Ruth Cryne relives her incredible career in Spa!
How I found myself entering into education as a beauty therapist was a bit of a chance. In my last year of school I was auditioning to Music schools to follow a career in music, I wanted to be a music therapist. Unfortunately I lost my Mum to cancer in that year. Following her passing a great friend of hers offered me a weekend job in her very popular and successful beauty salon as a helping hand to the receptionists and therapists. It was there that I realized I loved the beauty industry and from there I decided to apply to college and do what I felt would make me happy, but also help me to heal.
I studied for 2 years at college and really enjoyed every second of it. When I look back now, your training days as a therapist are so like your driving test, you don’t really learn a thing until you are out on the road yourself. Those first few years of industry experience are absolutely crucial and can definitely guide the direction of your whole career.
Only twenty minutes drive away from where I grew up on the West Coat of Scotland sits Turnberry. I got my first job as a therapist there and this paved the way for my whole career, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was sent on my very first ESPA training and it was on that training course that I got my inspirations and my confirmation that I had made the right choice to ditch musical studies. I wanted to be a trainer for ESPA.
After three mind blowing years at Turnberry with some amazing experiences and oh so many stories under my belt I felt I needed to re-coup a bit after doing 8 hours of massage a day, everyday. I worked in various luxury day spas and spas in Scotland and took a keen interest in the operational side of the workings of the spas as well as doing treatments. Working my way up to Senior level.
In 2006 I heard of a brand new opening in Scotland that was to be an ESPA spa. I’m not quite sure where it came from but I plucked up the courage to email recruitment for ESPA and asked that I be informed when the project was coming to a recruitment stage. To my delight not only did they keep in very close contact throughout the process but I was hired as the Head Therapist for this unbelievable project. A private members Golf Club on the beautiful Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. Every treatment room had its own private garden and we had the latest equipment known, everything we could have wanted as therapists. It was like a dream to work in. The most peaceful spa I have ever and will ever know, I was extremely proud of what I achieved to get it open.
The biggest thing I really love about this Industry is that everyone in it is like-minded. Working in a group of therapists you do find you have many of the same interests and care about the same things, we are after all looking after people and listening to people’s problems day in day out. However, like any other industry not everybody you meet will be on your level. Unfortunately for me this beautiful place that I worked so hard to help create and felt passionately about became like a prison, still the most beautiful one though.
I remember very clearly a visit from my old boss Sue Harmsworth, who at that time was visiting to see how the spa was performing. She is one of the most intuitive people and the most supportive person I have ever met and without me saying a word, she opened her big eyes wide and took me out into the gardens. She saw exactly what was going on. At the end of the conversation she held my hand and told me to call her whenever I wanted and when I was ready to leave.
One month later, I made that call. And it was the best decision I ever made. It was the decision that would not only shape my career, but me as a person and the direction of my life.
To anyone going through similar, and I’m only being realistic because it can even happen to the best of us, seek someone out to speak to, someone out of the department completely who can see the situation with a fresh pair of eyes. And make sure you leave in a way you can hold your head high.
I spent five incredible years as an International Training Manager for ESPA. Working with the best professionals in the industry. This involved traveling around the world teaching therapists in ESPA Spas. I could be away anything from one week or eight weeks at a time and I don’t think there was a corner of the globe I didn’t touch down in.
Whether it was getting lost in the jungle on the way to my room in Thailand, nearly falling off a boat in Bora Bora as I stepped off to meet the hotel GM or hanging outside a taxi window In Shanghai to try and find my apartment, I am never lost for a story. Maybe I should write a book one day. I think back now to those years and I just smile. To go from such a horrible time of my life and be transported to the most amazing worldly experiences was unbelievable. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.
My favorite projects were Pre-Openings. I loved seeing a challenge through from the beginning to the end. Moulding the teams of therapists and inspiring them to be their best. I loved all the skills that I found I didn’t have, especially English grammar. On a pre-opening teaching English was the biggest hurdle but actually the most gratefully received. Seeing the progression in my teams from Day 1 to Day 50 was insane. I always found it hard to leave a pre-opening as you get very attached.
