Getting Resourceful
The Evolution of the Spa-Resource Partner Relationship
by Josh Corman

FOR MUCH OF THE PAST YEAR AND A HALF, the spa industry has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic by adapting and innovating at every opportunity. For many spa and resource partner leaders, a big part of that adaptation has involved finding creative ways to continue supporting each other as everything from occupancy restrictions to supply chain disruptions has presented each group with an evolving set of challenges.

That work has been one of the silver linings of the pandemic. Since the crisis began in March of 2020, many spas and resource partners have transformed the way they do business together, wholly embracing the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” in the process. Training, ordering, shipping and communication have come under the microscope as industry leaders seek out new, more efficient methods of working with one another. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, spas’ needs—and thus what they need from their resource partners—continue to evolve as staffing shortages and sky-high demand put added strain on teams that are already stretched thin.

Adapt and Evolve
Like a large number of her industry colleagues, Megan Jasper—director of marketing and operations at Gadabout Salon Spas—is quick to sing the praises of her resource partners’ efforts during the pandemic. “Our resource partners have been so awesome with us. They haven’t held us to the fire about making purchases or anything like that,” Jasper says. “They’ve just [said], ‘Whatever you need. Do you need us to do education and it’s all going to be virtual? What can we do?’ Our resource partners have just truly been partners through all of this. For that I’m so grateful.”

At Red Mountain Resort, home of Sagestone Spa in Ivins, Utah, Director of Spa and Wellness Marci Howard- May expresses a similar sentiment, citing several specific adjustments resource partners have made to assist the spa in one area or another, including changes to the traditional retail sales arrangements they had with Sagestone. “I’ve been really impressed with those [vendors] that have been able to offer retail online where they didn’t before because they wanted to keep [products] exclusive to the spa,” Howard-May says. She adds that because various vendors were able to offer her spa a percentage of guests’ online product purchases similar to what she was receiving on in-spa purchases, she’s been able to reduce inventory significantly, which is a welcome simplification for her on the operational side of things.

In addition, Howard-May’s resource partners came through by offering readily available virtual training and providing the spa with pre-made marketing materials for their products. Given the demands often placed on timestarved spa leaders at the moment, they are sure to appreciate the hours saved by those types of actions. “Most spa directors, I’m finding we have all got more on our plates than ever before. Unfortunately, I just don’t have as much time to sit and be creative because I’m dealing with the day-in, day-out so heavily,” she says.

Though spa leaders have obviously faced all manner of strain on their time throughout the pandemic, the past handful of months have likely seen that strain increase in some ways, as the elimination of occupancy restrictions, high levels of demand for spa services and staffing challenges leave leaders, service providers and other staff with precious little opportunity to set aside time for wholeteam training or the development of enticing product displays. Those resource partners able to remain flexible and meet the changing needs of their spa partners are providing aid that Marci Howard-May describes as “lifesaving.”

Challenges On Both Sides
Not all resource partners, of course, have been able to provide the kind of support that Megan Jasper and Marci Howard-May describe. After all, the same disruptions that have affected spas so profoundly have also had an enormous impact on resource partner businesses. “I cannot imagine how difficult this time has been on vendors with so many spas closed and so many sources of revenue just falling off. That has been a challenge, obviously, for both sides,” says Howard-May. Still, when resource partners face challenges related to staffing or manufacturing and the supply chain, the spas with whom they may have had longstanding relationships are forced into awkward situations.

Scott Vazinski, executive director at The Spa at Yellow Creek, says that a lack of clear communication from some resource partners has to some challenges for him, his team and even some guests. “That’s been the frustrating thing that I’ve experienced in terms of order fulfillment and product availability. There have been some products that we’ve had to alter our operations because of their lack of availability for over a year,” says Vazinski. “I mean, those are few and far between, but it’s been really challenging.” Specifically, Vazinski cites the popular seasonal treatments guests have come to anticipate as one thing disrupted by a product shortage. “If one ingredient or one product is missing from [those], then we can’t really do it,” he says.

And though Vazinski and the spa’s service providers have been frustrated at inconveniences like these, the issue has less to do with which products are available when and more to do with the dearth of information they receive from some resource partners about what the spa should expect. “If we know ahead of time that we’re not going to have [a certain product], then we can share that information with our staff, and they’re coming into it prepared, as opposed to it being a surprise that you don’t have a tool that’s really crucial to the day,” he says.

Marci Howard-May says she knows how Vazinski feels. “I just don’t have the energy and the time that I can set aside to go to the vendor and request and request. If they're not coming to me with ideas, I have to reach out to them for something, and unfortunately, I’ve taken on an entirely different manager role on top of [my spa director role]. It’s just changed so much of our workload,” she says.

