Wednesday, 23 October 2019 12:54

Spa Versus Spa: How a Solo Aesthetician Can Compete with a Medical Spa

Written by Tanis Rhines

Your heart skips a beat while your pulse simultaneously quickens. You feel your face flush as your ears get disturbingly hot, while a surge of fear floods your system. Perhaps you found out by a new sign being erected on a nearby building, a Yelp ad that’s popping up on your screen, or, worse yet, a client informed you that a new spa is debuting right around the corner from your spa. Your thoughts may race to a territorial declaration of, “How dare they? I’ve been here for years and I’m just blocks away?” If the irritation wasn’t enough, a sinking feeling makes you question your business’ stability and you may begin to ponder the future of your practice.


Fear not, my uneasy esthie. Having a medical spa move in next door may be the best business boon bestowed upon you since some scientist stabilized vitamin C serum. Since the annual growth of medical spas is projected to be 20%, you will most likely have one waving an opening soon banner in a location near you.1 It was no surprise when the 2018 United States Spa Industry Study reported that 43% of spas are incorporating “forming new community partnerships” into their marketing plans.2 Here are some tips to form a profitable and rewarding symbiotic relationship between a client-focused, results-oriented skin sanctuary and a medical-themed, injectable-based clinic.



Take a moment to consider the different scopes of practice, services, products, and price points that each of these businesses are built on. Analyzing these distinctions will help you realize, celebrate, and market your uniqueness. It will also help both parties understand how they complement each other and when to cross-refer clients.


Scope of Practice: Medical spas must be affiliated with, overseen, or managed by a medical doctor. Each state has its own regulations, but services will usually be performed by doctors or nurses following a physician’s order. Aestheticians are licensed to treat the superficial layers of the skin and can own and operate their own day spa or work in a medical spa.


Services: Injectables, medical-grade chemical peels, and laser treatments are the mainstay of medical spa services. Solo aesthetician practices specialize in facials, extractions, eyelash extensions, microdermabrasion, waxing and threading, and superficial chemical peels.


Products: Medical spas tend to gravitate towards beauty brands that are typically sold exclusively in doctor’s offices. Day spas can carry a variety of products ranging from natural and organic to aggressive products with highly active ingredients. They are also more likely to retail items such as candles, makeup, and bathing products.


Price Points: The American Medical Spa Association reports that the average spend on a single visit is $459 with a 66% return rate. For other spas, the average revenue per visit is $93.70 and solo aestheticians may experience return rates as high as 90%.2



Based on the scope of practice and, therefore, the most popular procedures offered at medical spas, the ambiance can be clinical and appointments rushed. Often, little is offered to the client in terms of relaxation while waiting for an injection or laser treatment. In a solo practice, an opportunity to unwind in a softly lit room with relaxing music is usually part of the services offered. Exploit this difference by creating a retreat experience. Penciling in 10 extra minutes with each client can allow you to offer a beverage or an extended facial massage. Treatment personalization and relationship development are key.


Although some medical spas are expanding their portfolio to include zen-like services, most focus on medical procedures. Your offerings can fill in the gaps that are missed by your neighboring medical spa and your marketing should highlight these specialties. Feature them on your Yelp page by adding photographs or run ad campaigns discounting them to attract clients that are looking beyond their current medical spa’s offerings. Enticing seasonal treatments such as a summertime pomegranate facial or a fall pumpkin peel may encourage new clients to consider your spa in addition to visits to their doctor.


Remember those extra 10 minutes you scheduled with your client? That can be time spent educating them and suggesting products that are specific to their skin care goals. If you are a solo aesthetician, you get to realize 100% of profits from your product sales. It is possible to triple your bottom line while helping to rapidly improve your client’s skin. Carry a range of products encompassing different skin care philosophies and items for beauty and the bath. Better yet, leverage your biggest asset, which is your personal brand and private label products that are exclusively yours. Develop devoted fans, increase your profit margins, and go head-to-head with internet and competitive spa sales.


Medical spas generally have a much larger overhead than a solo aesthetician. Take advantage of this difference by offering affordable services that are still critical to healthy, glowing skin. Show off your specialized skills to clients by including thorough exfoliation and extractions in the price of your facials. Create opportunities to increase a lower base revenue by offering add-ons such as eyebrow shaping or bikini waxing. And, remember, most clients go to medical spas on a need-to-go basis. Create a program so that clients make more frequent and consistent visits by creating a monthly membership program that includes some basic services (with the opportunity to upgrade) and a discount on products.



This is not a time to retract but to liaise with that passionate entrepreneurial warrior inside you. Put on your professional business attire, grab a box of Godiva, and glide right into your new neighbor’s medical spa. Introduce yourself and your business and ask to speak with the manager or owner. Congratulate them on their grand opening, welcome them to the neighborhood, hand over the chocolates, and get down to business. This is the part where you tell them that you have thousands of clients that love and trust you and have been asking for a referral to a medical spa for Botox, laser hair and vein removal, and other services that you do not perform – but they do.


To be able to give an enthusiastic referral to this facility, it is best to partake of some of their treatments yourself or read reviews from their clients. You want to send your clients to a medical spa that has outstanding customer service and exemplary results to further build trust with them and help them find excellent aesthetic procedures.


Next, let them get to know you. Gift their team complimentary or discounted services and products, so that they can experience the ambiance and results-oriented offerings at your spa. During their treatment is a perfect time to highlight your distinctive specialties – the use of organic products, waxing or threading, or perhaps performing extractions on teens. And, then, let them experience the healing serenity of your hands. After all, most medical spas only offer results you can see, but you also offer results you can feel.


Develop a cross referral program. Perhaps it is one the client receives a benefit for using both spas and the staff do, as well. An impressive example of a mutually beneficial relationship between a medical spa and a solo aesthetician practice is one that formed in Los Angeles, California over 16 years ago. The aforementioned advice was followed and the two businesses experienced a cross-referral rate as high as 40%. It pays to be an extroverted, entrepreneurial aesthetician. Now, in the words of Mr. Rogers, go out there and ask your nearest medical spa, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”



1 “Medical Spas: A Market Analysis.” Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., Tampa, Florida. Nov 2012.

2 “The 2018 ISPA US Spa Industry Study.” International Spa Association, Lexington, Kentucky. Sept 2018.


Tanis RhinesTanis Rhines is a cellular and molecular scientist turned aesthetician revealing the truth about all things aesthetic. She is a spa owner and the co-founder of “Ask The Estheticians,” an online resource for those in the industry. Rhines is a prolific writer, tackling topics as a biotechnologist, breaking down the data and revealing its application to skin care – often in a humorous but always in an honest way. She is known as the “Organic Beauty Scientist” and is passionate about busting myths and educating people to be brainy about their beauty.







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