Bella Spazio [Beautiful Spaces]

Italian for "beautiful spaces," Bella Spazio lives up to the promise of its name with Greco-Roman architecture, muted colors, soothing scents, flowing fountains, and a solicitous staff. "Everything, from the time the client enters the parking lot- where strategically placed landscaping blocks the sight and sound of congested traffic- has been considered in producing the environment," asserts Darlene Baker, owner of the Knoxville, Tenn., day spa and salon.

In the Beginning

Baker knows only too well how important even the smallest detail is. Formerly the executive vice president of a Southern California credit union, Baker couldn't find a spa in Knoxville that lived up to her standards when she relocated, so she opened one herself. And she's found the career transition less difficult that you'd think. "In my career I've done advertising and sales promotion, legal work, and just about everything in finance," she says. To cover all the bases, though, Baker got her cosmetology license and brought in right-hand woman Jennifer Breaky, a licensed massage therapist and nail technician.

Paid Medical

In keeping with her desire to open a spa the likes of which Knoxville had never experienced, Baker wanted to extend that feeling to the employees, which is why from the first day she offered paid medical insurance. Her plan was to pay the premiums from retail sales, but that plan backfired when she realized employees weren't selling nearly enough in retail to foot the bill.

Rather than drop the insurance, Baker put the ball back in her employee's court by tying her payment of each individual's premium's to his or her retail sales. "I just figured out how much the premium cost the spa, and then calculated the necessary retail sales and percentages from there," she explains. "If they sell $500 a month in retail products, Bella Spazio pays the entire premium," Baker says. She pays 75% of the premium for employees who sell $375-$499; 50% for those who sell $250-$374; and 25% for those who sell $126-$249. 

The Nordstrom Way

Eventually, Baker hopes retail sales will do more than just pay for medical insurance. "Our retail sales are still too low at 14%-15% of sales," she observes. "I would like to get to 30% and eventually to 50% of sales." Like many salon owners, Baker finds staff resistance to be the biggest barrier to higher sales, which is why she's been forcing on the customer service aspect of retailing rather than the selling side. And because even people who don't shop there have heard of Nordstrom's legendary customer service, she's hired a Nordstrom salesperson to come in and train her staff. 

"Most of the time people are afraid of sales and it's hard to get them to look at it from the point of view that they're the expert and need to make recommendations," Baker says. "They went to school and trained, and they know what customers need. We guarantee products: If you don't like it, or it doesn't work, you can bring it back. But if we do our job right the product will work." 

Baker acknowledges that nail technicians have a larger challenge in meeting retail goals, but at the same time she encourages them to sell everything the salon and spa does. "They can sell other things like our music CDs and spa shoes, wraps, and robes," she says. "I also encourage them to learn the skin care lines so they can make basic recommendations to their customers. For example, this time of year with all the dry skin complaints is a great time to recommend body lotions and oils. They went through all the training when we opened and we make the books available, too. I think many of our retail sales occur only when the client asks for something."

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