Continuing Education

It's "back to school" o'clock—check out latest educational resources and strategies for day spas.
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A lot went into launching your first day spa. Most likely, you went to school, apprenticed in a spa, did a lot of market research, created a business plan, tested products, secured funding, learned promotional and management strategies, and so on. But whether you’re a first-year day spa owner or a 20-year industry veteran, one factor remains constant: Ongoing education is crucial for your business to thrive, prosper and grow. Each year, owners, managers and staff need to find ways to execute the latest trends and advancements in treatments, technology, products and instruments, and also to use the latest tools to grow their business.

Good news: There’s an almost limitless array of continuing education options, from free webinars and business-coaching CDs, to extended stays at training academies and on-site seminars led by product manufacturers’ professional trainers. It’s crucial that spa professionals take advantage of these vehicles to stay on the cutting edge of the industry, and thus remain savvy clients’ go-to resource.

The CE Imperative

“New products, ingredients and technologies are being introduced to the end-consumer on almost a daily basis,” explains Annet King, director of global education for The International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica. “Complete consumer access to information, business reviews and product ingredient lists has changed the industry—it’s created very powerful spa-goers with diverse choices, and called for total transparency. Today’s consumer holds all the power, so the spa, salon or skin center has to work that much harder to attract and retain clients.”

Not only does continuing education help you stay viable in the marketplace, but it’s also an important safety measure. “Many states include a continuing education requirement for license renewal, law and safety,” notes Jessi Marshall, director of industry programs and education at the Professional Beauty Association (PBA). “This ensures the safest experience for the esthetician as well as the client.”

And for junior employees looking to move up to managerial positions or run a spa of their own, continuing education provides invaluable career development. A 2012 industry report from the Global Spa and Wellness Summit states, “Spa businesses are facing a fundamental challenge in their management workforce—95% of spa industry leaders face problems in hiring spa managers with the right combination of qualifications and experience.”

Simply put: Continuing education—for your entire staff—is a must! “I’ve been in the industry for more than 33 years and have found there is always something to learn,” sums up Tamara Friedman, president of Tamara Spa + Wellness in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

To help you determine which continuing education strategies are best for you and your staff, DAYSPA went to the experts to glean the best options—for business development, treatment know-how and accrediting—available today.

“Complete consumer access to information, business reviews and product ingredient lists has changed the industry—it’s created very powerful spa-goers with diverse choices.”

Business Brush-Up

Continuing business education, according to many of our experts, is the only surefire way to grow your day spa operation. “Without strategic continuing education, your business can’t grow,” confirms Dori Soukup, owner of Orlando-based InSPAration Management. Learning how to generate revenue; market and publicize your spa; increase retention and retail sales; and deliver a great guest experience, makes the difference between success and failure. Luckily, there are many business training CDs, webinars and programs available to help owners.

InSPAration Management provides a variety of web-based advanced education programs, as well as seminars, coaching programs and more. The company’s most popular offerings include motivational CDs (notably “Don’t Sell, Recommend!,” intended to help boost retail sales) and its CoachMe membership program, which pairs spa owners with personal spa business coaches for motivating phone sessions.

Spa education outfit Milady Cengage offers an assortment of popular print, online and audio training tools, canvassing front desk management systems, financing of expansions, hiring methods and more. “Owners and managers need to think like big businesses,” emphasizes Julie Shepperly, director of business development at Milady. “Too often I see the majority of education efforts directed to the technical skills necessary to provide a service. Don’t get me wrong, technical skills must be exceptional; however, so too must client relations skills.”

Some may not view shaping the client experience as a business skill; however, mastery of interpersonal communications and relations is crucial in the spa profession. “Continually educating yourself on different ways to enhance the client experience in and outside of the treatment room is vital to any business’ growth today,” notes PBA’s Marshall. “This is how your clients leave feeling as though their experience was worth far more than the price paid.”

Milady’s “Soft Skills: Interpersonal Skills for the Beauty Industry” DVD series and InSPAration’s “Personal Transformation” CD, which illuminates steps necessary to improve the client experience, are both solid starting options.

Though today’s offerings are, as Shepperly notes, “both numerous and overwhelming,” there’s a key to figuring out which training to seek, and it lies in analyzing your company’s current needs. “If growing sales is your top priority then get training for your managers on how to market and coach team members on selling skills, and to track and hold them accountable for achieving the goal,” she suggests. “If you need to attract more traffic, learn to utilize the latest booking software, capitalize on social media and search for webinars on marketing in your community. When sales are strong and you have momentum, then you can shift focus to another area of your business.”

But the bottom line to business success is accepting that there’s always more to learn. “Be sure to spend a consistent amount of time gaining education and applying that knowledge to your business,” Shepperly emphasizes. “The right actions repeated over time will bear fruit.”

Treatment Training

If yours is the last spa in your area to offer detoxifying body treatments, contouring facials or special-needs pedicures, your business could be in trouble. Staying on the edge—or better yet, ahead—of the current trends in treatments, products and services is vital to keeping your client base excited about coming back, and for attracting curious new spa-goers to your establishment.

“One of the most exciting, yet also the most challenging, aspects of the spa industry is that spa treatments and techniques are always evolving,” says Jenny Farrand, national education and training director for Universal Companies. “New ingredient and equipment technology emerges constantly, and skilled practitioners must develop new approaches to treatment applications.”

