- Are you confident in your employees’ ability to resolve guest complaints?
- Do they know how to handle the inevitable issues that arise in a busy spa operation?
- Are you certain that guests leave your spa satisfied?
- When was the last time they received training in complaint resolution?
A great reputation has always been the best way to market a spa. But the internet has made superior customer service a crucial survival skill.
Web search is one of your top marketing modalities, and negative reviews can cost you thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Our employee training, “Moments of Truth: Mastering Complaint Resolution and Service Recovery” can give you a chance to economically and quickly get your team up to speed.
Don’t let another month pass without inoculating your front-line team against mediocre customer service, and common errors.
“The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled,” said the founder of Neiman Marcus. This training is designed to enable your front desk team to manage the inevitable mistakes and mishaps of a busy spa operation, while strengthening customer relationships and improving customer service. The adrenaline-charged moment when an upset customer complains is a make-or-break event for your business. Make sure your team doesn’t hide their heads in the sand–ensure that they will ride to the rescue of your reputation!
• Why your team must treat complaints as an opportunity
• 96% of your guests won’t complain; how to treat the 4% who do
• Using complaint resolution to improve relationships
• How online review sites have magnified the power of unhappy guests, and what to do about it
• Managing the “fight or flight” response when confronted by an upset customer
• The five steps to masterful complaint resolution
• Cultivating awareness: the ounce of prevention
• How to ask questions that get real answers from your guests
• Making it easy to complain
• How and when to apologize
• Helping the guest realize you’re “on their side”
• Avoiding the common mistakes of complaint resolution, including explaining, blame and scapegoating
• How to effectively manage a “venting” guest
• Techniques to improve your listening skills
• How to tell the difference between an upset and an abusive customer–and what to do about it
• Restoring a guest’s faith
• Making amends without giving away the store
• What most clients really want from “amends”
• The hidden danger in giving refunds too quickly
• What to do when your offer of amends is rejected by an upset guest
• How to prevent problems from recurring
It’s a sign of the times. There are lots of distressed spas on the market right now. Many of these spas look like real bargains, selling for pennies on the dollar of their replacement cost. How is a potential buyer to know what the business is really worth?
Valuing a business is both a science and an art. The science includes the valuation formulas that are typically used. One valuation formula is “multiple of earnings.” Earnings include net profit, but it’s typically adjusted upward with “add backs,” things the business owner has written off that are primarily for their personal benefit, such as their salary, a car or business-with-pleasure travel expenses.
The art? That’s the value of the business relative to the buyer’s opportunities. Strategic value is just one of these considerations. For example, if you already own a spa and you’re considering the purchase of a second spa in a nearby town to expand your brand, and you can leverage an existing back office, that business may have more value to you than to the buyer who’s starting from scratch.
Is the seller using a business broker? If so, the “book,” or sales documents for the spa, should be filled with important data that will help you assess its real worth. There’s also a lot of fluff in there, but the numbers are the most important.
The financial statements should tell you much of what you need to know–that is, if they’re in good shape. A spa that’s for sale is probably losing money, so expect to see that reflected in the profit and loss statements. If things look too rosy, ask to see a P & L that has not been recast for the sales package, so you can understand what the add-backs are quickly. (The business broker should have this information at his or her fingertips anyhow.) We want to know what the spa has really been doing in the last year. Previous years were probably better–but that’s not terribly relevant these days.
Once the add backs have been calculated, you might see a small profit. Here’s the sad news for that seller, and for you as the future owner: spas generally sell for 2-3 times earnings (profits.) My brother-in-law, who’s in biotech, on the other hand, can sell his company for 18 times earnings. Spas and salons (and most personal services businesses) are at the low end of the scale when it comes to valuation.
That’s right; a salon with a net operating profit of $50,000 may sell for $100,000, but a biotech company with the same earnings could fetch $900,000.
It’s not just our low profit margins that dampens value, but the flighty nature of our workforce. Plenty of spas and salons that are sold lose a substantial number of their service providers. Spa and salon employees spook easily, often not waiting around to see if a new owner will actually improve things. As we know all too well, even the loss of one good employee with a strong following can mean a substantial drop in revenue, as clients follow them elsewhere.
Of course, it’s not just profit, but the balance sheet, that will determine the valuation of the business. The business is worth less if its assets are outweighed by its liabilities. One potential source of liability is unredeemed gift certificate/gift cards. You must be confident that the documentation of this liability is complete–and it often isn’t.
