they really are.

I then managed salons and spas, moved on to Saks Fifth Avenue, then to smaller scale beauty brands and was a regional manager for Rock & Republic for three years. But, I wanted to work with small teams again, rather than having 1600 associates across the country or internationally. So I took a chance and went back to the spa industry.

You call yourself a “passion transfer specialist.” Can you elaborate on that?

When I talk about what I love I get so engaged in it and it comes across in a very authentic way. I’m very passionate about the things that I love. People tell me “You could sell me anything.” But I hate being called a salesperson. My perception of sales is of someone trying to earn a commission rather than doing what’s right for the other person. I just speak from a place of passion and try to transfer that passion, and this makes people want whatever it is I’m talking about. So, I started calling myself a passion transfer specialist.

Does that mindset help with your retail revenue and retail experiences?

It does. People are resistant to sales. The minute you think you’re being sold to, your guard goes up and you cautiously listen to whatever is being said. I believe in changing the narrative from sales to solutions. Don’t talk about retail products and items. You’re talking about solutions. You’re listening to the guests’ needs, wants, and concerns, and offering them solutions. People are open to solutions. They’re not open to being sold products.

 Why do you think so many spas struggle with retail?

Oftentimes it’s a lack of communication and a lack of accountability. It’s not part of the conversation and it’s not set as an expectation. If an expectation isn’t set, people will always fail to meet it. It’s not top of mind, it’s an afterthought. Making it part of your language and talking to your team about it on a consistent basis will change the environment.

I like to make goals mandatory and hold people accountable. According to research on retail penetration to services, between 10-12% of service revenue should be represented by retail sales for massage therapists. For estheticians, it should be 40-100%, and in the nail and hair space it should be 20-25%. I put that into my job descriptions and give people the tools to meet those expectations. We need to consistently be talking about it, giving our teams the tools and encouragement they need, and tracking progress so they know where they stand.

One of my best practises is using the retail report card in the Book4Time system, which makes tracking very easy. I also have coaching conversations with my teams, and work with each of them individually to learn about their passion points and individualize their approach.

You have said that you love Book4Time. Can you talk about some ways it’s made your life easier in places you’ve worked?

In every way. It’s difficult to nail down how much easier everything is with the system. It’s just ease of use, being able to manipulate appointments, working with guests, having your marketing campaigns at your fingertips without having to partner with other departments.

The fact that teams can see their appointments and changes in real time on their phones because it’s cloud based. If a system isn’t cloud based, you print appointments out at the end of the day and what happens if something changes? They don’t know about it. The team is more in tune with what’s going on and more connected. There are so many different ways that the system works well.

In major corporations senior management wants to see reports and numbers before they will give you approval for something. With Book4Time you have everything that you need to show those reports and also to be able to run a successful operation and deliver a luxury level of service. It’s everything. It’s like a full service spa concierge at your fingertips. I love it.

Thank you! What makes a great luxury guest experience?

I think it’s the extra little touches that make a big difference. Having more than just the basics and going beyond. Remembering the guests name and previous conversation topics. They feel special when you remember their dog’s name or what they talked about during their last visit. That’s another way Book4Time is wonderful because you can enter this information into the guest’s profile.

People want to know that they matter and that you’ve heard them and remember them. So, when Mrs. Jones’ profile pops up and reminds you that her husband had just been through knee surgery the last time you saw her, you can ask about it and maybe recommend a great CBD cream that might help with his pain.

What are you excited about?

I’m excited about the rise of interest in wellness and the love and admiration we’re seeing for the wellness industry. Rather than being an amenity, as it was for so many years, it’s become a requirement for a lot of travelers and it’s the main topic of conversation.

That connection to wellness, spirit, and overall wellbeing is extremely exciting. Everything that we, as passionate wellness people, have been preaching has now come to the forefront and become part of the mainstream. Where we may have been lower down on the priorities list for some hotels or brands in the past, now we’re at the top of the list. Owners of these properties are demanding that there be a wellness component in their new builds. It’s a beautiful and exciting time.


Is finding and retaining talent a challenge at your spa? Get insights from industry leaders, including Nigel Franklyn, Lynne McNees, Verena Lasvigne-Fox, and Daisy Tepper when you download our report: What will it take to fix the spa industry’s staffing shortage? .


Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at

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