When Kathryn Stolle became one of three founders of Leading Spas of Canada, she brought with her years of experience developing standards and practices for the spa industry. In 2006, Kathryn and her fellow SIAC founders decided that they should form some sort of verification and inspection process for Canadian spas. Thus, the Quality Assurance program was born. “We came up with a verification checklist,” Kathryn says. “It has become a little more detailed over the years, but it has not changed significantly from its earliest iteration, which is really cool. It means that what we had set out to do really did work for the spas and for the association.” Kathryn has been working as a QA assessor since 2012.
As one of the original founders of the QA program, what purpose do you see it serving?
It is about best practices. In Ontario, in B.C., they have eliminated all testing and certification for estheticians and the like – not for massage, that’s in a completely different category. I know they’ve tried to get it going again in B.C. What we decided, because it was so spotty across the country and so different from province to province, was to give spas a baseline against which they could measure themselves.
As an assessor, what do you think is the benefit of the QA program for spas?
At the end of an [assessment] process I sit down with the spa director and go through the checklist, literally page by page, and discuss what they feel they could do better and what I might see as a best practice somewhere else. It might be that they have an autoclave that they’re not using – that was a case at a spa I assessed a couple of years ago. It was stuck in the closet because nobody wanted to take the responsibility for it and they were using a perfectly safe, legal one. In any case, it’s that kind of thing where you say, “You know what, why don’t you take it out of the back and start using it, because that is truly a best practice.” So it gives you as the assessor the opportunity to call to their attention some of the best practices that are being followed by other spas. It’s a very helpful process really.
How do you turn that QA assessment process into an opportunity to collaborate with the spa owner, rather than an inspection?
You have to work on the same level with [the spa director]. This is from my perspective. I am not a health inspector, I come from a spa background, I come from my association work, and I come from running a spa. I’m also a spa consultant and have helped develop spas – so I come at it from that angle. You’re not putting yourself above the spas, you’re on their level and you’re there to help them. For example, we are obligated to look at a minimum of three or four HR folders for the various estheticians and therapists as part of the assessment. Let’s say you start looking at their HR records and you realize that some are scanty and some are really quite nicely done. Rather than saying “Too bad, so sad, I’m not going to give you high marks on that one,” you suggest to them, “Had you thought about this aspect?” or “What training have they received additionally?” You want to make the industry stronger and better, that’s the whole rationale behind this.
What are some of the common mistakes you see spas making that you think can be easily fixed?
If I walk through the spa and I see, for instance, a messy reception desk – there are certain little things I tend to look at because that is also part of my hospitality and restaurant background. Another really big one, in the retail area, are the shelves clean? Is the makeup station clean? I’ve had a situation where I went in and there was powder all over it and dust on the shelves – no, that won’t do. Or I’ve had a situation where the employee documentation, the HR side of it, was less than perfect – seriously less than perfect. The spas have time to rectify that and I do make a note of it and it does go back to head office, and head office contacts them, but I also let them know that it’s an issue that has to be rectified.
So each and every spa that you do this verification process with has the opportunity to rectify things and go through the process again?
Absolutely! They have three months to bring things back up to speed, but that should not be a reason to say, “Oh, I never got around to it, too bad so sad.” It’s not a rigorous process and it is collaborative, but there are standards that have to be upheld.
What tips can you give to spas to help them prepare for a QA assessment?
Be prepared, that’s the big one. Find a quiet corner, either in an office or a boardroom or whatever is available, and have all of the documentation that is necessary ready to be looked at. And the documentation should be as complete as humanly possible, so that there is no scrambling for anything. If it happens to be electronic, have the computer set up so that you can go in and see what they have. Also, spas should make sure that their work stations are in good order, and that would include their storerooms, because that’s part of the monitoring process. We walk through the entire operation. I think the big thing is to take the checklist that we provide, go through it point by point, and make sure that those are steps that are being observed in your operation. If you’re doing that, you’re off to the races.