How Spas Are Like the NBA

Felicia Brown

I just read an article about how the NBA contract negotiations are stuck over essentially over a “commission” dispute for league earnings. It seems that last year, NBA players earned 57% of the revenue generated while owners were left with only 43% to pay the bills and were losing money. The players have finally conceded to take just 52.5 % of the BILLIONS of dollars worth of revenue, but that amount will still cause the owners to lose money so there is “no deal” yet. Thus the NBA lockout and lack of play for the first four weeks of the regular season.

What really struck me other than the sheer dollar amount of money going into this “sport” and entertainment vehicle was the fact that the NBA players would rather the whole league be CLOSED for business indefinitely–causing everyone involved in it to lose money–instead of working together to make sure everyone could profit from it being open.

I hate to say it–and I’m sure this will hit some service providers out there wrong way–but I’ve actually heard this kind of rhetoric from my own former staff members (and reported from spa and clinic owners who also heard it from their staff members).

Time and time again I hear stories of owners who are foregoing a paycheck to keep the doors of their business open while employees (mainly service providers) complain that they do ALL the work and need to get paid more. That is so unfair.

Something has to change. I’m not really talking about compensation here–that is SO not my area of expertise as a consultant. What I mean is that a change has to come in the understanding on the part of the “players” on our teams. Whether in basketball or beauty, those working in a business have to understand, that without the owners, there would be no “game” for them to play. Without the team’s home court or the spa facility, there would be no place to practice or play the art/sport they love and make a living in.

So what to do about it? I guess more than anything this is a rant–something I very rarely do. But perhaps it is also a call to action for everyone in our industry.

For business owners, take steps to educate your staff about what it really costs to run your business.

For schools and instructors, include curriculum for your students about the realities of business.

For vendors and product manufacturers, provide support and other incentives to employers to pass on to their team members (education, free products, bonuses, etc.) so that they can “pay” them more without offering unaffordable commission rates or digging deeper into their ever shrinking bank accounts.

And for service providers working for someone else, broaden your thinking beyond what’s in it for you. Recognize that to be successful in your career, you need a place to practice your craft that is stable and profitable for everyone in it.

The success of our industry and the professionals/businesses in it cannot come without us all working together holistically. Together we can all achieve more and have a deeper, more powerful impact on all the clients who come to us.

2 Responses to “How Spas Are Like the NBA”

  1. veronica Says:

    Visit veronica

    This article is maddening for me. I cant even express the depth of injustices without going on and on.

    WHY does a business HAVE to make above and beyond the amount it takes to run the business and compensate everyone involved fairly? WHY is a business only a success if its accumulating profits?

    A successful business to me is one that can operate efficiently, compensate everyone fairly, effectively treat people, and clients and employees are happy, and especially enthusiatic about their job. PROFITS ABOVE BREAK-EVEN SHOULD BE A HAPPY BONUS.

    Whats not fair is to know your boss only cares about the retail aspect is flourishing, the business making a profit, that you pump out clients like a machine. This boss likes that plenty of people are paying too much for services and doesn’t care about actually helping people or paying a decent wage to employees.

    Where would we do our work as massage therapists if we did not have a large number of corporations trying to take over the market who pay too little and care too much about profit? We would have more serious therapists! Instead you get therapist after therapist who are overworked and underpaid and who no longer care about their work as therapists, only that they get that paycheck.
    I am not sure I can even keep following your advice now that I know you do not really care about the therapists and have a profit-centric perception of business.

  2. Felicia Brown Says:

    Visit Felicia Brown

    Dear Veronica (and any others who may feel similarly) -

    Let me first say that I am writing this reply from a loving, compassionate, understanding place. I have to state that up-front because the Internet and words alone without my voice, tone, inflection or emotion cannot convey those qualities to you properly

    OK…deep breath for me. In fact, take one too if you can – and relax. My reply is going to be a lengthy, but worthwhile (hopefully) read. So settle in and read with an open heart and mind…

    I understand your anger/outrage/emotion. Before I was a massage practice owner, spa owner, educator, or consultant, I was a struggling massage therapist working for others and thinking that I deserved more of the pie. That I did all the work and should have received a higher commission on all the services I did. And that the owners of the businesses I contracted for were getting rich off of all my hard work.

    And perhaps some of them were making a decent living. Certainly they drove better cars than I did (some of them) and when I was getting started, they made a better living than I did – or at least I perceived they did. But I had no proof or verification of this one way or the other. Just my beliefs and assumptions.

    So a couple of years went by and I decided to start my own practice with room for a couple of therapists to rent space or work as contractors. I had it all figured out. I’d pay better than anywhere else and make sure that all the practitioners working there made good money . That it would be a “fair” place to work unlike the locations I’d been working in. Along with that I’d go out of my way to make it an amazing place to work by making it as beautiful and comfortable as possible, providing support, mentoring, any perks I could afford, and the feel of a family.

