Massage Franchises- The Impact on the Profession

After reading an article in Massage and Bodywork called “Massage Franchises – The Impact on the Massage Profession” I at first was deeply saddened thinking that it might all be true- that the self employed massage therapist was in danger of becoming extinct! (Well that’s what the article said anyways!)

To me, being a massage therapist was about a lifestyle choice of being my own boss and not having to work for someone else right from the beginning but back in 1987 when I went to school -there were no massage jobs at all!  I went with 250 hours of training right into starting and running a business.  I had some experience in customer service working previously in photography but didn’t know a thing about starting a business.   It was essential in the beginning to network with other massage therapists and help each other out.  I learned how to bill for car accidents and workman’s comp from my friends.  I learned about leases and how to negotiate them and find office space.  I learned by doing mostly and by sharing with friends.  There wasn’t much help in the way of massage school.  They didn’t teach much at all about starting or running a business.

One of the most disturbing things mentioned in the article was the fact that Corinthian Colleges are now supporting Massage Envy Franchises and supplying them massage students!  I can see it is a good business decision for both – the massage school wants to keep students coming in the door promising them jobs and ME wants more …well I was going to say ‘slaves’ but was looking for a nicer word – I guess simply employees.

Franchises can be a good way to start for some.  There are many younger massage students these days coming right out of high school.  The massage schools have also increased significantly in the last 10 years .  (See the increasing number of massage schools through the years on my site.)  That would be an interesting topic to study – why were all these schools started?  Was there a need for them or was it just dollar signs in school owners eyes as they saw how much money they could make putting students through school.  (Yes I know there are some who take it more seriously and are genuine about creating compassionate, successful massage therapists.)

Was there really a demand?

So now there are all these massage schools trying to stay in business with the economy crashing and people not knowing what to do with their lives – so walahhh- the low cost massage was created along with low paying massage jobs!

At first after reading this article as I said in the beginning of this post I was saddened.  I actually just thought it might be time to get out of the profession seeing it come to that!  Then of course some time went by and now I am more inspired and committed than ever in writing and teaching massage therapists that they can actually start and build their own business if they want and there are other choices to low paying jobs.  You can use them to get you where you want to be- with your own business or you can just skip that phase and jump right in with both feet to starting your own business.  In fact set up shop right next to them and put up a big sign – “I fix $59 (or whatever it is in your area) Massages!”  (Ok I also hate the word “fix” because that isn’t what we do in general -but it works for marketing!)

11 thoughts on “Massage Franchises- The Impact on the Profession

  1. How condasending and demeaning to the thousands of licensed and insured massage therapists who are gainfully employed by businesses such as Massage Envy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise how many massage therapists are not practicing because they cannot make it on their own trying to be an adverising expert, a leasee, a business owner paying for their own employees, paying taxes, buying their own gels, lotions, towels, equipment, hoping checks don’t bounce, trying to figure how to do all of this while answering the phone propmtly at the same time they are giving a massage, etc.
    Most massage therapists just want to give great massages while not having to deal with all of the other things which need to be done and expenses to be paid in order to be able to stay in business and being an employee is their answer. Sounds like you may have been turned down for employment at a business like Massage Envy!

    • Sorry if you or any franchise employees took my post personally. I am just trying to say that there are other options and you can create your own business easily.
      If people want to work at franchises and they like it that is one thing. The people who hate it seem to outweigh the people who love it. I actually haven’t heard of anyone who worked for them that loved it. Check the forums on indeed.com. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like to get what you want – and if what you want is to do massage you have to learn how to run a business to do it so you don’t burn out on $12-$25 an hour- that’s all. Maybe you were turned down or forced to take a job there. There is nothing wrong with doing what you have to do. Laura Allen posted on my Facebook page saying she is in Asheville NC and there are 5 massage schools and no ME. What makes the difference is the schools too and many other things – something should be studied there to see what they are doing…

      My point is that you don’t have to take jobs there even. You can learn how to get or create better paying jobs for yourself.

