Women in Charge

Elmwood Spa’s Marie Picton says spas are no longer just for the elite

Marie Picton shares her expertise running a successful spa and the evolution of the spa industry.

Written by Sammy Abdo

Marie Picton began her journey in the wellness industry when she decided becoming a classroom educator was not for her. She hasn’t given up teaching however; in this case it’s educating people on the benefits of regular trips to the spa as the executive manager of Elmwood spa.

Elmwood Spa, which was established in 1982, started off as “The Spa on Elmwood” and only occupied the building’s second floor. Four years into Picton’s career, the spa has expanded to four floors, and has been upgraded to the largest stand-alone day spa in Toronto. Services include water therapies, facials, massages, and even exclusive packages for men in an effort to diversify the spa’s clientele.

Picton discusses this effort, the obstacles facing the spa business and how she came to be a leader in the industry.

On feeling passionate about your job

I love this business because it’s all about people. The thing about our industry is we are all here because we want people to feel and look better. That goes for the people who work in the industry and also for our guests that we have the pleasure of servicing everyday. I love the people aspect of it. The spa industry offers real opportunity for people who are looking to make a career for themselves; whether you want to be a massage therapist, an esthetician, you want to work in housekeeping and guest services, you want to work in the restaurant and food and beverage, there is an array of opportunities in this industry.

Elmwood spa

On wellness turning mainstream

Spa is no longer the place where people go for pampering or a leisure activity for the affluent. It’s now become very mainstream so we see many more people able to come in and enjoy spa services. In fact, quite a number of people put a budget aside for going to a spa. People have come to understand and appreciate the true benefits of having regular massages. This shift led to women who were introducing men to spas. Men now are comfortable coming to the spa on their own. One of the things I noticed many years ago was though men were always welcome to the spa, we restricted what we call our water therapy; the pool, the whirlpool, the steam room to only women. I noticed that when I went to Europe that people felt quite comfortable sharing the same space. We started very slowly introducing the water therapy to men on Wednesdays and there was such a huge demand that now, it’s open seven days a week.

Elmwood spa

On the importance of maintaining proper training and protocol

One of the challenges of the industry is that it is really tough to find people, especially in massage therapy because there is such an explosion for massage. One of the other challenges I find is training. People, although they come from schools and they’re certified or they have graduated as a registered massage therapist which takes a lot of education, they need to constantly train and re-train. You have to have your own protocol. We’re very fortunate to have the ability to offer continuous training to everybody, from management, housekeeping, to our massage therapists and our estheticians. It’s an ongoing process and continuous learning.