    At first it went great. The massage therapists working under my umbrella were really happy. We had lots of clients coming in and were building a great name for the business. Everyone was making money…well except for me. I was working like a crazy woman trying to make sure everyone had what they needed – clients and therapists alike – and somehow was making less money than I did as a solo practitioner or contractor working for others.

    What? How could that be? I was keeping all of my own service revenues in the business plus bringing in rent and commissions from about 5 others.

    The answer? I forgot to factor in a regular salary for myself – the compensation for my work as a therapist and the business manager. But more distressing was that I did not think to factor in a profit – you know that “bonus” that helps to make up for the countless unpaid hours I spent working getting plumbing issues repaired or researching security systems or worrying through sleepless nights how I was going to make up for the unexpected expenses that ate up our rent money in order to literally keep the doors open.

    I am not alone. I know countless other clinic and spa owners that failed to factor in making a profit in their budgets or business plans – if they even had those. I’ve heard their stories again and again as a consultant and educator. They aren’t paying themselves a salary or perhaps even getting anything beyond the cash tips that come in when they perform services in and amongst the many other responsibilities they have. Their small consolation is that they don’t have to pay out a commission to an employee on those services so the business has more money to put towards expenses when they see the clients.

    In truth, it took me YEARS to make an actual profit in that business. A couple of those years were spent getting no actual paycheck at all (well maybe a couple hundred bucks every few months for grocery money), but instead living off my savings and credit cards while staff members complained that I didn’t pay them enough. As if that wasn’t awful enough during the very worst period of that time, and employee embezzled more than $10,000 from me (that I know about) which nearly forced me into closing the business and checking myself into a mental health facility. I am not kidding.

    The real insult to injury in that situation was her comment when she was caught that I “deserved it” because I “had everything” and she “had nothing.” Sure, nothing except for a steady paycheck and $10,000 that didn’t belong to her. But I digress.
    Once I got my sanity back, I made the changes I had to, restructured the business wherever I could in terms of reducing expenses and increasing sales to gain some stability. Slowly, I began to be able to pay myself for the 80 hours a week I was working – (seeing about 30 massage clients myself plus managing the business) – and after a couple more years, I was finally making a profit. It took me almost 7 years to get there.

    Even so, after a couple of reasonably profitable years and continuing to grow the business bigger and bigger to get there, I was burned to a crisp and had nothing left to give. I went home crying at the end of almost every day feeling drained and often unappreciated to the point that the regular paycheck and small profit was simply not enough.

    So I sold it – my spa baby – that was literally born of my vision, inspiration, blood, sweat and tears, and sustained through the amazing gifts, talents and hard work of my wonderful team and staff members. We made that business a success together through a collective understanding and effort towards generating what the business had to have to survive and support itself and us.

    So when I talk about “profits” being important, I am not saying it because I am greedy or because I think owners are right in underpaying staff or shortchanging clients to get rich. I say it because making a profit is VITAL to the continuation and life of a business – and to reward the owner for all they do and go through that no one sees or realizes is a part of their job or stress.

    I say it because for all the years there is a profit, there is the possibility of an even bigger loss the next year. There is the possibility of professional burn-out, ruined relationships, health deterioration or simply cracking up on the part of the owner. And then there is the possibility of the whole economy going bad or other unplanned disasters happening – and losing everything you’ve invested as a result.

    I don’t believe in selling products merely for the sake of selling them to make money – or in charging a price that is not warranted by the costs of doing business and the value of the product/service. I believe in doing what it takes to keep the business – as well as ALL of the people in it be they clients, employees or owners – healthy, supported, nurtured and nourished through the business. To care for others, we must all follow that essential rule of first aid – create no other victims. To take care of us as staff and owners, a business must have the “oxygen” it needs to survive first. That can only happen if a business is doing more than just breaking even.

    Finally, in this epic reply that truly comes from the depths of my heart and my passion for everyone in the massage, spa and healing arts world, I want to share a link to another article I wrote last year about my story of what did happen to me when I couldn’t weather the storm of financial loss in a different spa and had to close it. Perhaps you will see even more why making a profit in the good times is so vital. The article is on page 42 and is entitled, “I Survived the Recession.”

    Veronica, I hope this helps you understand my truly heart-felt and experience-based perspective a bit more. It truly comes from my heart and my intention/passion of wanting to see everyone in the spa, massage and wellness professions succeed in the field they love, practitioners and owners alike. I hope you’ll keep reading my columns here and elsewhere, that you’ll offer your thoughts and opinions when called to, and that you’ll use the advice I provide if it speaks to you or your situation. Regardless, I am here as a resource for you and our industry and appreciate the chance to share my knowledge, perspective and stories with you and others in this forum. Thank you for being a part of the experience.


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