Spa security matters

Posted by on April 30, 2004 in Articles

Spa security matters

Why letting your guard down can cost you a bundle

By Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.C.  

Published in Spa Management magazine’s April 2004 issue

Theoretically speaking, nice people are supposed to be involved in the spa industry, an industry built on trust – our clients trust us, we trust our staff, they trust us. We’re a great group of people!

Some clients think I’m fixated on security within spas – until theft occurring in their spa catches them completely unaware. So many spas have been robbed in one way or another that I’m convinced a strong pro-active approach is required to address the problem. Recently, the incidences of theft, fraud and downright putting of fingers in the cash register seem to have increased substantially – in parallel to the expansion in the industry as a whole. While you’re busy trying to maximize revenue by generating  increased business and containing costs, what’s going on inside your spa may defeat all your best efforts.

With years of experience in the retail and spa industries, I have learned that we are no different to any other retail operation in this respect. However, perhaps because we are in the spa wellness business where everything appears peaceful and calm, controls are sometimes neglected in the interest of preserving the status quo or current ambience. In addition, the last thing we want is to create a “big brother” feeling in our spas: we don’t want staff (or clients) to feel “watched”, or that the security regimes of our troubled world have followed them into the carefully crafted haven of our spa.

But without your necessary attention to the nasty details of theft, you too could become a victim. In short, you could be bleeding from within and you wouldn’t even know it.

We can classify theft in two ways:

  • Cash and credit card crimes.
  • Theft of spa property, consumables, product (retail and professional) and other resources.

The first type is more obvious; the second perhaps less so. Take this simple example: in a recent situation, a (trusted) spa staff member attempted to credit his own credit card with various amounts using the terminal in the spa. The same individual also stole a check and forged the owner’s signature. Fortunately, he was caught when trying to cash it at an instant cash store.

But how about this incident: an esthetician was caught giving herself a pedicure in her closed treatment room, using the spa’s products and facilities, and even had a nap on the treatment couch while her toenails were drying. Adding up the cost of product she lavishly used for her treatment (and this was not the first time, she confessed) and the laundry costs once she had used the treatment table, this spa operation could rightfully feel it had been robbed of a good many dollars of hard-earned revenue. If one considers what this employee could have been doing to earn her salary at the spa during this time, the cost is even higher.

In another case, some individuals were ignoring supplies in the staff kitchen in preference for the expensive beverages bought for clients. Because staff were not following operational rules, this business was being pilfered.

Out and out theft is one thing: one can put operational controls in place to protect the business and its (trusting) clients from cash or credit card theft. Checks and balances, inventory controls and whatever processes are deemed suitable for your particular operation, are essential. Some of the most important are:

  • Inventory control of retail and professional stock.
  • Proper ordering, receiving and invoicing procedures.
  • Adequate protection and security of overstock inventory.
  • Appropriate assignment of responsibility and procedures for stock and inventory.
  • Clear processes, and designated responsibility for the handling and management of cash and cards.
  • A designated role for maintaining ongoing security procedures.
  • Following and keeping abreast of current processes and security guidelines as stipulated by your card processor and your bank.

It goes without saying that these should be implemented in the most discreet way possible. Every effort should be made to ensure that clients are unaware of the security measures you have put in place to protect and safeguard your business.

Another challenge is theft of data from your client base. Your carefully developed client base makes up a sizable portion of your business equity and intellectual property. It is thus an asset worthy of stringent protection, whether or not – but especially if – you’re thinking of expanding or selling your business.

It’s hard to quantify how many spas have fallen prey to this kind of occurrence, where the database (or portions of) is simply saved to disc and carried out the door, or accessed by a computer located outside the establishment.

Some individuals feel it is fair to steal a client list – deducing that the client was their client anyway. As an owner, you know that the client belongs to your business first and foremost. The challenge is that some employees believe they own “their” client.

However, the trouble is that data theft doesn’t end with the erosion of your client base. Clients’ personal, private information is at risk and if it is stolen, your establishment is perceived to be negligent or untrustworthy. Furthermore, clients do not welcome unsolicited phone calls from people they do not know and further damage to your business and brand could follow.

Unfortunately the Authorities are really only interested in tracking the culprit if your database contained credit card numbers etc, so you might find yourself out in the cold looking for assistance. Protect the business equity of your client base and protect the valued clients who trusted your business. Some suggestions are:

  • Make sure your data is behind a firewall (software is easily obtainable at retail outlets or online).
  • Secure laptops.
  • Secure desktops within computer cages.
  • Protect incoming telephone lines with a security system.
  • Install cameras to increase operational and procedural transparency in all possible public areas specifically surrounding merchandize – as a deterrent to theft.
  • Allow only pre-cleared personnel to access your database – use passwords or disable floppy drives.
  • When recruiting, request that employees provide proof of a clean criminal record.
  • Check recent references.
  • Beware of suspicious behavior.
  • Have detailed policies and procedures and make compliance to security related aspects of your business part of the employment contract.

If in doubt, consult with a security specialist. If you need assistance in dealing with an offending staff member, or in developing operational processes and procedures to prevent reoccurrences, contact a spa-industry-specific guidance professional. Sadly, one of the essential missing links in most training programs for spa professionals is ethics. A few training facilities are now teaching ethics as part of their programs and we can hope that higher ethical standards will emerge over time. But for now, the ideal place for ethics training is in the spa. You need to instill in your staff the importance of being able to trust each other. It is fundamental in achieving business success for the whole team – and ethical behavior is the foundation for all trusting relationships.


Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.C., President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., has earned an international reputation as an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She specializes in working with owners to create profitable spas. As an international consultant she is highly skilled in developing unique product and treatment lines, as well as training programs. Vivienne has studied and trained extensively in the beauty and well-being arena and is a member of ISPA, Leading Spas of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012) and the Institute of Management Consultants USA (IMC USA). She is also a published author, having written a wide range of articles on developing and running a successful spa. Spa Profits Consulting Inc. is the only SpaExcellence certified consultancy in North America, and is committed to setting the standard for quality, successful spas on a global level. For more information call 604.921.6245 or email


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