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What you knead to know

Massage is part of a healthy workstyle


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Office workers who received massages regularly were more alert, performed better and were less stressed than those who didn’t seek out massages. 

C.G. Funk claims she’s never met a person who didn’t like getting a massage—except her mother. “She doesn’t like to be touched,” the vice president of industry relations and product development for Massage Envy explains.

So, OK, sometimes mother doesn’t always know best.

Once viewed as a hedonistic pleasure at best and as a front for prostitution at worst, massage is becoming mainstream. The health benefits of a regular massage are vast, according to Funk: It can relieve stress, aid in relaxation, help muscle strains heal faster, increase joint flexibility, improve circulation and reduce blood pressure.And we’d be remiss if we failed to mention it feels wonderful.

Americans, in the last decade or so, are just starting to return to holistic health as a conventional avenue of medicinal care. Breakthrough medical discoveries, such as the Salk vaccine for polio, steered Americans toward embracing science rather than nature, Funk says, and many holistic avenues were closed. Disease was viewed as something to fix, rather than prevent.

In the last 10 years, however, a grassroots movement is leading people back to holistic health practices, including massage, Funk points out.

Massage, along with exercise and a healthy diet, is part of the wellness revolution that researchers and economists have projected will be “the trillion-dollar business of this century.” Massage therapy—along with underwater robot repair, oddly enough—has been named one of the emerging future trends by the World Future Society, Funk says.

Massage therapists, not to be confused with the outdated term “masseuse,” have varying standards to meet depending on the state. For instance, the national average for training hours required for the job is 500, but Ohio requires 1,000 hours and Texas, 300, Funk says.

To maintain the benefits of massage, Funk recommends scheduling one on a regular basis. What is considered “regular” depends on a person’s time and money, but the ideal is once a month.

Therein lies the rub. The traditional massage therapy center sells massages on a one-time basis or in packages of three or more at a discounted price. But there is no incentive for people to become regular clients.

Building a better massage trip

Enter John Leonesio, whose background is in health clubs. He noticed a few years ago that massage was becoming health clubs’ fastest growing ancillary business and decided the time was ripe for a spin-off service. Other businesses that started out in health clubs, such as tanning, nutritional counseling and aerobics, were successfully spun off. Why not massages, he mused.

He came up with a model that adopted the health club’s monthly fee structure, where payment is automatically deducted monthly from members’ bank accounts. Unlike health club memberships that offer unlimited visits, Massage Envy’s memberships allow people to pay less for massages, plus have an incentive to get them regularly.

“Massage is a 3,000-year-old business, but it’s just now getting organized,” says Leonesio. When he left the fitness industry in 2001, Leonesio polled fitness club members on what would make the massage experience better. He was told they wanted it to be convenient, not something they had to book one or two weeks out; they wanted an ongoing relationship with a qualified therapist who knew what kind of body work they needed either to help heal a sports injury or rid muscles of the lactic acid that builds up with stress.

“I had planned to open five or six in Arizona and call it a day,” Leonesio says. When his first Massage Envy opened for business, he expected to do 400 massages the first month. “We did 1,400,” he says.

He decided to franchise in March 2003, because people wanted to invest in the business. To date, he’s awarded 531 franchises with 199 open.

The model is 12 massage rooms open seven days a week with 4,400 time slots. There is no enrollment fee, but dues range from $49 to $59 a month for a six- or 12-month contract, with additional massages and guest passes at $39 each.

The membership fees provide a steady cash flow, he points out, unlike the massage packages where the business receives the money upfront, but has no guarantee of an ongoing revenue source. The monthly fees also allow franchisees to plan around the number of massages they’re likely to have each month, and staff accordingly.

Unlike other specialties, massage therapy is a growing field. In 1990, there were 250 schools teaching massage therapy, Leonesio says. Today there are around 1,300 schools. And, he adds, there are 56,000 students, plus 250,000 therapists who are licensed but for one reason or another not active in the field.

The franchise targets women 25-59 years old, who make up 70 percent of Massage Envy’s business. “The other 30 percent are their husbands that they drag in,” Leonesio says.

If there is knot in its muscle, it’s the need for more retail sales to complement the service angle, says Gary Findley of the Findley Group, a consultantancy to franchisors.

Other entrepreneurs must have read the same research Leonesio did. In April alone, two other massage franchises were on FRANdata’s registration list—Zen Massage Center and Elements Therapeutic Massage.

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