We can’t keep growing like this, we need authenticity

Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Articles

We can’t keep growing like this, we need authenticity

Without a top-to-bottom commitment to delivering an authentic experience, your spa business could run out of gas

By Vivienne O’Keeffe

The good news is that U.S. spa visits surpassed 180 million for the first-time last year, an annual increase of 2.5 per cent. Income also set a new record of $16.8 billion, up 3.1 per cent, with the total number of spa businesses up 1.1 per cent.

The bad news? If sinking morale and staff shortages aren’t addressed quickly, we’re headed the other way.

Just look at the nature of our business. With their larger disposable incomes, today’s consumers are motivated by the participative consciousness of experiencing our treatments, therapies and assuring professional ambiance. It’s personal experience as opposed to personal service, as well as a desire for authenticity, that lures consumers to modern spas.

Compare the nature of spa services to, say, a fine dining experience, and you’ll see that the degrees of personalization and trust involved are on entirely different levels. In one case, it’s mainly about tucking into a good steak or risotto in a pleasant atmosphere. The outcome of a spa visit is more complex, relying on the interaction between the spa team and environment and the individual’s state of being. Satisfying spa customers’ longing for connection with themselves and others (as well as stress relief) calls for an authentic experience delivered by highly engaged professionals. The satisfaction, trust and feeling of renewal that ensues from a great spa experience can also generate rich rewards for the business – in the form of heightened team morale and repeat visits.


Operate from purpose, not fear

The buzzword in marketing today is authenticity. The informed wellness consumer of the future will be able to smell an out of integrity spa a mile away, and turn elsewhere for treatments. Mentally healthy leaders and team members practising in a culture of therapeutic congruency will be a basic requirement.

Customers want genuine interactions with genuine brands and genuine people. In the spa business, the roots of authenticity need to be cultivated into an invisible network beneath the surface, respecting and honouring all stakeholders.

Authenticity springs from a common purpose to serve a higher good – such as creating a clean, conscious space to promote the well-being of every spa customer. When all stakeholders share an earnest commitment to delivering a truly restorative rejuvenating experience, authenticity flourishes.

You can’t be partly authentic any more than you can be partly pregnant. An authentic experience is founded on three essential pillars: intent, commitment and follow-through. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumers instinctively know when a facility isn’t authentic. Is your business truly authentic? Answering that question – and maybe filling in the blanks of whatever is missing – can be as simple as holding a team meeting. When you gather, consider choosing refreshments that nourish your spa’s concept and the team.

I’ve seen the power of an authentic, congruent wellness spa concept to attract the best of the best. Great people want to be a part of a great organization. The desire to operate from purpose rather than fear awakened with boomers, and is particularly embedded in millennials. In this regard, society is on the brink of a major shift.

Caring for the carers within your organization begins with you. As Mr. Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Delivering authenticity begins with the self. You need to be filled up yourself before you can give to another.

Listen and hear the requests of your service providers. Cultivate a structure in which their needs (including breaks) can be met. According to Harvard Business Review, raising employee happiness raises productivity by 7 to 10 per cent. Others (including Forbes contributor Martin Zwilling) say high levels of happiness can increase sales by as much as 37 per cent, and productivity by 31 per cent. Isn’t that a competitive advantage worth pursuing?

Service providers engaged with their guests are not always engaged with their leadership teams. And less-engaged employees can have a deleterious effect on authentic delivery of a wellness experience, leading to a toxic cloud of apathy (or worse) hanging over the spa.

In 25 years of setting up successful spas, I’ve also seen how inadequate staff support can scuttle happiness and exacerbate burnout, or even cause individuals to abandon their wellness careers altogether.

Today’s customers easily pick up on negative moods of therapists lacking adequate support. Many caregivers in our industry spend so much time and energy learning to care for others, they never learn to care for themselves. By the same token, lack of consideration for staff results in burnout, disillusionment, resentment, anger, martyrdom or a victim mentality – eroding the mental, spiritual and physical well-being of the individual while also negatively affecting guests.

Isn’t that ironic? While the general population is finally grasping the benefits of spas as an antidote to the stress and anxieties of our 24/7 social media culture, we’re unable to look after our own. Physician, heal thyself.

I predict that without better support of our staff, our industry will face a serious shortage of experienced, engaged, happy personnel in the very near future.

The future of the wellness business belongs to those organizations whose leaders have a deep understanding of the transformative power of congruent wellness principles for all stakeholders as a basis for delivering truly meaningful and therapeutic experiences. Those not on board already need a paradigm shift in philosophy – from the top down.

Published as “We can’t keep growing like this” in Spa Canada magazine’s January/February 2018 issue

Vivienne O’Keeffe, AAD, PEA, CIBTAC, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., and an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She is also an international consultant in developing product lines, treatment plans and training programs, a member of ISPA and Spa Industry Association of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012), and a member of International Management Consultants Inc.


  1. Thank you Vivienne for this timely reminder. Purpose driven action and a commitment to authenticity is so important to our industry, spa owners, employees and spa clients.

  2. Great article Vivienne, an attitude that transcends the spa industry as well. An inspiring message for any spa or business owner. I hope you are doing well!!

  3. So true Vivienne, as a consumer, I can say that when we visit a spa, there is nothing more uninviting than being welcomed by the energy of demoralized professionals who feel overworked and unappreciated. Thank you for calling the attention of business owners in these issues and for helping building business that are authentic and congruent with the purpose of service.

  4. Great article, Vivienne. This can be said for any industry. Looking forward to a shift towards authenticity and proper intention in all business.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *