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Choosing the Right Spa Software

By Cathy Christensen March 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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Once upon a time, a spa owner turned the key to open the main entrance of her business, flipped on the lights, put down her purse, and removed the pens, sticky notes, coffee mugs and highlighters littering the document most crucial to her business’ success. Easing open the fragile, dog-eared appointment book and leafing to that day’s date, she sighed as she saw the all-too-familiar sight of scribbles, arrows, highlighter marks and doodles in the margins, and once again began her day squinting her eyes to try to decipher the marks that should say who was coming in for what service when.
     Sound familiar? Before the evolution of software customized for the spa, this was the challenge spa managers faced every single morning. Thankfully, this energy-depleting start to the day no longer is the norm. Most spas have adopted some sort of automated system to make appointment scheduling a cleaner, easier experience. However, many other aspects of a spa’s business can be streamlined and maintained by spa software programs as well, often resulting in a higher awareness of retail and service sales, client retention and prebooking, just to name a few.

What do you need?
     First thing’s first—what does your spa need in a software program? Each spa is different, so every spa manager needs to take into account what the business needs are in a software program—and what they aren’t. “The first thing a spa owner in the market for software should do is look at all of the things done by team members every day—opening cash drawers, moving appointments, booking appointments—look in detail at all of the functions that would be handled by the software, and come up with a list of questions to ask a potential supplier,” says Angela Cortright, principal of Spa Gregorie’s in Newport Beach and Rancho Santa Margarita, California, with 20 years of experience in the high-tech field before entering the spa industry.
     In fact, when Spa Gregorie’s itself was in the market for a new software supplier, it did just that. See Spa Gregorie’s Software Requirements for an ideal example of how to identify and breakdown your spa’s needs before approaching different software suppliers.
      But do you know what you need? Purchasing software for a business can be a head-spinning experience, and although there are a huge variety of features available, your spa may not need all the bells and whistles. Following are some of the most beneficial features to look for when choosing software.

     Client information. “Your software program has to be able to handle your clients’ information and files,” says Bryan Durocher, president of Durocher Enterprises, a coaching and consulting firm for spas. Although this is basic knowledge, it is crucial that your program allows quick and efficient collection and maintenance of client information in order to successfully serve them, as well as market to them. “Other things programs offer are the ability to e-mail clients and track client referrals. That way, you know if your face-to-face marketing is working so you can reward clients who are referring new business,” says Durocher.
     Also, don’t forget the client experience can be affected by software, and whether it is a good or bad experience is up to you. “If software is really complicated and not intuitive, it always translates into a bad customer experience,” says Barbara Stirewalt, spa director of The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, who has served as a technology manager and as a decision-maker in resort property management systems and associated technologies. She remembers participating in a focus group where one woman warned the others to pay before entering the spa because the experience of paying for services ruins everything that was achieved during the relaxing treatment. “It made me cringe, but she was right on,” says Stirewalt. “Customers want the process of booking, arriving and transacting to be easy. The process needs to be intuitive for the staff and needs to flow well for the customer. Have the answers for your clients right at your fingertips.”

     Retail and service management. Because the retail side of a spa’s business has the potential to be one of its most profitable, it is crucial that your spa’s software helps support its success. “A good spa software program must have the capability as a tool to effectively and thoroughly manage the retail sales business component,” says Stirewalt. “Spas should look for software with advanced retail features, inventory management and the flexibility of reporting information, such as past numbers and estimated future numbers, by vendor, by product and by the variables you choose for reporting.”
     If you have an extensive retail selection, Durocher encourages asking software companies how many SKUs you can have in your inventory. “You don’t want to be limited,” he warns.
     Of course, the basis of a spa’s business—and most of its resulting profits—is in its services. Spa software can and should track your service sales and should be able to provide detailed information about your providers, as well. “Spa software can break down services by category so you can see what type of business a provider is doing,” explains Durocher. “Maybe I want to make sure that 50% of my massage therapists are upselling and not just offering Swedish massages.”
     Along with that, it is advisable that the software program you choose takes into account the importance of innovation when it comes to services. Because creativity and change are major factors when creating and updating many spa menus, it is important that your software be able to adjust seamlessly. “We build packages, we may or may not include products with purchases, we feature add-on services to treatments—we want to combine things to please our clients,” explains Stirewalt. “It’s important to find a software program that has a flexibility factor, but helps you maintain goods control and accounting.”

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