Is Massage Franchise a Dirty Word?

That is the title of a recent panel discussion at the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education Conference last week in MN.

6 representatives from various franchises were on a panel to talk about what is going on in the massage franchise world.

Introduction by Eric Stephenson  Massage Continuing Education and Consulting.  Works with Elements in training MT on self care.

Overview of Introduction:

Eric had heard a story in 2005 ABMP said that 60000 people are leaving the massage profession.  Wanted to create something to change that statistic and help massage therapists survive in a career in massage.  Wants to help massage therapists extend their career.

The Blue Ocean Strategy in business means that there is a bunch of competitors in the industry called the red ocean – spas, chiropractors, health clubs etc.  The red ocean is the conventional way of doing business.  Wikipedia says The blue ocean strategy” tries to align innovation with utility, price and cost positions An example of the blue ocean strategy is how Circe De Soleil took the concept of circuses and turned it into a total experience and revolutionized the entertainment industry.  There are disrupters in any industry that change the way things are done like Napster, Netflix, Apple and are in every industry.  Are the franchises the disrupter in the massage profession?  Yes most definitely  but is it all for the improvement and longevity of the profession?  (My question)

Why don’t people get massage?   Deep tissue hurts the clients, or the pressure is just not right.

Why are franchises so popular?  Because the franchises have figured out what people want and what is most successful as far as services.  Consumer research helps them create their business.  People need to feel safe.   It is about systems.  The consumers are dictating what is offered.

Lee Oberg, – 7 locations in MN. 140 MT. 100% guarantee.

Michelle Merhib Maruniak, Elements founder.  3000 MT, 1.5million massages,  MT want jobs.  Consumers want consistency.

Kristine Fisher.  Elements Massage

Daniel Jaramillo, Massage Heights

Gary Myers, Scott Huber, Massage Envy

There was a lot covered so here is just my take on it all and the things that stood out for me.

The general consensus is that there is an increasing demand for massage and massage therapists.  There is a very big drop in enrollment in massage schools.  The franchises seem to want to put this on the low enrollments but the question really is why is the enrollment down?   They don’t seem to want to look at the fact that you can’t make a living working as a massage therapist although the franchise owners seem to say differently and they always will include tips into what a person can make.  Tips are optional, vary and are not to be considered part of the income.  Massage schools don’t know how to market themselves.   They have been doing fine for quite some time until the past few years.  Schools were full and the profession was growing until the franchises came along and changed things forever.

One of the panelists mentioned that issues with body mechanics seems to be a problem as mentioned by one panel member…but is that really the issue?  There is much more to body mechanics than just standing in certain ways and using your arms/hands correctly.  When people don’t feel valued or respected in their jobs, people use poor body mechanics.   They also are required to do back to back massage.  They probably don’t make enough  to get the required 1 massage a week that a massage therapist really needs to take care of themselves when doing high numbers of massage sessions.  Some of the franchises recommend one massage a month and one franchise makes it mandatory but 1 massage a month is not enough.

Why aren’t franchises doing advertising/marketing for careers in general to promote massage schools was one of the questions that was brought up.  The two could be working together.

What about connecting more with high schools and parents who are more concerned these days about whether or not their kids will be able to pay off school loans after college and are looking for alternative?


My comments:  What about franchises raising their rates so that they can pay their therapists more?   What about making the franchise fee less and the owners taking less money in order to pay the massage therapists more?  No one asked or talked about this.  If this happens, then the sole proprietor and small massage business can raise their rates too so that the franchise is still the low end of the fees to entice consumers.




Why are Massage School Enrollments Down?

Massage School enrollments are down across the US and more and more franchises are opening every day.  There are more jobs available than there are massage therapists to fill the positions.

There are so many massage franchises opening up it is really changing the direction of the profession.  The massage franchises came onto the scene in about 2004 with the first Massage Envy franchise.  The franchises offer low cost massage, which means that they pay their massage therapists much less to be able to charge so little.  They also have heavy franchise fees that they have to pay also and it usually is a very big expense to open one – about $350K for a Massage Envy Franchise – so yes they need to make a lot of money to make it all up and to make a living on top of it.

