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I had to experience it first hand. MT's are feeling pretty passionate about how it's affected the industry and I wanted to experience it for myself before creating my own opinion.

So here's what I experienced:

1) I booked a Sports Massage. What I got was a weak Swedish massage that neglected to address my low back, glutes, shoulders, occiput and head entirely. The strokes and technique used indicated a complete lack of understanding of muscle anatomy and/physiology. ( 1 out of 5 stars)

2) Massage lube came from a well used tube. Cross contamination was assured.

3) The environment was spartan, but comfortable and clean. Good mood and professional.

4) "Prescription" for massage 2x month was given to me with solid push to join their membership program after the massage. Prescription was baloney and clearly used to set up the sales pitch on the exit. I could tell the therapist was just going through the motions in writing it up and didn't really believe in it herself. Weak.

5) Shared with the Assistant mgr. my disappointment in the massage. She seemed genuinely surprised, stating that the MT who worked on me was "one of their popular" ones. She gave me a coupon for a free massage. Nice touch.

6) Paid $49 + $10 tip for a total of $59. More on this in a later post.

My thoughts:

I learned that MT's get paid $17/hour of massage, nothing if they don't have any clients, and $20/hr if they do more than 20hours of massage a week. I'll share more in a future post when I discuss pay rates for MT's, but clearly this level of compenstation isn't going to attract and/or maintain the best talent.

I also feel like the general public who has experienced a massage at ME hasn't experienced a "real" massage and still is coming back for more. Crazy, but very encouraging for those MT's who actually do have some talent.

What Massage Envy has going for it is a marketing engine that brings new clients in the door, easy to find retail locations, a reasonable cost structure, a professional first impression and a credible business that leaves no room for interpretation about what kind of a massage to expect.

Where ME drops the ball, as far as my singualr experience leads me to believe, is in the quality of their services.

Now that we know what we're up against, how do we compete?

Ideas and methods for building a vibrant practice:

