As founder director of Barden Spa, vice chair at the UK Spa Association (UKSA) and spa and wellness consultant at the soon-to-open Cloud Twelve, Lisa Barden’s passion for the spa industry is evident. After 21 years in the sector, she has a wealth of experience to share with her younger self…
If I were chatting to my younger self at the start of my spa career I’d say be true to yourself and listen to your heart, not your head. Know your skills, understand your misgivings and follow your dreams.
I don’t think I’d advise doing things differently. We’re all put on this planet to do something useful; the path we’re on presents challenges that only help us grow and learn. I’m as driven to create healing spaces for all those who work and visit them now as I was then. I folded towels for free at Grayshott to show my commitment to working with them, I took every extra shift offered to help meet the needs of the business. I did it because I could see the value of spa and wellness and I’d tell my younger self to do it all again.
The path we’re on presents challenges that only help us grow and learn
Growing up in the West Country, my family were all avid supporters of the local community and what it stood for. Aged seven, I wanted to be the Prime Minister! When I realised I wasn’t quite as tough as Margaret Thatcher I opted to do a Business, Finance, Law & Economics course, so I could do right by my community. I ended up in a high-pressure recruitment role and after an aromatherapy massage to relieve the stress, this massage experience led to me dedicating the next three years of my life to making the spa industry my new career.
If I could go back to my first few spa roles I’d explain that being the leader, holding that spa manager or director role, is a job that’s full of pressure and often lonely. I’d remind the younger me that all managers were once fledgling therapists, too. However tough they seem as the leader, they’re doing it for the greater good – the guest experience. As a therapist it’s easy to only see the difficulties they’re putting in front of you - to do that extra shift or last-minute treatment - rather than seeing that they’re doing it for the holistic experience as a whole.
Your toughest challenge will be – and remains today – keeping therapists engaged, making them feel valued and reassured of a career path. I’m overcoming it by working with the UKSA, listening to operators’ concerns and setting up the Spa Director Assemblies; a place where they can come together, talk about challenges – recruitment and retention being a primary concern – and share best practice.
Listening and supporting one another is key to feeling fulfilled
It’s taken me most of my career to realise we’re all in a similar position in this industry. Listening and supporting one another, knowing there’s a broader network to lean on, is key to feeling fulfilled. Only together are we strong enough to press the government to acknowledge our industry and to, one day, open up budgets to our training schools and assist us in getting therapists more work-ready before graduation. The future of the spa industry lies in our hands. Literally! Whether it’s post-operative care, a pampering weekend or regular massage, let’s lead by example, get out into our spas and be the market we want to attract.
You’ll be blessed to work with many visionaries. Everyone, past and present, who sits on the UKSA board will share your belief in one cause – driving more people into spas more often. ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth will teach you never to compromise. Sam Trinder, founder of vegan yoga day spa Bhuti, will show you what a tenacious determination to deliver can achieve. Jenya Emet, founder of Cloud Twelve, will teach you what’s achievable with unfathomable focus and energy. And Sunita Passi, founder of Tri Dosha, will be your embodiment of positivity, flexibility and all things Ayurvedic. Learn from each of them and pass on their learnings to everyone you’re fortunate enough to work alongside. We’re all only a result of the people who’ve invested in us along the way.
Serve others first and be the best possible version of yourself each and every day
Try to be grateful for every opportunity; be gracious and keep your dignity when the road gets tough. Serve others first and be the best possible version of yourself each and every day. Stay centred when all around you are not, ask yourself what more can I do to help and keep going – others will follow if you believe in your vision.