But here is the thing – there were not many other jobs before the franchises showed up.  There were mainly spas and working for chiropractors which is not always the best option either.  High end spas are where you will make the most money really.  Chiropractors have a tendency to take advantage of massage therapists also.  There are of course some who pay fairly too.  It is hard to make sense of all this since we don’t have any real statistics in the massage profession.  The BLS stats always base the wages on working full time – 40 hours a week which no massage therapist ever does.

The low cost massage has also driven the VALUE Of massage DOWN.  It is just economics 101 – when you offer a service for a lower rate that has always been offered at a higher rate, people start to expect that all massage will be low cost.  They will frequent the low cost massage places over more expensive. The low cost franchise massage tends to be moving toward a 50 minute hour and also hopes that the employee will make up the difference in tips which always vary.  After tips, the price is starting to get higher which is not really as much of a savings as perceived.

Meanwhile, massage schools started opening up one after another, thinking they were jumping on the bandwagon of supplying all these franchises with graduates!  In 2002, there were approximately 875 massage schools.   In 2004, there were 1346 massage schools.   See the data.  

In May 2007 there were 1550 massage schools.  Then in 2013, ABMP said there were 1319 massage schools.  See Media Corner.

Does anyone see where this is going???


Put that in a big pot and stir it around and what do you have???  Too many massage schools, not enough student’s/graduates to fill the many many many franchise jobs let alone the spa jobs.  My cooking experiment was also confirmed in May 2015, I attended a little meeting called into being by one of the many Massage Envy Franchise owners to talk about what is going on.  The owners and teachers of the many local massage schools were invited.  The first thing out of the ME owners mouth was….  I don’t have enough people to fill my available jobs and I don’t know what to do anymore, so I am coming to you to try to put answers together.  The result was an evening presentation of a guy Joe from the Evergreen Beauty Academy, a prominent local beauty school who talked about having a similar problem.  His answer to it all was to create something called ‘Beauty Changes Lives” ( The goal of this org is to get more people interested in a career in beauty by making it more appealing.  Rather than just come and learn to cut hair or do nails, the theme became – do something that will change your life and the life of others – become a beautician.


Blake was the next presenter, who was the creator of the website which he no longer owns. He did some preliminary work on a website that would be a lead generation tool for schools. They are talking about creating a website for the WA State Massage Schools that would be a lead generation tool that would be the “Massage Changes Lives” campaign – or something like that.

Then the next presentation was from a guy who specialized in getting students in the door and signed up for school.   Lex from , went on to talk about how schools could improve the number of students in their school by having specific ways of talking with them and following up with them.  Schools need to figure out what people are really wanting. they need to move toward selling the dream.

But here is the thing.  Someone in the room had mentioned that AMTA statistics show that the average salary for a MT in 2014 was $22,000 a year.

Hello???  What is missing from this picture?

What is missing is that the massage profession is getting a bad image from all of those low paying franchise jobs, the many franchise complaints and law suits and NO ONE WANTS to go through massage school – one year, $12000 and be paid minimum wage jobs with no benefits!

The franchises come back saying that the jobs are entry level jobs.  The high turnover makes them entry level jobs.  Of course each franchise is different and the pay varies greatly as does the policies of the owners.    Many will stay in these jobs mainly because THERE ARE NO other higher paying jobs – at least no enough to sustain the demand for jobs…

I just counted over 1732 Massage Franchise locations:  Massage Envy – 1078, Elements – 175, Hand and Stone -216, Massage Heights – 128, LaVida – 56, Massage luxe – 38,  Massage Addict – 41 and that is not counting Green Spa of which I could not find a number. (as counted from reports on  If each franchise has 20 therapists (I am guessing!) x 1732 = 34640… that would be 34640 graduates needed out of 1316 massage schools…..  ABMP stats say:  The number of graduates from massage therapy programs in 2012 dipped below 40,000 for the first time since 1998.  (see media corner.

So right now we have a culling of the massage profession – a thinning out of the herd.  Massage schools are closing.   Corinthian Colleges who owned many massage schools got in big trouble by telling the students that they could make a ton of money and then the jobs didn’t pay well and were not there leading them into bankruptcy.   -30 on the massage school count now.   It is also the small ‘mom and pop’ schools out there too. The NM Academy of Healing arts is struggling to get by.  See

See stories:  Huffington PostWall Street Journal.