Probably the most memorable departure I ever had was when I left O&O Mexico. I was sitting waiting for my flight in the small San Jose airport when I got called back to the security gate, to find a bunch of the therapists had come to wave me off, have one more hug and give me some gifts. They thanked me for changing their lives, and I may add many of them where much much older than me. I cried all the way back to Edinburgh I think. That was the very first pre-opening I ever did. Others have included Ritz Carlton Phulay Bay Thailand, Ritz Carlton Pudong Shanghai, The Istanbul Edition, Four Seasons Bora Bora, The D Maris Turkey to name a few and they each have an incredibly special place in my heart.
I used a lot of my time when traveling to keep up my hands on experience too. It’s easy to get complacent when teaching, but I felt it was so important to keep my therapist hands working. Every place I went and where possible I would spend time with the therapists after training to learn about their local skills and treatments. Giving them treatments and vice versa. I also offered Spa Directors a treatment when I was visiting so that they could understand exactly what their therapists were being taught, and why. Little did I know I would actually be a Spa Director myself one day and how rare that mindset really is. I would highly recommend anyone in a similar role to do the same.
I always made a point of learning from other therapists too and I learned the most in those years. I met some truly amazing souls that I now consider friends. My boss at ESPA also always encouraged me to “go local” and where possible seek out a very traditional treatment and have it done so that I could gain some worldly treatment knowledge for treatment design - which is my very favorite thing to do! Another great tip if you travel with your role.
My five years with Espa, although to be honest it was so much longer really, since my Turnberry days, came to a close in the most wonderful way. Throughout my travels I actually met my now husband. He appeared on one of my product training days as he would be working alongside the Spa in the opening of the Istanbul Edition. And the rest they say, is history. After two years of traveling and being engaged I decided that Istanbul had lots to offer me and I left my life in the UK behind. I would never have had the courage to do that if it hadn’t been for all that traveling on my own.
Fast forward a couple of years, after getting married and having a baby, an opportunity to work as a Spa Director here in Istanbul for The Ritz Carlton came up. A really exciting challenge to revamp an old spa, with an old team, and old habits. For many years the spa had been managed by the FOH team so it needed a lot of TLC. Just the kind of challenge I love!
To any Spa Director or Spa Director-to be out there, the best bit of advice I can give you is if you don’t come from a therapist background or have practical experience - go and get it even, a basic massage course will be enough.
It is the most valuable tool you can have as a confident and approachable Director in my opinion. Numbers are numbers and they are incredibly important, in fact crucial, but guests, therapists, people on work experience, colleagues want to here your experiences more than your numbers (other than GMs and owners of course) as a Spa Director. Find the balance, it’s really hard to achieve but it is possible, and will help you leap ahead in the industry that is now becoming ever more competitive.
I clearly remember my interview and the GM at the time asking me how I would deal with the therapists complaints about it being too dark, sore hands, sore back - the usual complaints. I said the answer is simple “I’ve been in their position, I’ve done it, I know how to make it better and I know when they are just trying their luck”. He offered me the job on the spot.
Working as a Director was a great experience for me, something to get my teeth into after becoming a Mum. It was a huge challenge with language barriers, most meetings were held in Turkish, even the P&L meetings, so my numbers in Turkish are definitely better than my words!
In my time there I was lucky enough to be given the freedom to create a small local product brand and treatments to compliment them. Having seen that they had never made a brand work in the Spa I felt having something small, local, organic and luxury would be very successful for them.
I took all of my product knowledge, aromatherapy knowledge, treatment knowledge, and International experience. My passion and love for creating produced their very own Spa Brand with a local producer with the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients. I designed the whole new menu, the new treatments and training manuals, performed the training all at the same time as being the Director for the department, it was crazy, but a good crazy.
I am incredibly proud of what I did there, when I look back on it now it’s quite surreal. Having the chance to create such a wonderful project and make it work practically as well as financially was brilliant. The products and treatments were adored by guests from all around the globe. The best part for me though was seeing the enthusiasm of the therapists knowing it was something we had achieved altogether. Their pride showed in the numbers too as retail to treatment revenue actually started to exist for the first time in years. We took small leaps, but important ones.
And all of it as a foreigner. It made me learn how to communicate well here and learn how to fight my corner and stand up for myself. So very different to my years in Scotland and I’m proud of how I’ve grown.
Knowing I can achieve that, I have the contacts, the know how, the passion, makes me even more determined to do it again, maybe even for myself one day who knows. Maybe that can be the new dream.
I’m now a Mum of two, just had a new little baby girl and writing this has given me so many ideas and inspirations. When you see your whole career (so far) written down it’s mind blowing. Maybe I will go and write that book!