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Comment by Darcy Neibaur on October 23, 2010 at 10:28am
I will admit talking therapists is a big problem. I never talk unless talked to during the session. I do not talk when I am on the table receiving either.
Comment by Nancy Henson on October 23, 2010 at 9:58am
Well, the good thing about this forum is it's a win win all around and not a who's right and who's wrong scenario. I had a nice experience w/Massage Envy in Arlington, TX. last April. I did put on the paperwork that I was a LMT and would like long strokes, no tapotement, and no face work. I can only handle DT on my back and forearms so I made sure to mention I bruise easily anywhere else. The atmosphere was very soothing from the waiting room to the massage room (loved the three tiered built in corner shelving unit) and my male therapist was cordial and a little inquisitive, but he gave me a good massage overall. Compared to my friends here locally that I trade with, I would say he didn't quite reach that level but he was good and I left him a $10 tip. My friend who accompanied me, however, never had a massage and although her female therapist was nice and she received a wonderful massage, the LMT never hushed the entire time. She told my friend her entire life story in the session...which she relayed to me in the car on the way to dinner LOL!
Comment by Darcy Neibaur on October 23, 2010 at 8:05am
One other thought this morning and then I will be quiet. Massage Envy is a Global Sponsor for many of the Massage Converences around the USA and Canada. World Massage Conference which their employed LMT's receive free registration to attend, American Massage Conference, World Massage Festival, AMTA National, etc. I have taken advantage of every free opportunity Massage Envy has given me to enhance my continuing education.
Comment by Darcy Neibaur on October 22, 2010 at 8:57pm
By the way Mark I have almost 100 hours of continuing education just for this year a lone. I already have met my requirements for renewl for next year. Everything is completed. Am I stopping my education because of that fact? Heck no. I am continuing on. Also, advertising is done locally by the clinic owners. Here they bartar with the newspaper, radios stations, etc.
Comment by Darcy Neibaur on October 22, 2010 at 8:43pm
Hello Mark. I am very proud to say I work for Massage Envy since April 2009 when they opened up a clinic in Pensacola, FL. I am also there 2010 Massage Therapist of the year. Even if I was not I would still say what I am about to say. I am going to address a few of your concerns. 1- you live in California. That is a big issue in the world of massage. Therapists in California are only required 100 hours of training and then they can work on the street. So you got what California requries. I would not blame that on Massage Envy. 2- you requested a sports massage and it sounds like to me that is what you received. In sports massage the legs and arms are addresses. It is a fast paced massage with stretching. None of the rest of the body is addressed unless requested. So if you did not request the rest of your body to be massaged that is your fault not the therapist. I would have asked you if you wanted the rest of the body addressed personally. 3- wages are set by the owners. I work for a great owner who is probably the best in the cooporation of Massage Envy. I make much more than $17 per massage plus I also teach for them at the Pensacola clinic which is an added bonus to me. Massage Envy is big into continuing education and pays for their therapists to receive this benefit. I have taken every course they have offered me. Many therapists do not. If the massage was so bad I would not have tipped. I am a great tipper myself but if the tip is not earned I don't give it. So you tipping for what was a bad massage in your eyes was your fault also. We have 26 massage therapists employeed at the Pensacola, FL clinic with experience ranging from right out of school and up to 16 years experience and all levels in between. We all specialize in many different modalities. Myself I specialize in relaxing Swedish Massage, Reflexology, Hot Stones and Pre-Natal. I would hope you would not judge Massage Envy on one 50 minute massage session. That is sad to me. That is by no means even fair. I have my own bottle of lotion that only I use which is the norm for the Pensacola clinic. We do not have community bottles that we all share. So no cross contamination. Just because a therapist is popular does not mean she/he is the best. It just means they do a lot of massages. I personally do not do deep tissue and when they book a client with me who wants deep tissue our front desk associates tell the clients I give a great relaxation massage and give the client the choice to say yes or no to my services. Not all clinics are ran like this. It is all about the owners. They have the power to run the clinics however they choose. Massage Envy is aware of the owners that are a problem and are working to solve that problem. I hope you will go back and use your free massage and communicate exactly what it is you want in your massage and request the best therapist who specializes in that modality. Massage Envy is a great company to work for and invests hundress of thousands of dollars into continuing education for their therapists as well as research and the fight against cancer. I am truly grateful for my job with them.
Comment by Mary Scott on October 22, 2010 at 7:17pm
Hey Mark I think thats great you took the initiative and went out there and made it happen. You fortunately being a sports massage therapist have that playing field to do that. I on the other hand have had to be more proactive in other ways. I know their marketing is a killer and they are advertising EVERYWHERE! I cant afford to do that so what do I do? I am constantly going to Networking meetings repititon is key. I am bartering with people who can advertise for me like money mailers. I am creatively using free sites for my websites on search engines... I am constantly trying to keep it moving. THere was an article I believe in Massage Today that I remember and it says when its your down time seize the opportunity to do such things so that it will help when season picks up those things will hopefully pay off. I also affiliate with hotels and offer them incentives for referrals and do a couple of chair massage nights. Thats all I can think of thus far to help meet my marketing challenges
Comment by Mark Volkmann on October 21, 2010 at 9:51pm
That's interesting about not all services being offered everywhere, Mary.
As far as begging to differ - differing is good. Challenging ideas is how the collective whole gets ahead.
However I think we're actually in complete agreement here. The confidence "hurdle" I mentioned was overcome by your new client by speaking with you. You clearly did a good job connecting with her and making her feel safe enough to agree to come see you. Not many people are going to make a list of MT's to call and try to interview them over the phone though. Most will need some sort of trigger to get them to take action. In the case of ME - the advertising, marketing and branding work in such a way as to inspire confidence in enough people to keep their franchise doors a swingin' with new clients.
For the rest of us, we need to find a way to attract new clients besides expensive ads and marketing campaigns. What can we do?
Here's my little secret on how I built up my sports massage practice from a couple hours to 35+ hours a weekin about 6 months: I looked for a specific place where I could interact physically with a large number of my target market at the same time.
I became a coach for the Leukemia Society's cycling program and also showed up at every Leukemia Society's marathon training weekend run to do quick 10 minute leg flushes after their runs (Groups of 80+ runners). No charge (tips welcome).
What this accomplished was the following:
1) Safe environment - outdoors, fully dressed, around friends.
2) No cost barrier
3) Allowed them to get to know me and feel comfortable with my touch and my level of professionalism.
4) Hear from others that I was really helping them when they visited me for a real office visit. (Word of Mouth)
5) Set clear expectations about what they could expect when they visited me.
I made sure I was the right person at the right time in the right place offering a solution at the right price. Use your head and make it work for you.
* Oh, and working 3 hours Saturday and Sunday for free was the best thing I ever did.
Comment by Mary Scott on October 21, 2010 at 7:01pm
Mark~ In south florida they do not and in WV they do not offer other modalities. It may be due to your area and needs to be met? Well its great for a business such as ME to be able to market so heavily I find I learn a lot from interacting with "new prospective Clients" from myself and not from ME. I dont mean to beg to differ with you , but it is my practice when speaking with a client that is still "shoppping" and asking me questions Ive learned quite a lot. I have a NEW client just recently was calling around and when i got her call and called her right back and answered her basic questions of how much and what kind of massage she would need, I found that in answering her questions in full and being personable with her she actually at the end of the conversation said "you know ive talked to several places and the fact that you took the time to return my call and talk to me about my specific problem and the things you could do to help relieve them I would like to book with you because i feel your knowledgable and you actually took the time to talk with me. AH HA! which that is my point. you call these ME places and the front desk people arent going to be as personable and knowledgable to make the sale or even the connection. They are there to just get the appt made and on to the next call No matter how curt and polite they are it lacks the connection. There is a level of comfort that people need to connect with in making an appt for a massage with someone they do not know and if they feel that and youve made them feel comfortable about who you are and what you could do for them then youve done your part . Most of my practice is done through word of mouth , but recently Im out there networking to get new people and i can be a rather shy person but when I am talking about what i am passionate about and I am friendly and open I can connect with people and they connect with me. When talking to someone i want them to see how I am professional, educated , warm and trustworthy and thats what is important in getting prospective clients~
Comment by Mark Volkmann on October 21, 2010 at 11:18am
Response to Mary and Frank:
Frank - I was specific about what I wanted worked on, but I think the therapist's listening skills were not functioning at their optimal level. You're absolutely right about Sports Massage meaning different things to different people. Unless someone has been trained specifically in pre/post/recovery/perforance optimization sports massge techniques, my experience has been that MT's feel "Sports" massage is just a regular Swedish type massage only deeper and faster. I've also found that many MT's have their own style and whatever you ask of them, they will generally revert back to something very close to their own format. Rare is the MT who truly has many tools in their toolbox and can modify a massage to address different client needs specifically...