So where this is all going, we don’t really know.

What we need for the Future of the Massage Profession.

  • What we need now is a sustainable career where people can make a LIVING giving massage.
  • What we need now are massage schools who start taking a stand for better jobs and working conditions.
  • What we need are more jobs and higher paying jobs.
  • What we need now is more massage therapists going back to starting their own business.
  • Or how about creating a franchise for clinical massage therapy that pays more to the therapists and hires only the top notch therapists?  just an idea…
  • What we need is an association or group of people to start standing up for us in getting massage covered by health insurance and yes there are a ton of issues around that.

How can WE make that HAPPEN?   What do you think?


Massage Quotes

massage quotes

Massage Quotes On Touch and Healing

Soothing touch, whether it be applied to a ruffled cat, a crying infant, or a frightened child, has a universally recognized power to ameliorate the signs of distress. How can it be that we overlook its usefulness on the jangled adult as well? What is it that leads us to assume that the stressed child merely needs “comforting,” while the stressed adult needs “medicine”? — from Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork by Deane Juhan

When the Body Gets working appropriately, the force of Gravity can flow through, then spontaneously, the body heals itself ~ Ida Rolf

People have to be able to trust you and for that to happen, you have to trust yourself.  You have to know yourself quite well.  People know right away what you are up to when you lay your hands on them.  ~ Steve Capellini Massage Therapy Career Guide

When you touch – don’t take.  Touch people only when you are giving something – reassurance, support, encouragement, whatever ~ Ken Blanchard, One Minute Manager

“The real purpose of giving massage is to foster more depth of feeling for one another in order to bring out the love that often lies buried beneath the pain of everyday suffering.” ~Robert Calvert

The sense of touch is the massage therapist’s main avenue used to affect another being and is the body’s main method of gathering information about itself.  In contrast, an artist uses the sense of vision, and a musician uses the sense of hearing to communicate with others. Touching can affect us physiologically, cognitively, psychologically and emotionally. ~ Susan Salvo, Massage Therapy Principles and Practice.

Our purpose is to remind each other who we are.  We are able to know ourselves better through being touched .  ~ Jacquelyn Small

We need touch, but most importantly we need conscious touch, a moment when somebody is connecting with us skin to skin and is also aware that this is happening.  ~ Mary OMally, Belonging to Life

On one level, massage actually has little to do with muscles and joints and hands and backs.  It has to do with the person inside the body giving the massage and the person inside getting the massage.  The real massage is the transmission of a message from the giver to the receiver and back again: and that message is likely to contain elements of gratitude, understanding, compassion and shared awareness.
~ Steve Capellini, Massage Career Guide

The intention of touch is to create a therapeutic physiological event in the tissues of the patient, and the rationale underlying the technique is physiological, kinetic or mechanical in nature.  From the patient’s point of view, the touch has its roots in non-verbal communication or communion.  She does not experience the touch as merely a technique or procedure on her body tissues, it involves her self.  She is being held, cradled, stroked, caressed, valued, cared-for, healed.  The patient’s experience is above all a psychological and existential one.
~ Bevis Nathan, Touch and Emotion in Manual Therapy

Compassion is a bridge between the client and the therapist.  It can be argued that without compassion, no healing takes place.  Not only is compassion a bridge, but it is also the container for the therapeutic relationship. ~ Susan Salvo, Massage Therapy Principles and Practice.

It is in the mind, it is not the body: my job is reaching the mind. ~ Milton Trager

Touch brings two people together in a healing journey as a guide and traveler.  This mutuality is not conveyed by the usual terms, “doctor/patient, practitioner/client, therapist/client, healer/healee…in which only one party has the power. ~ Clyde Ford, Where Healing Waters Meet.

In healing touch we listen accurately to share the traveler’s pain.  In response, we coordinate our hearts with our hand to share compassion through touch. ~ Zach Thomas, The Church’s Forgotten Language.

