SPA MANAGEMENT: On-Call Practitioners

Expand your offerings via reciprocal alliances with highly trained service specialists.

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As day spas across the country face down the Great Recession, some of the savviest owners are finding success by heightening their beauty and/or well-being offerings to more uniquely and fully serve clients. Look at the service menu of many a thriving spa and you'll find innovative treatments offered by such exotic professionals as Reiki masters, acupuncturists, nutritionists and even doggie masseurs.

But how can small businesses afford to keep such highly trained specialists on payroll? The answer is they can't—and many don't. In this new era of out-of-the-box business practices, the smartest spa owners are forging reciprocal alliances instead, by working with specialized, on-call practitioners. It's a win-win-win situation, for owners, specialists and clients. Here's how some industry innovators have pulled off diverse partnerships (with tips for how you can, too!).

The Huntington Spa at The Langham Huntington in Pasadena, CA

Long a bastion of blue-blooded pampering, the Huntington Spa switched gears significantly in 2010 when it incorporated the Chuan Body + Soul wellness menu, with an emphasis on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). To help guide this transformation, the spa team set out to find a physician who was also a certified acupuncturist. "In keeping with the evolving identity of the spa, we wanted somebody who was trained in TCM, but who also had great communication skills and would be comfortable offering acupuncture services in a luxury spa setting," says Elsa Schelin, the Huntington’s director of communications.

After inquiring at a nearby hospital, the team found an excellent candidate: Dr. Paulette Saddler (pictured below) was highly educated and had special credentials in acupuncture, as well as great communication skills and an office located just a few minutes' drive from the spa. To solidify the partnership, the two parties sat down to define the relationship.

The physician acupuncturist agreed to set aside certain days to work with spa clients, but required 24 hours’ notice before each appointment. For the most part, she would see clients in the quiet, luxurious spa treatment rooms—to keep the five-star experience consistent—but if clients required treatment that would be best administered at Dr. Saddler's office, they would go there. At the spa, Saddler would offer acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion and the placement of ear seeds, with plenty of diagnostic consultation.

"People who are traveling to the Langham, many of who are interested in their health, make good acupuncture clients," says Saddler, who has served dozens of Huntington Spa guests since the two parties aligned. "Many face a lot of stress and want to make themselves feel better in a way that doesn't involve medication,” she adds. “Open-minded, wellness-oriented guests are a good fit for what I do."

The Huntington’s team is equally happy with the relationship. "Dr. Saddler provides a total wellness treatment," says Schelin. "We’re proud to offer clients an opportunity to talk to someone about their body, who will understand them from an M.D. and a TCM perspective.”

In exchange for providing this on-call relationship, the Langham buoys Saddler's practice via added promotion: At a Langham wellness workshop in 2011, Dr. Saddler was a featured guest speaker and discussed the benefits of acupuncture to a room full of loyal hotel guests. The spa's marketing team also pitches Dr. Saddler's relationship with the Langham to magazines and television news programs—They’ve landed stories about her work in the Los Angeles Times and other local news outlets. The Langham also bolsters their on-call acupuncturist in the spa brochures and weekly newsletters that are delivered to each hotel room.

The Huntington Spa bills each client the advertised amount for Saddler's services, and accounting software tracks those moneys paid. Once a month, Saddler receives the full amount paid by TCM-receiving clients. She then returns an agreed-upon percentage of what she has made to the spa—that amount is similar to a room rental fee, according to Schelin. Because she is a physician, the state of California requires her to collect the original fee. "We have a contract formulated by our attorneys to protect all parties," says Saddler. "If a spa wants to set up a similar arrangement, they have to look into the legalities and make sure they are following the full letter of the law."

When guests choose to receive treatment at Dr. Saddler's office, she does not pay the hotel anything. "We want what's best for our guests," says Schelin. "If Saddler can offer more intensive treatment at her office, then we want guests to benefit to the fullest."

The Huntington Spa's relationship with Saddler has taken them much further toward their ultimate objective: “Our long-term goal is to become a wellness center with an on-call relationship with fitness trainers, nutritionists and even belly-dancing experts. In the next year, we will become a full-time Chuan spa—that will be our identity," says Schelin. "And this TCM component makes our brand what it is."

