Do You Have Massage Envy?

Can we talk about Massage Envy? I’m talking about the massage franchise that appears to be everywhere. ME has successfully created a niche for themselves by offering low-cost, moderate quality massage for the undiscriminating client. Your membership gets you a 50-minute one-size-fits-all treatment, plus a hard sell of their services and products.

Is Massage Envy taking over the world?

Like many other massage therapists, I’m somewhat concerned about the effects of ME’s business model. With over 800 locations across the US, many communities have been affected by the growing presence of ME, with many independent therapists and spas reporting that ME undercuts their business by offering cheaper services at the expense of quality.

I keep an eye on the classified ads for massage jobs and there are usually 6-10 postings for Massage Envy EVERY DAY. I cringe when I open listing after listing and read the words, “Join the company that is revolutionizing the world of massage!” Just how are they doing that, and is it all positive?

ME’s website says they are the largest employer of massage therapists in the nation, yet they have an extremely high turnover rate, evidenced by the rash of job listings. A recent job listing on Craig’s List San Diego states that ME employs over 600 therapists in San Diego county. Yet those same therapists move on quickly when they realize the actual working conditions.

I interviewed with ME in 2007 when I first moved to San Diego. The pay rate was $10 per hour; therapists are expected to push sales of services and products, and tips, to increase their rate. There are no breaks for therapists between clients and they are expected to do at least six massages per day, and to sit around the clinic making minimum wage if there are no bookings. In the trade we call this “assembly line massage” or “factory  massage”. Does that sound like something you want to be on the receiving end of?

This seems unfair to massage therapists everywhere. Most therapists these days are required to have 500-1,000 hours of training. When I started out in Texas in 2002 the state required 300 hours. Today I have well over 1,000 hours of training. Bodywork is physically demanding work that requires skill and specialized training, and should be fairly compensated. I started my practice before ME existed, charging $65 for one hour of massage. Ten years later I’m now charging $75/hour.

Massage Envy offers you a $49 massage but that’s contingent on you paying for an additional membership. They require a contract and build in a lot of hidden fees. They pressure you to upgrade and to tip, whether you enjoyed the service or not. When you come out, you’ve probably spent close to my hourly fee, but have you received the same level of service?

Although I’m not thrilled with the impact of Massage Envy, I believe there is still room for independent therapists like myself. You find a niche and fill it. I believe I offer a quality of service that sets me apart from the factory massage outlets.

When you book an hour-long massage with me, you get a full 60 minutes on the table (usually more). The time I spend with you before and after comes out of my own pocket but I believe it’s important to connect with you, find out what’s going on in your life and how it’s showing up in your body, and offer you personalized stretches and aftercare advice. I include a lot of extras at no additional charge, such as moist heat and aromatherapy. It’s also important to me to have some time between clients to be fully prepared for the next person, so that everyone gets the best I have to offer.

No matter which treatment you receive, you get access to those 1,000 hours of training and skills. I continue to take continuing education courses so that I am always improving and staying fresh with my practice. I integrate various modalities into a holistic experience. No massage is ever alike because no client is alike. And I’m confident that no one else does massage exactly like I do; my clients return because they love what I have to offer. I’ve started my business over in two different countries and 3 different cities, and I’m still going. I must be doing something right.

I’m all for making massage affordable and accessible, but I also have to make a living. I understand that not everyone can afford my rates so I offer ongoing specials and discounts, free services for client loyalty, and other ways to make massage affordable. I volunteer my time doing massage out in the community for free. And remember that most independent therapists are not working a traditional 9-5 day. Their hours aren’t guaranteed and there are periods of feast and famine. Many therapists, including myself, work part time hours in spas or chiropractic offices to fill out their income. I also do all my own marketing, administration, and cleaning, none of which I get paid for. I’ve set my rates to reflect all of this. They are on par with other local massage therapists, and I think my fees are fair.

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of ME’s business model? Have you worked for Massage Envy? Has their presence impacted your business? Are you a member? If so, why do you choose to go there and not a private practitioner? Affordability? Convenience? Let’s get a conversation going about this.

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