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My First Job In The Skin Industry Made Me Want To Retrain

I've wanted to write about this for a while. My early experiences in this industry are still a driving force today, behind why I run my business the way that I do.

I would like to note - Skin Ritual is not the only clinic that runs the way we do (thank god!) - this is an account of my personal experiences in the industry, and some insight into how a lot of clinics do still operate, particularly chain-spas. It's not my intention to talk down on other clinics/salons - rather, my hope is that talking more openly about the need for better education, regulation, and fair staff wages in this industry, will be a catalyst for positive change. I'll start from the beginning:

My training to be a skin therapist took a year and a half, at a school based in Albany. At the time that I decided to train as a beauty therapist, there weren't a lot of options - and there still aren't. A year and a half was the longest/most in-depth course available, and I signed up for it.

Throughout my training, we probably spent a little over a day talking about how to sell. Sales was a small part of our training - so I expected it to be a similarly small part of the job.

I applied for my first job while I was still in training, to get some work experience in the industry. I applied for a position at one of the most highly regarded spas in Auckland (which shall remain nameless), and to my delight, I got the job. I showed up early to my first shift, eager to get started on what I thought was an incredible job opportunity.

On my very first day, to my surprise I was given KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). My position was minimum wage, but I was promised I could earn far more in commission if I hit the KPI's. The deal was, if you hit all three KPIs, you'd get 3% commission on any retail you sold beyond the target amount. Eg, if my target was $1500 retail in a week and I sold $2000, I'd get 3% of $500 as commission. At the time I thought it was generous!

I was given three KPIs to meet each month: retail sales (by dollar amount), rebooking percentage (my target was 70%), and my least favourite of all: Dollar Per Client. Yes, a target for how many dollars each of my clients spent at the spa on average.

I was then sent for training for the role. I was excited about this part, as I'd read on the spa website about their impressive in-house training, and I was eager to learn from the best.

But the training was not what I expected. I was told how to pitch a sale. How to close a sale. How to convince a client to choose a more expensive treatment on the day, to increase the dollar-per-client averages. How to rigorously examine new client forms and extract any information that might help me convince them to buy another product.

I was told that I was not to ask a client whether or not they would like to rebook - I was to tell them when they NEEDED to come in again. "Don't make it a choice", my cheery trainer told me, "most people will just agree if you present their next appointment as a necessity, not a choice they need to make".

I think we spent one hour on skincare.

A few months into the role, I was booked to do a glycolic acid peel. I'd never done a peel before, done zero training, and never received the treatment myself. I was told about the booking the morning of, and given a quick verbal briefing on what to do.

My client arrived, and unbeknownst to her, I did my first ever peel.

If something had gone wrong, I wouldn't have known what to do; if she was a poor candidate for the treatment, I wouldn't have known. If her skin was reacting abnormally, I wouldn't have been able to recognise the signs. In hindsight, I should have refused - but I figured, if my manager thought this was okay, then surely it must be.

I stressed all night after that treatment, wondering if her skin was okay, worrying that I might have done it wrong. I remember the immense sense of relief the following morning when there was no call, or email - she must be alright.

A month later, I was booked to do a pregnancy massage. Again, I was told the day of. Again, I was not trained for the treatment. I'd never done a pregnancy massage, and I'd heard that if done wrong, there was potential to affect the pregnancy.

I refused this time. My manager and coworker pressured me to do the treatment, but I couldn't go ahead with it. They had to cancel the client.

It was at that point, I decided I couldn't continue in the role. The sales pressure was too stressful, and I felt a deeper sense of discomfort with pressuring clients into spending more, and buying things they didn't need just so that we would hit our quotas. It just didn't sit right.

I left the role, and began searching for something better.

My second job was much the same - minimum wage, with the promise of commission if I hit my targets. Again, I disliked the pressure, felt like there was something wrong with the way sales were prioritised. I asked around friends in the industry and it seemed that every clinic/spa was much the same - sales were just a big part of the job, period. Ongoing education it seemed, was not to be expected.

I left that job, and decided to move to Canada with my partner at the time. I loved skin care, but I'd grown to hate the industry and it's seemingly relentless focus on money. In the months leading up to the big move I tried to think of another career path I could try, considering everything from marketing, to nursing, to paramedicine or medicine. But I was too late for university applications in Canada, and the international fees would be crippling. I resigned to looking for another job in beauty therapy.

The first clinic I found on Google, was SKN, a holistic skin clinic in Vancouver (if you're ever in Canada, go there - you can thank me later!). I applied and was hired for a management role.

By now I had come to expect the usual spiel about sales targets and had accepted this being a non-negotiable part of the job. I waited but the KPIs never came. I remember asking about it, and the response was:

"targets? No, we don't really do that".

At first, I couldn't understand how a clinic could function without them - how could the business make enough money, without targets in place to keep us on track? Surely the immense focused placed on sales was because they were necessary for these businesses to survive?

It was explained to me very simply: if clients need or want the products, they will buy them. If they don't, then they wont. Either is fine by us.

It made complete sense to me, and the business was booming so clearly it wasn't an issue. This was a way of running a skin clinic that didn't involve prioritising sales quotas over the best interests of the client. It was a clinic where we could focus on just doing our job: helping people with their skin.

Not only that, but this was a clinic that paid fair wages. All of my previous roles in the industry began on minimum wage, but my new boss in Canada asked me what I would be happy and comfortable with - and gave me exactly that.

When I returned to New Zealand, I knew I couldn't go back into the lack-of-training, low-paid, sales-driven environment that I had left. But more than that, I wanted to create an environment here that meant others didn't have to either. And thus, Skin Ritual was born.

A place where skin care professionals could act in the best interests of their clients, not their sales stats. A place where people could come for honest advice and help with their skin, without being pressured into contracts or product purchases, or treatments they didn't need or want.

A year and a half down the track, and many unsolicited words of advice on why "a business cant operate without KPIs" later - I'm happy to say I stuck to my guns. We have no targets. No commissions. No KPIs of any kind. What we DO have, is a loyal and growing client base of honestly wonderful people who have benefited from our guidance and care. And it feels pretty damn good.

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