How to Make it as a Spa Director

by kate woods / last updated August 21, 2018

Phil Murphy, leisure and spa director at Hoar Cross Hall in Burton Upon Trent, reveals the skills and experience you need to run a large spa operation

    1. You should have a passion for leading

      “I’m not your average spa person. I started out in fitness as an instructor before picking up the leisure and spa manager’s job at Macdonald Hill Valley Hotel, where my responsibilities included driving spa revenue and overseeing its expansion from six treatment rooms to eight. It was my first taste of spa and I loved it. “I then moved to the QHotels Group on the same title. When the company bought the De Vere resort properties I was promoted to group leisure and spa operations manager, overseeing the management of 24 spa and leisure club properties in the UK and giving each a target to work towards. I did this for a few years before taking on the job of leisure and spa director at Hoar Cross Hall.”

    2. There’s two avenues you can take

      “The biggest difference between being a director for multiple spa sites and just one operation is time. With a singular site like Hoar Cross Hall, you get to see it evolve on a day-to-day basis – you can be more attentive with projects, walk the spa floor regularly and interact with guests. You get to live the spa journey and it’s a much more rewarding experience. “With a multi-site role, such as at QHotels, you are always on the move. I was travelling two to three days per week, so I had to be strict with my timekeeping and really organised when visiting sites. I also had to liaise with my management team on the phone and email a lot because I couldn’t physically be there. It taught me how to juggle multiple things, which is paying dividends now.”

    3. You need a wider business understanding

      “Hoar Cross Hall is one of the biggest spas in the UK from a treatment offering perspective – we can open 35 rooms on any one day. To make sure it’s a smooth operation, I have to understand the mechanics of the business on a much broader scale – basically what’s required to pull a day together. “For example, I organise an intensive spa cleaning team to come in early every morning to prep the rooms and facilities, while a senior therapist manages the team’s columns. By the time all therapists have arrived, their rotas for the day are printed out and the rooms are set up ready for them to begin. It’s like a well-oiled machine.”

    4. It’s about building a strong team

      “One of the biggest learning curves has been managing a large team – I look after 50 therapists, split between those who live on site and others who commute in. As spa director, I’ve learned to rave about my team to the rest of the hotel business, as well as create aspirational career paths. “I’ve put a three-tier system in place which gives staff the opportunity to work their way up from a bronze therapist to silver and gold. Each tier comes with certain rewards, such as additional training and bonuses, as well as recognition that the job they do is a significant part of the hotel operation. “It’s also about showing trust in what they can deliver. I think, in the spa industry in general, therapists aren’t recognised enough for the hard work and hours they put in.”

    5. Swot up on all operations

      “I come across a lot of spa managers who are very knowledgeable treatment-wise but have no experience managing facilities, which is such an important part of the business. To run a spa, you need to learn how to get the facilities up and running daily, while also being able to manage multiple treatment rooms and other spa elements, such as food and beverages.”

    This feature has previously appeared in Professional Beauty – the market-leading magazine for the beauty and spa industry.

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