Mary - ME does offer additional options on their menu (at least the one here in CA does). Right on about the few gems that get booked solid. The value proposition you mention is valid, but only after a potential client has experienced the difference in quality between a lower and higher skilled MT, in my opinion.
Initially clients are drawn to a safe and predictable place to receive their massage.

We have to remember that for a first time client they're thinking about essentially getting naked in front of a stranger. They feel vulnerable and insecure. That's why word of mouth from trusted friends is the #1 way individual MT's get new clients. It's the trust of another's experience that allows them to feel enough confidence to give an MT a shot.
ME's model is different in that they derive most of their new clients from advertising and marketing to the masses and clients are able to get over the confidence "hurdle" by experiencing the professionalism of the ME Brand through the professional way the advertising presents the company and sets expectations with potential customers. Bottom line - they're credible and safe. We could learn something from them there.
Comment by Mary Scott on October 21, 2010 at 7:44am
While I do hear from my clients and Hotels I affiliate with asking what the difference between my massage and ME is? I tell them simply this. . First, most ME places are only offering either Swedish or Deep tissue. I tell them its a great place for students coming out of school to get their feet wet. I also add that you might find a real gem going to ME but if that is the case those people might be harder to get an appt. with after time. While they offer great convenient hours and a great INTRO price what I have to offer is 16 years of experience and training that uses several different modalities (not just one or two) to meet the specific needs of each individual. When you add the extras of aromatherapy and added hot compresses etc. and give a quality massage consistently there is no question to the client which is better for their money...

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