Advice from the Frontlines of Spa Reopenings
by Jamison Stoike

The April ISPA Snapshot Survey found that nearly the entire spa industry—99 percent of surveyed respondents—closed temporarily due to COVID-19. It follows, then, that the vast majority of spas are now in the thick of the reopening process. As local governments quickly loosen restrictions in an effort to pump up economies, many spa directors are having to rapidly ready their teams for reopening.

Brennan Evans, VP spa operations for Trilogy Spa Holdings (and ISPA Vice Chairman), has already helped several of his spas reopen. Well & Being Spa at The Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, Arizona, reopened in late May, while Trilogy’s two locations in Las Vegas—at Red Rock Casino and Green Valley Ranch—just recently reopened. Along the way, Evans has learned a few things both big and small that are worth keeping in mind for any spa director who is reopening their spa.

Put the Employees First

Spa directors whose spas’ have reopened almost uniformly report that the level of care they have needed to put into every aspect of the employee experience has exceeded what they initially anticipated. In many cases, employees are just as concerned—if not more—about returning to the spa, particularly after the disruption and mental trauma of COVID-19. Spending an extensive amount of time preparing and supporting your team is essential. Communication or over-communication alone is not enough. Evans suggests beginning with comprehensive training plans, scripting for guest interactions and “COVID-19 safety information for [your] employees.” Once that is in place, Evans recommends “pre-opening training” that includes practice sessions and dry runs. “Have staff work on each other,” says Evans, “and get used to working in a ‘new normal’ environment.” You only have one chance to nail your spa’s reopening, so it pays to make sure your staff is comfortable performing treatments before they perform one on a guest. “Give your staff time in the facility prior to opening to do some ‘dry runs,” Evans continues. “Practice with all the new rules and SOPs: wearing masks, cleaning time, verbiage practices, etc.”

Think Small

Take a wide-eyed look at the spa experience; put yourself in the mind of a spa-goer to make sure no detail goes unexplained and no question goes unanswered. Evans suggests walking through your spa to determine everywhere that you’ll need to put signage that explains new protocols, outlines social distancing guidelines or restricts access to certain areas and facilities.

Being detail-oriented is also the key to navigating the tangled web of federal, state and local regulations surrounding COVID-19. Trilogy, who manages spas across the United States, has “been actively engaged with each state’s governmental messaging” to ensure they stay on top of changing regulations. Reach out to local associations—or even the local or state government itself—to get their input on navigating your return to normal operation. And be prepared to be flexible, says Evans: “We also know that we need to be ready to change as the dynamics around knowledge about the virus evolve.” For now, Evans and his team are sticking to government guidelines and evidence-based recommendations from the CDC, FDA, EPA and ISPA.

Handling the Hurdles

Beyond readying the team for opening day, there were two challenges that Evans noted required creative solutions. The first was developing a staffing model that made financial sense. Trilogy Spa Holdings furloughed its spa staff to make it easier to rehire them when the time came. However, the newly reopened spas aren’t operating at full-staff capacity, and so “determining the best, right and most fair processes for reengaging teams was complicated and unclear,” notes Evans. Whom do you bring back first? How many hours do they work? How do you build a fair schedule, especially given commission-dependent compensation models? These are tough questions that you will need to answer before you can reopen.

There are also employees who do not want to return to work yet, often due to safety and health concerns or difficulty finding childcare with so many childcare centers still closed. Trilogy approached this problem as compassionately as possible by “asking for volunteers who wanted to return,” according to Evans. This allowed those who were ready and willing to work to step up without putting those with concerns on the spot. “Those that didn’t want to return immediately were given options that included the ability to go ‘on call’ and stay employed with the company,” Evans adds. They have also established deadlines after which time it would be required to lay off the employee; however, the employees are presented with this option in advance.

Demand is High

There is another aspect of Evans’ spa reopenings that echoes the experiences of other ISPA members: consumer demand has been extremely strong. “We have mostly been limited by our occupancy guidelines,” says Evans, “and not a lack of demand.” Only time will tell if the surging demand many spas are currently experiencing is a temporary boom, or if it represents a long-term return to a healthy status quo. Until more data is available, forecasting will be difficult; all in all, though, surprisingly high demand is a good problem to have.

Evans noted that early customers have not been seeking deep discounts, although Trilogy’s spas have offered discounts commensurate with the reduction in available spa facilities. “As our amenities come on-line,” Evans notes, “we will scale back these discounts where it makes sense.” Evans also points out that there’s been a surprising lack of customers wearing masks or being diligent with PPE, despite the spa encouraging customers to wear it. Depending on your state or local regulations, businesses may be required to ask customers to wear PPE, so a lax attitude towards PPE is certainly a trend to keep an eye on.

Evans' Top Advice

“I would highly encourage spa operations to set ‘safe, sane’ approaches to your initial schedules and business hours. Give the team ample time to maneuver between treatments. Give your leadership team an opportunity to regroup either each day or perhaps limit your days of operation to give you a day or two closed (in the beginning) to take stock of all that’s happened, what went well, and what needs to be modified. Give yourself and your team some breathing room in the beginning. You get one chance to get the reopening right.”