If you are simply purchasing the assets of the spa (an Asset Purchase), such as its lease and its equipment, and don’t plan to use the business name, you don’t have to assume its liabilities, including gift liability. Even so, it may be a good marketing idea to redeem gift liability in part or in full, on a voluntary basis and for a limited term. The value of the goodwill generated will probably exceed the hard cost of redemption.
You may be looking at a spa whose earnings with addbacks are $50,000 and using a multiple of 2x to give it a value of $100,000. But their gift certificate liability is $200,000. Here’s where “art” comes in, again–how do you determine the real liability there, since we know not all gifts will be redeemed? This is where a spa management consultant can help–looking at historic trends, aging of the gifts, etc., to produce a realistic number. Maybe that number is closer to $80,000, and you’ll only end up spending $40,000 in payroll and backbar supplies to service that $200,000 liability. If you want to use the spa’s trade name, you’ll pay for this. But an asset purchase, where you wipe the brand slate clean, can eliminate the liability. Will changing names and rebranding the business cost you more than $40,000, in hard costs and lost business?
As well, you need to know the laws about gift certificate expiration in your state. Some spas pay tax on their gift revenues as they come in (the most prudent and IRS-favored approach); others wait and pay taxes as those gift certificates are redeemed (setting a spa up for an ever-growing tax liability.) If you want to sell your business and you’re in the latter camp, a buyer will have to consider this.
In California, the value of unredeemed gift cards can be converted from a liability to income after three years of dormancy. By law, the gift cards don’t expire, and you still have to honor them, but at least you can get it off your balance sheet.
We’re even aware of spas being “sold” for the price of assuming gift liability and a lease–no money is being exchanged in some of these deals. Landlords who are desperate to avoid vacancies in their shopping center real estate (which depresses rents and makes any other space less desirable) are sometimes willing to provide free rent–we’ve seen periods up to one year.
The decision to retain the spa’s existing name and branding is one to approach carefully. Look at online review sites to get a sense of how well the spa is managing its customer relations. It’s usually not possible to interview employees, but sometimes key management employees are privy to an owner’s decision to sell.
Reputations are on vivid display online, though you do have to take ratings with a grain of salt, since most review sites skew to the negative. Yelp, most notably, will “age out” positive reviews posted by people who write no other Yelp reviews, after just 90 days. Google aggregates reviews from different sites, providing a cross section. Some spas ignore online review sites, like Yelp–to their peril. If you think the spa’s name is “radioactive,” then don’t hesitate to rebrand. If the spa is established, with a reputation that’s slightly tarnished, an aggressive “under new ownership” marketing campaign, followed up with real improvements, may work the needed magic. Keep all of this in mind when thinking about how much you’re willing to spend on a spa.
This is merely an introduction to some important fundamentals of valuing a spa for sale, but it’s far from comprehensive. It’s essential to get help from a reputable business broker experienced in the sale of small businesses, and doubly so if the sellers are not using a broker themselves.
Owners are often emotional about selling, and probably under a lot of stress. It’s helpful to have a cool, collected third party between you and them. The first notion a seller needs to discard if they’re serious is the idea that they should be able to “get their money out of” a failing spa. It’s not going to happen–but you don’t want to be the one who gives them the reality check.
Next time: financing the purchase of a spa
Is social media now just about bargain-hunting–sharing discounts, steals and deals with your friends? We know from past studies that discounts do not lead to loyalty. They lead to the expectation of more discounts. Which means, that shiny new customer will linger only if you can undersell your competition. Where’s the so-called wisdom of crowds? It appears to be circling the discount drain.
When it comes to saving money, the wisdom of crowds looks more like the mojo of mobs. To those of us who have enjoyed being “value add” artistes, creating differentiated experiences for discerning guests, the whole thing just looks like a hideous tag sale. High overhead businesses are being thrown onto the bus alongside their bargain basement counterparts, heading down the road to dusty, hardscrabble Camp Discount. The only activity at this camp is a pitiless game called “How Low Will You Go.”
Pitiless, because the companies who are inflicting this torment on us bricks-and-mortar fatties are internet marketing creatures. They have sweaty crushes on their “users” but throw spitballs at the very businesses that are providing the value that endears the users to them. They also have an unfortunate tendency to tell businesses what’s good for them, as if they actually know. And it’s a word I’ve heard a lot: “Exposure.” As I like to say, you can die of exposure.
“It’s your job to retain them,” discounters tell you. Gosh, your only challenge is to make them happy, and they’ll gratefully morph into a loyal, full-price client. Riiiiiight. And the next month, there’s your competitor on Groupon, with a deeply discounted offer. But, if we’ve done our job right, they’ll stick with us. Riiiiight.
