Massage Envy Heading to Australia Via Mega-Partnership
Massage Envy is really huge—to the tune of more than 1,125 domestic units—but it’s fixing to get much bigger and a little more worldly with a recently announced partnership with Australia’s Collective Wellness Group to add approximately 100 units down under over the next 15 years. It will be the franchised massage giant’s first foray outside of the United States.
"As a company dedicated to empowering people to live healthy lifestyles and to re-think what wellness means to them personally, we are very excited to welcome Massage Envy to Australia," said Justin McDonell, chairman, Collective Wellness Group. "From a business perspective, our partnership with Massage Envy creates new opportunities for franchise growth and enables us to make Massage Envy, through its franchised locations, the premier provider of therapeutic massage and skincare services in the country."
Massage Envy’s first location will open in Sydney—the largest city in Australia with nearly 5 million residents. Atlanta-based Roark Capital has owned Massage Envy since 2012, the umbrella brand's 22nd major investment.
Lee Knowlton, senior vice president of global sales and international at Massage Envy, was brought on last October primarily to lead the company’s international expansion. Knowlton has an impressive resume that includes international work at a variety of brands including Fun Brands Carousels, Pump It Up, Kahala Corp. and Cold Stone Creamery, where he was the president of international from July 2006 to May 2007.
Through his years of international work, Knowlton said he’s developed a formula that he’s implementing at Massage Envy that includes creating a top 10 list of best countries for expansion, and finding established, large-scale partners to reduce uncertainty and operational needs and with a pre-existing portfolio of stores that’s useful during the courtship process.
“The potential for success is higher in that situation where you partner with an existing group of stores or concepts,” he said. “It makes it more challenging if we had 10-20 partners in Australia who were each opening three, five, 10 or 20 stores—it’s that many more partnership that makes it challenging to deliver a consistent experience.”
With the first international deal signed, he added that he’s hoping to sign one or two more international deals by the end of 2016.
This deal with Collective Wellness Group came as a result of Knowlton reaching out to the Australian company. A quick month and a half later, he was on a plane to Sydney to meet with the company’s officials.
“It was super apparent by both them as people and their passion and support of Anytime Fitness, and visiting stores, meeting their office personnel, meeting franchisees and all the other steps that I do, that they’re incredibly well respected,” he added.
Because they signed a master franchise agreement, Collective Wellness Group has purchased the rights to develop Massage Envy in the entire Australian market, meaning “they really are us there” as he put it.
Having done plenty of interviews with executives bringing brands to foreign lands, I’ve got to add that Knowlton sounds like he’s got it down to a finely honed science. Our conversation was absent of any of the cultural or supply chain jitters that I frequently hear on the other end of the phone.
He also talks a good game about the benefits of massage, which sound pretty appealing as this work week grinds to an end. Knowlton added that the industry is outside of his home turf, as he wasn’t a frequent massage customer before joining the company.
“I personally was not a big massage guy,” he said. “I thought it was only a luxury or something you did on vacation, but when I really dug into the details and learned more of the benefits … it’s really good for you, your physical and mental health and well being, and we provide it at a very affordable price.”
That sounds like a sweet deal for Knowlton, for Massage Envy and for all those Australians about to get some relief from (presumably) exhausting days spent at the opera, on the beach or exploring the rugged, fascinating outback.