Susan Harmsworth - speaker at the PSW Convention

Professional Spa & Wellness Convention returns to Professional Beauty in London on February 28-29, 2016, once again attracting some of the most senior speakers in, and outside of, the industry. We talked to Susan Harmsworth, Founder of ESPA, about the topics, presentations and the key issues facing the sector.

- What made you interested in chairing the session on Spa Leadership?
Leadership is a topic that is particulary close to my heart and something I believe our industry is really lacking on a global scale at the moment, so I felt I could really constribute something to thi session.

- How would you describe your presenting style?
I prefer to present as naturally and honestly as possible and to adapt to every audience and the questions they ask, so I like to remain as unscripted as possible.

- What makes a good presentation at an event like this? What does the speaker need to deliver to make it worth the audience's time and money?
I'm a firm believer in that a presentation is only great if every attendee is able to take away something relevant, that is of value to them in their professional life. So it's vital that you know your audience and tailor the presentation, content and tone of delivery to them, to ensure they learn something new.
I always work with event organisers to find out in advance who will be attending the presentation: i.e. property owners, spa directors, therapists or wellness practioners. This way I can understand the audiences' objectives and aspirations and prepare appropriatly, so that the presentation is pitched on a very relevant level.

- What do you hope delegates will take away from this session?
Hopefully, I can inspire, energise and teach them in some way, small or large. Our industry is such a unique and incredible one, and it needs people in order to be a success, so if I can motivate attendees to develop, learn and make their own positive and lasting contribution, then I will be happy.

- Strong leadership is an ongoing challange for the industry. What does it take to be a great spa manager/director?
It ultimately comes down to specific skills training. Most spa managers and directors come from one of the three career backgrounds: therapist, fitness or reception. None of these equip them with managerial experience, yet they are expected to be knowledgeable within a host of areas, including finance, marketing, treatments, KPIs and human resources. The spa business is extremely people and emotion-intensive and spa managers/directors therefore need to be skilled at managing, supporting and getting the very best out of their team. Managing all this successfully, while trying to deliver an exceptional guest experience, is very difficult and I believe such inimitable conditions can only be overcome with in-house coaching.

- How often do you speak at industry events like the Professional Spa & Wellness Convention?
Being able to contribute fully requires a lot of time and dedication, which I must balance against the commitments I have to our business and spa clients, so I'm unable to accept all the speaker requests I receive. I try to commit to a few every year, but tha changes throughout the year.

- Why are events like this convention important for our sector?
Having the opportunity to network and connect with members of the industry across the globe is absolutely invaluable. It's also through these events that we share ideas, best practice and experiences of successes and failures, enabling us to set benchmarks that equip all of us with the insight to continually improve our offerings and ultimately our industry as a whole.

- What are the biggest challangees and opportunities currently facing the spa and wellness industry?
There are three key areas at the moments: understanding and delivering wellness, future-proofing your spa and the lack of people skills in senior management. At the moment, there is much understanding and overuse of the word wellness. Wellness is not about simply offering a well-equiped gym or a nutritionist, it requires specialist facilities, complementary health professionals, knwoledge and resources that only few establishments can financially and feasibly provide.
Secondly, there is the challenge of ensuring your spa is not only profitable now but also able to meet the changing demands of future clients. Following the global recession, the pressure has been on spas to be a financial success and as they look to remain profitable, training and treatments suffer. This means they are unable to meet guest expectations in the long term, which hinders future success. A spa's ongoing competitive edge lies in providing excellent training and career development, so that their best therapists are retained, their treatment offering can flex as market demand changes and the quality of treatments continues to improve. The last challnage is the lack of leadership and people skills in senior spa management positions, as discussed above.

Click here for the full Convention programme