On the other hand, however, when a resource partner comes through with a particularly helpful tactic for keeping spa operations running smoothly, the impact is more keenly felt than ever. Scott Vazinski shares that Comfort Zone has provided a robust library of virtual education materials that have made a tremendous difference, given how difficult it has been to organize whole-team training in recent months. “They’ve been really integral in terms of providing resources,” Vazinski explains. “It’s more than just having the product knowledge and treatments online, they actually have almost weekly webinars that help with employee engagement, getting them excited about the lines.” Vazinski adds that the company has tailored their resources to help boost retail sales and educate guests on ingredients that support their wellness in particular ways. At a time when not every resource partner has been able to offer that level of support, those able to go the extra mile are worth their weight in gold.

No East Task
Unfortunately, the pandemic’s impact has placed unprecedented strain on both spas and resource partners, making it all but a certainty that some partnerships between the two will come to an end, either because the resource partner goes out of business or the working relationship between the two becomes too strained to continue. It is important that spas prepare for such outcomes so that they aren’t caught flat-footed if a partnership gets into trouble. As Marci Howard-May notes, the process of finding a new resource partner to work with is exactly the kind of intensive, time-consuming task that many spa directors would find difficult to fit onto to-do lists that are already bursting at the seams. “If I change from one line to another, I want to spend a lot of time researching that product, coming to understand that product,” she says. “And then there’s the expense of moving out inventory. So, it’s hard to move away from one vendor because you’ve developed a personal relationship, but if it’s not working, then sometimes you just have to let the numbers speak, and that has been a challenging thing.”

As Scott Vazinksi points out, however, making that kind of a change can have a major impact beyond the time it requires of spa leaders. “We brand our spa according to the resource partners we have,” he says, “so if we were to switch resource partners—let’s say our skin care brand or something—it’s rebranding as a spa. It’s education that we don’t have the ability to do on new product treatments. We’d have to redesign a treatment menu. We’d have to analyze and change our pricing, and we’d have to introduce the line to our staff or our clients. It’s just a really big undertaking.” No matter a spa’s staffing or leadership situation, such an endeavor requires a high level of confidence that the partnership in question is truly not salvageable. And even if things get to that point, Megan Jasper advises spa leaders to be as empathetic as possible, given the strain the entire spa industry has been under.

“Just put yourself in the other person’s shoes and have a conversation,” Jasper says. “I mean, if we’ve been partners for eight years, 10 years, is it that this situation is so bad that we need to make a change? Then let’s make sure to have a conversation first so that we can both learn from it and build.”

COVID-19 has forced spas and resource partners to find ways to work together and support each other. Though traveling this road together may not always be easy, remaining open and flexible to new solutions will be crucial to both groups’ success through the pandemic and beyond. And if you are uncertain about suggesting alternative solutions, Megan Jasper’s advice is simple: don’t be. “It doesn’t have to be broken before you can fix it,” she says. “What if we did it like this? Or what if we modeled it after a different industry that did it like this? Why can’t we explore that question? Don’t just take what’s always been as the way it has to be.”

Not Going Anywhere
Providing flexible, easily accessible training content and working with spas to establish a system for online ordering are just a couple of ways in which resource partners have demonstrated their flexibility during the pandemic. But the reality is that many of the adjustments that spas and resource partners have made to the ways in which they work together are not likely to be confined to the pandemic. Instead, these shifts are likely to remain in place even when complications from COVID-19 subside.

Simply put, the sheer convenience of virtual training models, for example, means that they are almost certainly here to stay in some form or another. Says Megan Jasper, “For our spa, they’re great—[employees] can get on a Zoom call and pay attention and listen for an hour or two hours… and they’re engaged.” Not only are the sessions effective, but they also improve the work experience of service providers, which is a significant benefit in a climate where employee retention is such a challenge. “A lot of our estheticians hope we continue to do education like this. They don’t feel bad being late because they have to drop kids off, and they can still be part of the content and can still learn. Or they don’t have to drive 45 minutes to get to that education. I think eventually, at least in our spa, we’ll probably get to more of a hybrid model where not everything is in person, but there are still in-person opportunities,” Jasper says.

Other innovations, such as Jasper’s agreement with a new makeup vendor that will allow her to keep inventory low while relying on the resource partner to drop ship products directly to guests, have also introduced levels of convenience that spa leaders aren’t soon likely to sacrifice. That may be especially true of adjustments that are time-savers for spa leaders or reduce the impact of staffing shortages and employee turnover.