Fascinated by fashion and beauty from an early age, Rebecca Cade was never in doubt about the sector she wanted to work in. As she developed her expertise in delivering a wide range of beauty and well-being therapies, an opportunity arose to take a leadership role in the prestigious Hartwell House Spa, which is set in a National Trust-owned Historic House Hotel. A Spa Manager since 2006, Rebecca manages not only the day-to-day operation of a facility with a customer base that demands the highest of service standards, but she must also stay on top of the very latest trends in a part of the hospitality industry which continues to see rapid evolution.
NVQ Level 2 & 3 in Beauty Therapy - Retail Assistant (part time) - Beauty Therapist - Senior Therapist - Head Therapist - Spa Manager
Spa Managers are responsible for the day-to-day operations of a health or beauty spa. This includes managing services, facilities, finances, staff and promotions to ensure customer expectations are met and exceeded and business targets delivered. Customer-facing responsibilities are common but the larger the facility, the stronger the focus will tend to be on business issues.
How did you get started?
“From the minute I left school, I wanted to be in this industry. I’d done two weeks work experience in a salon and loved it, so at 16 I went straight to Aylesbury College to study for an NVQ in Beauty Therapy. While there, I did some retail work to get used to working with the public and then after I finished the course I started my first full time job as a beauty therapist in a clinic doing manicures, pedicures, waxing, facials and massage. I’d finished college on the Friday and started work on the Saturday and after nine months moved to Hartwell.”
What attracted you to the beauty and wellbeing sector?
“I've always had an interest in fashion and beauty but mostly beauty because it’s about making people feel good about themselves. It really appealed to me. I liked the treatments; I liked seeing different people and hearing their stories. I loved the products - I could spend hours in a beauty hall and totally get mesmerised. These days, I prefer the wellbeing side and have a better appreciation of what these treatments do for people.”
How did you become a Spa Manager?
“I started at Hartwell as a Beauty Therapist in 1999, Iearnt all the treatments, became a Senior Therapist and then Head Therapist. I actually left for a short time to work for Clarins in Account Development but only for 3 months and when the Spa Manager's position became available in 2006 I ran straight back.”
Do you think you first needed to be a therapist before becoming a Spa Manager?
“This is really interesting because I meet a lot of people who are doing degree-level management courses in beauty therapy. But you have to have a strong understanding of the treatments before entering management and I’m not sure you can get that from a text book. I don't think I’d have got this opportunity without those years as a therapist and they also gave me the chance to watch my predecessor so I understood what was expected.”
What does a typical day look like in your role?
“The first thing I do is tour the building to make sure everything is satisfactory from a guest’s perspective. Is everything clean, functioning and ready for opening? Then I re-check the treatment schedule. With staff absences or late cancellations, things can change on the day so I make sure that everything is lined up and the therapists have what they need. I might re-jig my own schedule to cover a treatment – which I’d rather do than disappoint a customer. Throughout the day I have meetings with staff, management, suppliers or the marketing team, and in-between I’ll meet and greet guests and check they’re happy. If there’s any complaints or concerns I’ll deal with those. I also keep an eye on takings to make sure we’re hitting our targets.”
How important are good communication skills in this role?
“Vital. With an unhappy customer it’s easy to get defensive or leap straight to problem solving. But in my experience, most people just want to be heard. If it’s onsite I always try to bring someone to our club room for a cup of tea. If I just sit back and listen, I usually find out where things have gone wrong and the issues are often different from what you’ve been told. If it’s on email things can get lost in translation so wherever possible I try to speak to them directly. Active listening, empathy and an ability to reason are must-have attributes for this job.”
What do you most enjoy about being a Spa Manager?
“I like the fact that every day is different. I still feel as challenged today as when I started 16 years ago. The Spa and Beauty industry moves quickly so you have to stay on top of the trends and there’s always something new to learn – new treatments, new technologies. Nothing stays the same. Our team changes too so new people bring new energy, new ideas. Everything's constantly evolving.”
How much support should a Spa Manager expect from their employers in their own career development?
“I've been really fortunate to work in one place for nearly 23 years but Hartwell have given me the opportunity to work at all different levels. I've had training in treatments, product brands, and management skills, been able to return to college, which was supported both financially and in time off and come back after two maternity leaves. When choosing a job, that’s the kind of support you’re looking for. Sometimes I think, flitting around (from one company to another) might give you different experiences, but you can also thrive by staying in one place.”
What skills do you think a candidate needs to be a good Spa Manager?
“Most spa establishments require a Level 3 NVQ in beauty therapy just as an entry point. But that’s really just the basics and when you come into the industry, you almost scrap everything you've learned at college and learn a different way of doing things. It requires a degree of patience because you have to know the treatments and the products. Then you’ve got to learn how to communicate with your guests and staff and each person's needs will be different. I think that's quite a big skill - being able to adapt yourself to their needs.”
What changes have you seen in the health and beauty industry and how do you see things developing in the future?
“When I entered the industry, I definitely think it was seen as a luxury, something you did to spoil yourself, like a birthday present and it was more accessible to those with greater finances. Now, especially post-pandemic, we talk a lot more about wellness and self-care. People are encouraged to focus on themselves more so there’s definitely a wider clientele now. On the beauty side with social media, people are very aware of how they look with Botox and fillers, eyelash extensions and so on. That wasn't even a thing when I left college but I don’t see those trends changing anytime soon. People will continue to make time for themselves and see the value in what we provide.”
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about working in this sector?
“I'm really passionate about work experience. I always think it's such a good opportunity to go in and get an idea of what the job involves, to see what somebody does in their day to day. Then you can think, ‘yes I can do this’ or ‘no, that’s not for me’.”