The discountante lives for deals. She doesn’t want to bond with your business. She wants to flit from flower to flower, yelping the entire time. Remember, these are the kids who grew up with the concept of “friends with benefits.” Commitment isn’t in their DNA.
But consumers are not the only group out there with some clout. Small businesses scored a victory this week against a user-worshipping company that’s been easy to hate. That’s right, Yelp was squirming this morning as the hot breath of a lawsuit by businesses tickled its backside. They were accused of manipulating ratings based on whether a business advertised with them or not. Frankly, I don’t think Yelp was misbehaving, but I think it underestimated the venomous hatred they’ve inspired in legions of small business owners.
Yelp announced that we’ll be able to see those positive reviews they deem so un-Yelplike (the one-off rave that your client wrote, just for you, which in the past would disappear after about 90 days.) They’ll just be hidden away in a little basket labeled, more or less, “suspect.” Yelp has been trying to walk a very fine line, torn between appearing to pander to users while attempting to convince businesses to give them advertising revenue.
You’ve probably noticed, Yelp has made more and more of their business services free, a positive step that has helped many businesses make peace with them. If you’re not using these free tools, you’re really missing out. And whether you like them or not, Yelp is boosting your search rankings thanks to their their heavily trafficked site. (I know, I know, you almost picture yourself standing there while you’re being slapped across the face, mumbling, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”)
Fitting right in with the current mania for vampire chic, discounters like Groupon and their ilk are feeding off spas’ desperation to fill their schedules. They’re causing quite a stir, but in this case “stir” may just be another word for “churn.” I’d love to hear from spas who have been able to attract and retain guests using this type of program. Please contact me email@example.com and share your stories.
Our experience with Spa Week at our own spa suggested that the folks who jumped on this promotion were, by and large, geographically unqualified to be regular spa guests. A year later, not one guest who came to us through this promotion was retained. And a couple of the little darlings left us unpleasant souvenirs in the form of snarky Yelp reviews. (Cheap and ungrateful–a winning combination.)
Compared to our normal retention rate of over 30%, this was a glaring example of the destructive nature of D-bombing. Aggressive promotions can create volume, but that volume may simply be churn: money-losing “volume” that saps your customer service resources and puts your regular guests in the back seat.
The jury is still out on Spa Finder Deal Days, until we see the 90 day retention statistics. Even Spa Finder feels compelled to embrace the discount mindset, but they promised a more retention-oriented promotion. I’m not sure how they engineered this, but time will tell if they hit the sweet spot. Participating in the heavily-discounted Deal Days while not accepting Spa Finder gift cards for the promotion, alas, created some pretty awkward moments with customers for many of us. We’re not sure how Spa Finder could rectify this in the future. We had much lower turnout than with Spa Week, but hopefully they were higher quality guests. Time will tell.
I haven’t written off Groupon yet, but I can tell you after two-plus decades in business, I’m dubious about their claims. They’ve graciously offered to put me in touch with some spas that have been happy with their results. I look forward to seeing the retention numbers and reporting back to you!
Registration for this webinar: Mastering the Mindset of World Class Service has closed and below are the topics which were discussed. This training is available online as Part 1 of The Spa Concierge Finishing School. Please check the Events and Learning Academy pages for this and other trainings.
Every spa wants to believe it gives outstanding service, and many claim to offer “world class” and “five star” customer care. But do you really? Does the massage therapist you just hired, who’s never patronized a world class spa, know how to deliver that level of service for a guest? How about your spa concierges?
Good news. It’s important to hire for aptitude and attitude; the rest you can teach. This foundation webinar is designed to help spa employees in every position, and at every level of experience, work closely as a team to create a stellar spa experience.
We’ll help your team understand how world class service is created, from the ground up. We’ll explain the vital importance of each of the three “ingredients” of legendary service: values, systems, and art. When these three ingredients are properly integrated by your team, guests have the sort of experiences that convert them to raving fans.
Your team will learn about:
• What customers value most
• The guest expectation of a five star spa experience
• The power of consistency, or why Systems drive all world class service
• How right-brained spa professionals can learn to love the “sacred geometry” of Systems, Rules, and Processes
• Process improvement and quality management skills for everyone in the spa
• Communication skills and easy, low-stress problem solving
• Understanding Social Styles
• Why “going above and beyond” starts with “mastering the basics”
• Unleashing the “Service Artist” within
• The magic of Deep Teamwork