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Stories of Success… John Morris

Contact Author Maggie Connelly

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When it comes to running a successful spa, there are a number of elements that need to be accomplished. According to John Morris, general manager of Sundara Inn and Spa, running a successful spa boils down to three things. Skin Inc. sat down with Morris to learn about these three elements to spa success, how he learns more from mistakes than successes, how he enjoys growing the careers of his employees and how his favorite part in the spa is exceeding expectations of his clients.

Skin Inc. (SI): How did you get started in the industry?

John Morris (JM): I worked in the hospitality industry for several years. The property I was working at had considerable turnover in the spa director position. As a consequence, the CEO asked me to consider running the spa. At the time, I received massages, as I used to play tennis, but that was really all I knew about the spa. The CEO explained how he felt I would be a good fit because the staff liked me and I understood the guest profile. I had a lot to learn, but I fell in love with it from the very beginning.

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SI: Who were your greatest mentors?

JM: Two previous general managers Lindsey Markham and James Rester provided leadership skill knowledge. Another mentor was spa consultant Jane Segerberg, a previous chairwoman of iSpa. I learned a great deal from all of them in reference to the spa industry skill set acumen.

SI: What do you enjoy most about the spa industry?

JM: I truly enjoy exceeding the expectation of our guests. I love providing an oasis of tranquility and well-being for guests and wonderful career opportunities for our employees. I love when clients leave and tell me that they can’t wait to return. This gives me a psychic income; it makes me feel happy that people enjoy coming to the place I work. I also love that we can provide well paying jobs with flexible incomes to our employees.

SI: What do you believe is important for running a successful spa?

JM: I think it is extremely important to work hard and always display the highest standards of morality and integrity in interacting with guests and employees. You have to maintain the three legs of the stool: the interest of your guest, the interest of your employees and the interest of ownership.

You have to make a compelling reason to the guest for them to come back by listenening to their requests on what they would like to see differently. When your guest gives you feedback, they are doing you a favor in giving you an opportunity to turn things around. Next, happy employees equates to satisified guests which grows revenue. You have to make decisions on what is best for the spa overall, while keeping it an enjoyable and positive atmosphere. Finally, the ownership has made a significant investment and they expect a return, so it is imporatant to run your spa as a business.

SI: What has your greatest accomplishment been so far?

JM: There are seven different people who are now spa directors or fitness directors who worked with me in the past. We still stay in touch and catch up. I learn from them, and they learn from me.

SI: Where do you see the spa industry heading?

JM: I see the spa industry continuing to transition from frivolity and pampering to being a service of therapeutic necessity. I like to say that wellness is an aspect that you partake in every day of your life from eating, to exercising to reducing stress. There is a lot of new concepts that have been introduced to the spa world, like the salt room we recently put into Sundara Spa. You see more treatments like this that are becoming integrated into the spa world.

SI: What is the greatest change you have seen in the spa industry?

JM: First of all, is growth. When the spa industry first really started, it was more of an amenity, and now it is becoming a necessity. Specifically to resorts, you see Inn and Spa more often than not because it is becoming an important part of the experience.

SI: What was on of the biggest lessons you learned?

JM:The key to being a successful spa director is to develop your leadership skills as the spa industry is such a complex people business. Guests have higher expectations now than ever, so you need to fine tune your listening skills to your guests and your employees. I always think that what I learned a lot from in my career is my mistakes. When you don’t handle a situation well, you learn from it. I think you learn just as much from your mistakes as you do your successes.

SI: What advice would you give a new spa owner?

JM: I would tell them that this is a people business and advise them to hire the best people. Thoroughly research the people you are bringing in. You need to hire the right people, and you need to train them. Also, don’t micromanage your staff. Let them learn, trust them and let them grow. Give them the tools they will need to improve as leaders and managers in the industry. I would also advise that they learn the subject matter details and to embrace change and welcome the unknown. You have to be able to adapt.

SI: If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing what would it be?

JM: I would have told myself to enter the spa industry earlier in my career as I love this vocation.

SI: What do you do in your free time?

JM: While free time is a bit of an oxymoron, I love to spend time with family, play sports, read and travel. I also like to do some volunteer work when I can.