COVID-19 Counterattack for Spa Owners & Operators

Posted by on July 10, 2020 in Articles

COVID-19 Counterattack for Spa Owners & Operators

How to survive the pandemic and come back even stronger.

By Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA

I seem to remember March 17 as the day everything changed: NBA and NHL games suspended, movie theatres shuttered, international flights grounded. Certainly no St. Patrick’s Day parties. Across the country, spas ran for cover, closing their doors and ordering mass layoffs. Everyone was in shock.

I get that it’s hard to retain staff while revenues are sinking like a stone. But running and hiding won’t accomplish anything in the short term, and will hurt you even more over the long haul than any virus.

Remember, the pandemic won’t last forever. Why not use this downtime productively to get you through the worst of it and start building a better base for future business?

Some spas are already doing things like sending emails to say they are still available to offer products, or they’re selling gift certificates – which is all fine and dandy. But customers need more than token gestures, they need your support and attention, and they need suggestions for treatments they can do themselves at home. Are you reassuring them of their importance to you? Will they remember your thoughtfulness once the plague has passed? How about connecting with them in a more altruistic fashion?

And in the meantime, how are your staff doing? Employees who have soldiered side-by-side with you for 15 or 20 years like family members are now separated and isolated. Have you reached out to them? If not, how interested will they be in coming back?

There’s no doubt that the post-COVID landscape will look very different from today’s. A new obsession with cleanliness will leave many customers wary of reentering public environments, and looking for extensive safety precautions if they do at all. Will you be able to convince them that you can disinfect against not only viruses, but also fungi and bacteria? How about letting them know you have new infection control protocols in place?

There’s a lot to think about. For the purposes of this article, I’ve boiled them down to a Top Ten list of things to do to help keep your business thriving over the long haul.


10 things you can do immediately

1) Keep in touch with clients. Whether by email, phone calls, WhatsApp or other social media, you need to reach out. Clients have the time and bandwidth to hear you loud and clear. Your valuable knowledge can ease their stress and help them improve their self-care and wellness.

2) Innovate and transform your spa. What infrequently requested treatments can you dump? What brands or products are not selling? Clean house! This is a great time to mine the data in your system.

3) Retain your key staff. If you can, keep your main people on payroll. If you can’t, the government of Canada’s COVID Emergency Wage Subsidy pays a maximum 75 percent of wages up to $847 a week for 12 weeks. Why not take advantage?

4) Get your e-commerce in gear. By now you must be aware of the importance of having an e-commerce component to your website. What better time to get it up and running then when you’re not smothered with the day-to-day operations of delivering treatments? A steady revenue stream can help you weather the storm.

5) Set up online appointments! You can book FaceTime or Zoom appointments for guidance that can be given online, including skin analyses and skincare program tune-ups. Now is the time to reach out and help.

6) Send out social media e-blasts. A professional video of how to do a mini-facial at home, or how to self-soothe with aromatherapy baths – sent out by e-blast or posted on your website or social media channels – can help clients now and build loyalty for later.

7) Connect with employees. We in the spa business are like a family. Checking in with employees suffering from isolation, anxiety and uncertainty can be a lifesaver and a huge loyalty builder.

8) Create a marketing calendar. Set up a full year’s work of marketing tasks such as social media posts.

9) Assert your expertise. A silver lining of this pandemic going forward is that consumers will be less likely to be swayed by so-called social media influencers and more attuned to what true professionals will be saying. That’s great news for qualified professionals like most of you reading.

10) Rebuild your safety systems. What will you be doing differently when you reopen? Customers will be expecting you to have clearly defined protocols in place – cleaning, disinfecting, sterilization, infection control. Get them ready, then make sure you tell your clients about them.


Are your disinfectants effective? Read the label!

The biggest change I think you’ll be needing to make operationally is a revamped cleaning program. I’ve been seeing far too many procedures lately that, surprisingly enough, may have little or no effect against COVID-19. One example in one of the big box stores in my area is the use of Lysol Disinfecting Wipes handed out to customers to sanitize their shopping cart handles. Nice idea – except according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, the active disinfectant takes a full 10 minutes to work. No problem in your spa if you can wait 10 minutes every time you use them, but not so great if you’re starting a treatment session and expecting them to have an immediate effect. They don’t.

To see if the disinfection treatment you’re considering for SARS-CoV-2 virus strains (including COVID-19) works, check the label Drug Identification Number (D.I.N. number), and read the manufacturer’s recommendations. The Health Canada website is a good resource for checking the D.I.N. number, which confirms the product can claim an ability to kill pathogens. They have a lengthy list of disinfectants that meet their requirements for use against COVID-19 and state, “Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses. This means they are one of the easiest viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant when used according to the label directions”. The EPA site goes further by listing the required contact time in minutes. So, first check to see if the product works in a professional setting, then check its required contact time, which varies widely from product to product. Kill time is also important to check if you have a specific pathogen in mind, such as coronaviruses.

As I mentioned, Lysol Wipes (active ingredient quaternary ammonium) need 10 minutes of contact time. Other examples include Clorox Wipes (also 10 minutes), Barbicide Wipes (3 minutes) and PREempt Wipes (just one minute) ( Clorox Spruce-Ups (which also use quaternary ammonium but presumably in much higher concentrations) cut disinfectant time to a reported 15 seconds, which is as fast as any of the dozens of disinfectants listed.

Before disinfecting any surface or implement, you need to clean it first by removing dirt and organic matter. Also determine if the item is critical (penetrates the skin or mucous membranes) semi-critical (comes in contact but does not penetrate intact skin) or non-critical (doesn’t touch at all). There are different infection control procedures for each.

Hydrotherapy and foot baths (both circulating and non-circulating) need diligent cleaning and disinfecting to prevent infection. Same with high-contact surfaces like door handles, elevator buttons, washroom faucets, etc. Most reputable spa facilities have detailed cleaning and infection control procedures. Again, make sure you check the manufacturer’s recommendations, and don’t forget to communicate your cleaning protocols to your clients.


Wash your hands!

We’re all keenly aware by now of the importance of hand washing to prevent infection. Step up your hand washing protocols before, during and after treatments, and don’t forget to tell your clients about them.


Face masks – to wear or not to wear?

The wearing of face masks has been a hotly debated issue for a few weeks now. Should you wear one in public? Should all your employees be wearing one? When the World Health Organization told the public not to bother, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially agreed, then flip-flopped, as did Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam. No wonder we’re confused.

The consensus now seems to be that face masks – especially the so-called N95 masks that block 95 percent of particles smaller than 0.3 microns in diameter when worn properly – can do no harm. An article in a recent Economist concludes the biggest two benefits are helping to prevent asymptomatic carriers from unwittingly spreading the disease and helping to protect older adults and other vulnerable populations against infection.

I’d suggest that your entire staff wear masks, at least initially after reopening, if only to reassure your clients that you’re doing everything you can to help prevent a recurrence of the pandemic and other communicable diseases. A good made-in-Canada mask is the COPPER Infused Face Mask from enVy ( Others include the smart-looking Modern and Inspire face mask models from Noel Asmar Uniforms which can be pre-ordered (

As we are constantly being reminded, we will get through this most trying period. Until the veil lifts, there’s lots you can do to make sure you emerge stronger than ever.


Published as “Covid-19 Counterattack” in Spa Canada July/August 2020

Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA, 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 a recipient of the Spa Industry Association of Canada Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012.

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