      Being self employed isn’t for everyone obviously but you would be surprised at how little it really takes.

  2. I applaud you, Julie, for your success, especially in these tough times. Your thriving private practice speaks volumes about your personal drive and high standards. It’s clear why you have succeeded. Your story rings true, but let’s paint a realistic picture of today’s massage landscape for those therapists who want to strike out on their own.

    The massage business has changed dramatically over the last twenty-five years. Back in the late 80’s when my wife, Susan, started her private practice here in Brooklyn, marketing was a simple flyer at the health food store. Spas were few, and there was little competition. Life was simple.

    Today, forget simple; massage is highly competitive, and clients have become more educated and discriminating. Look around, spas are on now every corner. “Spa” has become a buzz word, embraced by dog groomers, dentists and even medical technicians. If hat wasn’t enough, massage schools are churning out more and more therapists every day. It’s getting crowed out there for clients.

    Susan, my wife and LMT, opened a spa- six years ago in that harsh climate, focused on great bodywork, passionate therapists, and great service. It wasn’t long before clients were noticing that our staff love to work here. Need I say more? .

    This spa owner pays benefits and is competitive with both spas and private practitioners in this area. We also strive to respect the needs of each and every employee. (- For the record- most spas nationwide hire therapists as independent contractors which is highly illegal. Therapist can be fined along with the spa by the IRS.)

    On the surface, your salary seems like a much better deal, but is it really? Most spa owners would be thrilled to make a solid 25% on spa services. That translates to $25 on a single $100 service less any discounts, refunds or no shows (therapist still gets paid when the client is a no show) Don’t forget that the $25 profit covers time spent by the owner answering the phone booking the client. Someone has to get paid to answer the phone.

    Overhead is no joke. It’s a big number. So think you deserve more of that spa fee as your salary? Ok, before we pay you more, let’s deduct for start-up capital expenditures, building costs, design, permits, loans, office supplies, utilities, laundry, commercial rent, insurance, web hosting, flowers, facility cleaning, uniforms, marketing spa discounts, maintenance, graphics, essential oils, computers, computer software, massage supplies, training, front desk labor, and refunds….just to name a few. Be your own boss! No doubt, some will have the drive to succeed big time But when you strike out on your own, do so with your eyes wide open.

    – Sage Spa
    Park Slope, Brooklyn NY

    • Hi Thanks for your reply.

      I am mainly talking about a one person self employed situation. You can really do it on a shoe string. I am sharing an office space in the heart of downtown Seattle and it is very reasonable. I just have my website and business cards and cell phone to worry about. I don’t do any other advertising because my website does all the work of getting me new clients all of the time. There were no start up costs. We have a washer and dryer in the office. I don’t wear a uniform. I get flowers at the local market once a week. I don’t have a computer at the office. I get email through my cell phone. I don’t have a receptionist and only have a voice mail system and email.

      You can do it all very simply and succeed and yes it is all with your eyes open!

      Julie

    • “Overhead is no joke. It’s a big number. So think you deserve more of that spa fee as your salary? Ok, before we pay you more, let’s deduct for start-up capital expenditures, building costs, design, permits, loans, office supplies, utilities, laundry, commercial rent, insurance, web hosting, flowers, facility cleaning, uniforms, marketing spa discounts, maintenance, graphics, essential oils, computers, computer software, massage supplies, training, front desk labor, and refunds….just to name a few. Be your own boss! No doubt, some will have the drive to succeed big time But when you strike out on your own, do so with your eyes wide open.”

      I agree with this poster. Julie, its great you can work on a shoestring- but most spas cannot. Who answers your phones? How do you plan to expand your business when not if you need to sell it? Who will buy a business that is all you? Who will stay in the clientele if you leave? I am 52 years old and worry that I cannot keep expanding my clientele. My clients call and ask prices every day when and if they book. We are competing in very tough times! With everyone and their mother blogging about massage, who’s left to make money with Adsense? These are my questions. My income has decreased steadily while my bills doing massage, education, and licensure hae all increased. Yet to stay open I must make price concessions. My clientele were all 6 figures, and now have lot their jobs. We have 12% unemployment and being a business owner is less and less appealing to me.

