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Setting High Standards

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You have a vision of a magnificent new spa and you want to turn it into reality! Wonderful!! The decision to create a new spa starts a cascade of activities that can be both daunting and thrilling. It involves creating the physical space as well as designing how the spa will operate once it is open. You know that you cannot do it alone. You need a plan to ensure that the operations will flow smoothly in the space. An architect will help translate your vision for the physical property into the blueprints that will begin to turn the dream to reality.

A spa consultant may help you select equipment. The equipment may have special electrical or plumbing requirements that the architect needs to take into consideration. The builder will use the blueprints that provide the instruction for the structure and utilities during construction. A designer may decorate the spa to help you express your vision. Planning and organizing all of these activities to ensure your vision is translated into reality are critical from the very beginning.
Of course, creating the physical structure is only a small part of what it takes to open a successful new spa. Planning and organizing the activities that will take place inside the spa once it opens is key to ensuring smooth operations and success. You must define the system for providing guest treatments, managing the “behind the scenes” operations, and ensuring that any problems or glitches that crop up are identified and corrected. You must ensure that the spa operations are planned, policies and procedures are written, and that the staff is prepared and competent. All of these interacting, interrelated and interdependent activities together are called a quality management system. Just as a blueprint is used to build the spa’s structure, a quality management standard can serve as the “blueprint” for the spa’s quality management system. These standards provide a framework of quality elements necessary to ensure a spa has capabilities and systems that will provide guests with quality services and will provide you with peace of mind and a profitable business. Mature spas recognize that how they manage quality is critical to their success, and using quality management standards can help new spas shorten their learning curve.

Quality management standards include four common activities that are vital to every spa regardless of its type or size:

1)The need to plan

2)The need to document the procedures needed to carry out the plan

3)The need to be disciplined in taking action according to the plan

4)The need to continually seek ways to improve


A new spa needs to plan the services it will offer its guests. Understanding exactly what each guest requires is a first step. Spas need to clearly identify guests’ stated and unstated needs then plan the system of interconnected processes to provide services to meet clients’ needs. Just as the architect plans the structure to fit together and work as a whole, the quality management system needs to be planned as a connected whole rather than independent departments and independent processes. What every guest experiences are the interconnections and guests are the first to observe and experience the missteps when the system is not managed as a whole. You, as the owner of a successful spa, should develop and communicate a statement or the spa’s quality policy that guides the spa staff to meet those exact needs. The spa policy serves as a framework for the measurable objectives that are the key indicators of the spa’s success.
You and your management team create the culture, which is the first touch that the guest experiences. It defines how the staff will be organized and will communicate how you and your management team want input and involvement from the staff. Once you and your management team define the desired culture, the next step is to clearly define roles, responsibilities, and authority. This is far more than job descriptions. It is taking the time to decide who does what, how much authority each staff member has and most importantly how they all fit together. By using a disciplined approach to determine how everyone fits together, the gaps and overlaps of the typical spa can be avoided. By creating clear definitions and guidelines, each staff member will be more likely to take their responsibility seriously and will have the freedom to act in accordance with your vision and spa quality policy. Each position should carry with it a sense of “ownership boundaries”. Managing the “white space” on the organization chart can eliminate many staff issues and reduce turnover. Staff will support, use, and improve a system that they feel they are a part of planning and developing. Staff is often highly motivated by high expectations and a clearly articulated vision.

Documenting and Taking Action

At the opening of a spa, you, your management team, and staff capture their ideas for spa operation in step-by-step procedures. Of course, as with all procedures, experience using them will lead to opportunities to improve them. Ultimately, every spa is known for its consistency and reliability in providing services that meet or exceed the guest expectations. That consistency and reliability are the result of well-prepared, competent staff using clear and useful procedures. One necessary element is defining how the documents will be written and how they will be maintained to ensure that the staff is always working from the most current version. This is called Document Control, and it encompasses the creation, improvement, and control of all spa documents – spa menus, web site, printed newsletters, electronic newsletters, press releases, treatment protocols, cleaning procedures, purchasing procedures, purchase orders, records, signs, reports, customer feedback forms, and so on. Documents can be in the form of written pages, electronic pages, flow charts, diagrams, pictures, photos, signs, brochures, etc. The basic steps to creating a document control process include:

  1. Identify all of the spa’s documents (existing and planned).
  2. Identify who can create new documents.
  3. Identify who can change existing documents.
  4. Identify who can authorize documents.
  5. Decide on how documents will be identified (title, number, etc.)
  6. Decide on how revisions will be identified (date, number, letter, etc.)
  7. Identify the distribution locations for documents that have to be tracked and controlled and how the current version is ensured (process for recall and replacement).
  8. Create a master list with all documents and their latest revision as well as locations.

Asking the staff to write out how they plan to deliver the services is a good place to begin. With documented procedures in use, it is clear what happens consistently and that serves as the basis for improving. The best management systems demonstrate a balance between the extent of documentation and the reliance on training. Over reliance on training results in a system that is variable. Variation is the enemy of consistency. The goal is unity not uniformity, and the best way to achieve unity is to create consistency.


The opening of a spa is the beginning of discovering how effectively the plans worked to turn the vision into reality. Developing a system to capture the unexpected outcomes, the problems, and the undesirable incidents is an important element of a good quality management system and reliable profits. Documenting how staff members are to report problems and issues provides the staff with a voice and the management team with an opportunity to identify and eliminate the root cause of the problems and issues. Data indicate that in most organizations, senior managers know of about 4 percent of the problems and supervisors know about 45 percent while the general workers are aware of nearly 100 percent. Simply developing a system to record the problems is the first step to eliminating them.
Collecting meaningful guest feedback provides valuable insight to what your guests actually experience, not just what you had hoped and planned for them. Regularly sending independent, anonymous testers through the spa to verify how well the system is working from the guest’s point of view and having them provide a detailed report of their experience to management, provides management with information and an opportunity to identify what is happening according to the plans and what may not be happening consistently. With information based on the guest’s experience, the management knows what actions to take. That is to celebrate the consistencies and to identify inconsistencies and correct them. It is most cost effective to find and correct small problems before they turn into large, expensive ones.
Having all of this information together and readily available facilitates analysis so that informed decisions can be made to eliminate the causes of problems and prevent future problems.
Many inexperienced managers focus on people as the cause of problems when, in fact, most problems are caused by how the system is managed. Part of the overall plan should be to keep the staff involved and to ensure a highly disciplined operation. Each staff member should be prepared to “own” their role, required to follow controlled documents, encouraged to report problems and be involved in the improvement efforts.
Owners and managers of new spas are often tempted to focus on their competition and are concerned about how to set their new spa apart. Ultimately the most successful spas are those that are disciplined to their own vision and plan, adhere rigorously to the standards, policies, and procedures of their quality management system and continually measure themselves against their own performance and improvement plan.
What began, as a vision of a magnificent new spa will become the reality of an established, excellent spa when the spa has established a system to manage for consistency and to evaluate their ability to deliver it to their guests in a way that delights them.

Linda Bankoski and Julie Register are co-owners of SpaQuality LLC, an organization that created and maintains The International Standards of SpaExcellenceSM, educates spas on these industry-specific quality management standards, assesses spas to the standards and certifies those that meet the standards’ requirements. SpaQuality also provides Anonymous Guest Assessor services; conducts Quality Management Courses, Seminars, and Workshops for Spas; provides public speakers for expos, conventions, meetings and events; and operates and For more information, please visit

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