Burke Williams Day Spa in Santa Monica, CA

Dr. Phil Goglia, a nutritionist and fitness expert who has worked with such bold-named clients as Owen Wilson, Ryan Gosling and Hillary Duff, mostly serves clients of his business, Performance Fitness Concepts, out of his Santa Monica offices. Recently though, the Santa Monica branch of the Burke Williams day spa chain asked him to serve as their on-call specialist. The arrangement is simple: When clients ask anyone on Burke Williams’ staff if they know of a reputable nutritionist, the spa puts them in touch with Goglia. The situation has proved to be a boon to both parties. "Burke Williams gets to use my name, which elevates their expertise," says Goglia, "And I get to list them as a reputed business I associate with."

Several Burke Williams staffers first heard about Goglia through word of mouth—mutual clients had mentioned his name during services. Upon being contacted for a partnership arrangement, Goglia agreed. "They gave me the leeway to do what I believe in terms of working with clients' nutrition—they didn't ask me to offer cleanses and shakes. I believe in real food and the science of metabolism—not two-week weight loss."

The spa now sets up special client seminars with Goglia, which brings him new clients, and also helps further establish the spa as more than a spot for massages and manicures. If clients end up working with Goglia one-on-one, he arranges for them to visit his office. Goglia does not collect any speaking fees from Burke Williams, but he takes all client payment for nutritionist services. The spa promotes Goglia through newsletters, emails and their bulletin board. And as part of the exchange, the spa offered Goglia an open invitation to use its whirlpool, sauna and other amenities, anytime.

Ciel Spa at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles

This spa has spent the past year marketing its treatments and space to bridal parties prepping for the big day. But of course, most brides’ needs extend beyond relaxation and pampering. What better to prep for facing cameras and crowds than with professional makeup services? Since they didn't have any makeup artists on staff, the spa team reached out to the nearby Blushington Makeup & Beauty Lounge in June, 2012, and forged a mutually beneficial, on-call alliance.

The West Hollywood-based Blushington shares a concept with blowdry bars, offering only professional makeup application. “Their client profile ranges from celebrities to tourists to locals who come in every day,” says Emily Bernstein, marketing manager for the SLS. “Our demographic is similar: Guests are eclectic, and seek a polished look with little effort and reasonable pricing.”

Blushington pros now stand on call to provide exclusive makeup services at Ciel. “We serve many guests prior to special occasions and events,” says Bernstein. “With Blushington on board, we’ve become a one-stop shop for spa services, hair, nails and makeup, and now are equipped to better cater to our guests’ needs.”

Ciel has highlighted their new makeup offerings via several spa packages, including the popular Girls’ Night Out offering ($299 pp), which includes a facial, mani/pedi and makeover, as well as a prix fixe dinner at on-site restaurant The Bazaar by Jose Andres. “It’s a huge hit,” reports Bernstein. “We’ve only been in alliance for six months, and we’ve already been booking these consistently—at least one group weekly. The union with Blushington works beautifully for Ciel, and the cross-promotion is driving new business to Blushington as well.”

Spa 10 in Encino, CA

Got a spare room in your spa? Consider leasing it to a specialist who can enhance your spa's reputation and identity. That's what Spa 10 owner Lori Crete recently did. The top-booked treatments at her Encino-based business, which she refers to as a “boutique skincare spa,” are microcurrent facials and spray tanning. In an effort to foster a more healing-based environment, Crete put an ad up on Craigslist and ended up interviewing a long line of interested therapists.

The moment she met energy healer Ilene Morrison, however, she knew instantly that she had found her renter. "I had a lot of flaky people call about the room," says Crete. "The moment Ilene showed up and smiled, I knew she would be the perfect fit."

Morrison now offers Energy Healing massages (2 hrs./$200) that relax the muscles and aim to transform negative thought patterns and beliefs, as well as straight energy work, in-person and over the phone. Spa 10's clientele was immediately intrigued by the new therapist’s offerings, and Morrison now sees about 40 of Crete's clients on a regular basis. "When I got a massage from her [Morrison], it was unlike any other treatment I had ever gotten," says Crete. "Most clients come out of her room looking as though they've been crying, and the first thing they say is 'I've never felt better!'"

Morrison is an independent contractor who pays rent to Crete. Her working guidelines are that she must hold up-to-date business and massage licenses, as well as practitioner insurance. Morrison handles all payment independently. She reaps most of her clients through word of mouth and Spa 10 referrals—Crete has added Morrison’s services to the menu and lists them on Spa 10’s online scheduling system. She also promotes the energy-healing massages on Spa 10's Facebook page.

The admiration is clearly mutual. Morrison says, "Lori has created a lovely warm environment -- it's a wonderful healing space for release, relaxation and expression. I love this partnership."

Alison Singh Gee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author.

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