      • Sorry to hear you are having such a tough time. There are many who are successful running a multi therapist office. Take a look at Laura Allen’s clinic in NC at http://www.thera-ssage.com/ . I guess she is more of a clinic than a spa. Perhaps that is the issue- people don’t understand the value of a spa in difficult financial times but they do still understand pain and injuries.

        Anyone can make additional income through websites and blogging. Anyone who is blogging or creating a website can – that’s who.

        I just took a look at your website and I would say that that is part of the problem. It doesn’t have much info on it. To put the fact that you are hiring near the top of the nav bar isn’t very appealing to visitors – they are probably already wondering if you have anyone there. The google keyword search tool shows that 320 people are searching for massage in your city a day – and that is only on Google.

        Write about 30-5 0 more pages on just what massage does – how it works on muscles, what it can do for the immune system etc. Use your website to build trust with people. Look at your website stats and find out what keywords people are using to find you – are they looking for spa massage or injury massage? Can you tell?

        Put your phone number and location on every page so people don’t have to hunt around for it when they are on your site.

        Work on your home page – people don’t give a hoot about increasing their circulation. People come looking to solve a problem. They don’t care or know about how circulation is everything. Write a page on each type of massage that you do. Be the expert in your area.

        Put the schedule now button at the top.

        Create a referral network – find others to refer to you-…doctors, businesses, figure out your best source.
        Visit my other site http://www.massagepracticebuilder.com for more info.

        Join my Facebook group and ask questions and get this figured out!

        Julie

    • I haven’t taken down any posts that just disagree with me…I am not sure what you are talking about. I am all for good discussions on topics. Most of my posts are filled with them. I do take down posts from spammers and from a stalker of mine. It might have gotten confused with the stalker since you have the same name so please post again if you like.

      Julie

  3. The typical feedback we get from clients who come to our office, of highly skilled and experienced therapists, after going to Massage envy is “Oh this is what a massage is”. But perhaps chains can be good to introduce new people to massage. Or as they say “different strokes for different folks”. McDonalds and high end restaurants coexist and don’t compete with each other.

    • “McDonalds and high end restaurants coexist and don’t compete with each other.”
      Interesting analogy, Eugene. I like your post because I have had so many people come in to get a massage that say exactly that “Oh this is what massage is!”. It’s nice to be able to provide this type of feeling for a client. Very gratifying. Basically why I chose massage school.
      I was not taught very much business at all in massage school. I feel this was lacking. I still feel that there is a strong need for CE courses in business education for massage therapists. Sometimes we (therapists) come into the profession to help people and have some unclear boundaries that accompany this desire. Working in places like Massage Envy may teach the concept of burnout pretty quickly, but does little else to help therapists gain a sense of independence and uniqueness in their work.

  4. The massage education industry is really one of the most deceptive ones I have seen. I went to a “school” that I believe was run out of a former house. The director cut corners on everything in order to save a buck. The goal for them is not to screen whether you would even make a good therapist, but to enroll as many students as possible. This profession is diluted because of that. I believe I am one of the few practicing therapists out of a class of 20 or so because people find out that it isn’t what they want to do after paying thousands of dollars.

    I tried working for a spa after I got laid off from a job in a different field. They wanted me to hang around all day and fold linens, mop floors and dust for ZERO compensation just so I could be available for walk-ins. That lasted about a week. I didn’t pay thousands of dollars to be a housekeeper. I certainly didn’t invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of education to make $15 an hour.

    “Most massage therapists just want to give great massages while not having to deal with all of the other things which need to be done and expenses to be paid in order to be able to stay in business and being an employee is their answer.”

    I find that to be simply untrue. GOOD therapists want to help people while helping themselves. They don’t want to churn people out like cattle and pray that they get a good tip in order to make ends meet. Great for you that you have self-justified as a franchise owner that you are doing someone such a favor. Half rate therapists for half rate prices isn’t my cup of tea though.

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