The good news is, you don’t need to go far or look hard to unearth training programs in the technical arena. “The skin and spa professional has no excuse to not be educated,” King says. “We can easily gain access to information today through trade magazines such as DAYSPA, websites, trade shows and conferences, and by joining professional organizations, which provide meetings and informative newsletters.” (See “Enlightening Organizations,” below.)

Dr. Christian Jurist, medical director of global education for Pevonia, adds that keeping up on consumer beauty magazines, professional aesthetics journals, and chemical cosmetics magazines can be useful for scouting trends and developments. Plus, the manufacturers whose products you use and retail can help keep you up to date via training, manuals, workbooks, DVDs, video training, self-paced online training tools, and even phone or social media access for instant answers.

“The burgeoning social media field is a great educational resource, as YouTube has many instructional videos,” notes Shannon Taylor, lead therapist at Southern California’s Spa Gregorie’s. Those staff members who learn well visually also stand to benefit from Aesthetic Videosource’s ( staggering array of treatment guides and video subscription options.

One tip: Make sure your training materials—whether they’re CDs, manuals, classes, webinars, etc.—have been recently updated. A resource that launched a few years ago is most likely outdated today.

As for how to ensure you’re in the know on the latest treatment trends? “Spa professionals should dedicate just 30 minutes a day to reading industry newsletters, blogs and articles, or watching a video,” suggests King. “Also, I recommend taking a live class or attending a presentation or webinar at least once a month.”

Last but not least, don’t discount the benefits of live demos and face-to-face training, especially when it comes to learning brand-new treatments. Again, your vendors can be invaluable here, providing live, hands-on training in the use of their products and equipment. Jurist suggests participating in live events at least once a year, at professional skincare trade shows and in post-graduate classes. “Besides a professional presentation of the product range and practical hands-on demonstrations by a proficient trainer, these vendors should include technical manuals and useful tools,” he advises.

Professional CEUs

General education is one thing; earning professional CEUs (continuing education units)—which are required by some states and can help spa professionals become more competitive job candidates—is another. “The key here is to look for national certifications because they’re more valuable and versatile in the long term,” notes Spa Gregorie’s Taylor.

Angela Cortright, owner of Spa Gregorie’s, suggests asking the following questions before taking or enrolling your staff in any accredited program: Is it specifically suited to our type of business? Is the program suited to my employees’ experience level, age and job responsibilities? Do I know of any other businesses that have used the program with success? Are there measurable deliverables, both for the duration of the program and beyond? Is the business established? Will it be in existence in 10 years?

“Most importantly, owners should ensure that the material being taught will help to enhance students’ professional knowledge and skills and/or help them maintain their licenses,” says Felicia Brown, owner of marketing outfitSpalutions. “In cases where CEU providers need to be credentialed or approved by a governing body such as a state board, obtain proof of this.”

Make sure your training materials—whether they’re CDs, manuals, classes, webinars, etc.—have been recently updated.

While earning CEUs with such reputable continuing education programs as those available at the University of California-Irvine or Cornell University is valuable, classes’ ticket prices mean it’s not always feasible. “We found the best ‘bang for our buck’ when it comes to customer service/people training skills at the Disney Institute,” says Scott Kerschbaumer, co-CEO of EsSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare, which has multiple locations in Pennsylvania. “Our staff has attended several of these training events and they never fail to produce incredible results. Another great CEU option is Strategies with Neil Ducoff—incredible programs that really drill down and offer specific answers.”

It’s also crucial to let clients know that you are continually evolving. “When our product manufacturers visit us for trainings, we’ll often try to include our clients,” says Kerschbaumer. “We also host after-hours special events where we’ll bring in an industry expert and invite our customers to join us in discussing cutting-edge wellness topics and new industry developments.”

“We educate clients about new services we’ve mastered via social media, Constant Contact and blogs,” Friedman of Tamara Spa + Wellness says. “We also host parties to introduce new services or products, and invite clients to try them out with an introductory price special. Clients then provide feedback via email or social media.”

The Price of Education

As we’ve illustrated, continuing education comes in many forms. Likewise, it comes at many price points, from free to thousands of dollars. This means that anyone can afford continuing education.

If your spa’s budget is tight, look at low-cost solutions. “Many vendors offer a live video conference option for additional training, any time, for a nominal hourly fee,” notes Universal Companies’ Farrand.

“And most companies will offer free education with a minimum opening order or annual expenditure.”

Another budget-proof strategy? EsSpa’s Kerschbaumer suggests searching online for spa coaches and industry associations, and then subscribing to all of their newsletters. “There is an amazing amount of helpful information out there—and a lot of it is free of charge,” he says.

If finances are less of an issue, there’s a world of creative ways to fund continuing education. Spa Gregorie’s Taylor suggests researching grants and loans available through professional associations, and researching CEU curricula at area community colleges (where tuition tends to be reasonable), and then structuring a payment plan with the school.

Bottom line: Education is well worth the investment. “What is the alternative?” asks InSPAration’s Soukup. “If you don’t invest in training, then you won’t experience growth.”

Enlightening Organizations

Aesthetics International Association
Associated Skin Care Professionals
International Spa Association
National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors & Associations
Professional Beauty Association
The Society of Dermatology Skincare Specialists

Carrie Borzillo is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author.

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