The real purpose of giving massage (massage quotes)

Quotes on Helping/Being a Helper

The best helpers see themselves as guides and fellow travelers- not experts on another’s situation ~ Jacquelyn Small

Because helpers ask clients to examine their own behavior to understand themselves more fully, we ask helpers to be equally committed to an awareness of their own lives.  ~Corey and Corey ,  Becoming a Helper


Quotes on Massage Ethics

As Bodyworkers, if  our need for intimacy is not deeply met in our private lives, we become highly vulnerable to the temptation of crossing this boundary ~Hugh Milne “Heart of Listening, I”

A satisfying and balanced life occurs when your values are in sync with the way you lead your life and run your business.  Your values are the major conscious and unconscious influences on the decisions you make throughout your life. ~ The Ethics of Touch Cherie Sohnen-Moe, Ben Benjamin

Massage is a balance between technical and personal skills, at the heart of which lies the therapeutic relationship.  Every time a therapist and a client come together in the context of therapy, this relationship is created.  This relationship has a special purpose and goal: to serve the needs and best interests of our clients. ~ Susan Salvo, Massage Therapy Principles and Practice.

I have come to believe that each and every one of us has an intelligence inside that knows everything about what is going on in our lives  This includes our symptoms and their meanings (if any), our illnesses, our inner conflicts and the like”~ John Upledger “Your Inner Physician and You”

Self Care Quotes

A simple way to develop our self-awareness is by listening to our inner voice.  If we are to trust in our patients’ internal wisdom, we must learn to recognize our own.  We must first acknowledge that we have an inner direction or intuition and that we take time to listen to ourselves.  Trust in our own intuition is strengthened with practice. ~ Diana Thomson, Hands Heal


There are enough stressed out people and aching bodies to go around.  Fostering a spirit of collaboration, rather than competition, among other massage therapists is the way to success.  Professional jealousy is not an attractive quality in any person.  ~ Laura Allen, One Year to a Successful Massage Business


Masseuse – Masseur – Massage Therapist – What’s in a name

Masseuse/Masseur is the French translation of a person who practices massage and physiotherapy professionally( masseuse is the female, masseur the male).  The terms come from the French word masser.

I found this information on the origins of the word on a forum discussion of word origins:

The official dictionary of the French language says the French verb ‘’masser’’ meaning to massage is first attested in French in 1779—ref:, sup2—and the noun ‘’massage’’ is first attested in French in 1808—ref:

Who knew these terms could cause such a stir in the massage profession today.  Whenever a discussion comes up on Facebook that asks about what to do when someone refers to you a a masseuse or masseur or even when I post an piece on the history of massage that refers to an old advertisement that uses the words masseur or masseuse, massage therapists take it personally.  This cool tool from Google shows how the use of the words were more popular in the 1800’s, and 1900’s up to about 1980 when the word massage therapist started being used.  The use of masseur, masseuse has not dropped off though as much as you might think according to this chart.

The problem is that more and more the terms are often associated with prostitutes and illegal massage places that do more then massage.  In many places in the US (mainly in the South and mid-west) though the words are commonly used to refer to a professional massage therapist. Even here in WA, I have been referred to as a masseuse.

Hopefully, there will just be more educating client and the general public about the use of these words.  But really folks – it is no big deal!  If someone calls you a masseuse/masseur -it is really OK because if they are calling you that, they don’t really know that those words are often associated with those ‘ other ‘ types of massage.  It is just an innocent mistake.  Many state boards of massage also use the term masseuse/masseur as a legitimate term that massage therapists may use to refer to themselves.

But just so everyone knows, Professional Massage Therapists have gone through massage school which is usually a minimum of 500 hours of training. Some have gone through much more.  Massage therapists may also take extensive continuing education to improve their skills and knowledge.  I think the massage professions main concern is to just make sure that there is no mistaking a professional massage therapist from ‘other’ types of so called massage that are illegal.

Movies/TV Series like “The Client List” don’t make it any easier for the massage profession either.  The original movie showed that the women doing happy endings under the disguise of massage went to jail and the names of the men who visited that place were published in the local newspaper – Get it now – the real client list.  It was actually based on a true story.  I wrote about it previously here: wThe Client list and MT   They weren’t called masseuses there anyways.  They were actually called massage therapists from what I remember in the Movie that was the pilot for the TV series.  I am not sure what they are calling them now in the tv series but don’t really care. Either way it is illegal activities done under the name of massage.  That is more upsetting than someone calling me a masseuse!