Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, May/June 2011. Copyright 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
With tough economic times forcing even committed massage clients to cut back on the frequency of their visits, massage therapists are looking for new ways to generate additional income.
Expanding the types of products and services you offer is one way to draw new business. And while you're at it, think about expanding where, as well as what, your practice is. Think about how you could go to where the customers are, rather than waiting for the customers to come to you.
Inexpensive and cost-effective new ways of marketing can help boost that bottom line. Here are 10 points to ponder while looking to bring in more revenue. 1. Chair massage can bring in more clients
Massage is an imminently portable service, and chair massage can open up even more new vistas for consumer access than table massage. It's quick and inexpensive for the rushed or cost-conscious consumer, and since it doesn't involve taking off any clothing, it requires little more than some open floor space.
The chair massage market is divided roughly into three categories: one-time events, the workplace, and retail centers. Providing chair massage at events is the most popular and the easiest to get started doing.
"People have done chair massage at everything from weddings to birthday parties to Christmas parties," says David Palmer, founder of the TouchPro Institute, and the pioneer of chair massage as a modality. "The great thing about it is that the numbers of places where you can utilize it is limited only by your imagination. And it's a good place for logging bodies early in your career, when you need to touch as many bodies as possible."
As a rule, $1 a minute is often the going rate for a chair massage, though as with everything, location is a big determinant of cost, and consumers will pay more at upscale events in big cities than they will in smaller towns or less posh venues. Marie Scalogna-Watkinson, owner of the New York-based Spa Chicks on the Go, which specializes in upscale spa parties for corporate clients, suggests pricing a chair massage at the same hourly rate as a table massage. "The affordability piece comes into the fact that several people can share a time slot and not have to commit to the full hour," she says. 2. Cultivate corporate customers
When approaching a corporate business to offer your services, prepare thoroughly, and be clear about the space you'll need, the time commitment you'd like, and the payment plan you'd prefer. While these relationships might be a little tricky to negotiate, they can pay big dividends.
"In the workplace, you have the option of each individual paying for a massage or you being paid by the hour," Palmer says. "The advantage of being paid by the hour is knowing just how much you'll make before you step into the situation. That's always the first choice."
Some therapists take this customarily portable modality and make it stationary. Booths, kiosks, or small retail areas in shopping malls, airports, and other high-traffic pedestrian areas can support more permanent chair massage operations. "The retail area is the one that has been the least mined, but has the most potential for chair massage," Palmer says. 3. How much you invest depends on what you want to accomplish
If you're looking at chair massage just as a marketing tool for your table practice, then you'll want to invest in a lower-end chair, which you can find for under $200. But if you think chair massage could become an important arm of your practice, then look at something more substantial. A really good massage chair can cost $300 to $500.
Other expenses are limited. For chair massage, you won't need massage oils, linens, or some of the other items associated with table massage, but you will need a supply of hand wipes and face covers, and a nearby trash receptacle since you'll be changing face covers after every client. "There are a lot of little things you have to prepare for," Palmer says. "Things as simple as making sure you have a place to put people's glasses while they're sitting in the chair."
Above all, you need to have some awareness of chair massage techniques, which differ from table massage techniques. Palmer recommends taking a hands-on workshop, which many massage schools offer for continuing education credits. 4. Entice clients to buy more than a massage
Sales from add-on products can quickly add 35 percent or more to your net profit, and some spas actually pull in more from product sales than from massage fees.
Lynda Solien-Wolfe, director of education for Performance Health/Hygenic, makers of Biofreeze and Prossage, urges therapists to bundle a massage with a special product--an aromatherapy oil or a pain gel, for instance--and let the client take home what's not used in the course of the massage. "I was at a place the other day that charged $10 to add aromatherapy and they let you pick from three different scents," she says. "Something like that is nice, and you work that extra into the price. Then clients get something special in the treatment and they get to take something home." 5. Have retail products to sell
Many manufacturers will offer therapists a wholesale price on products, which they can resell to clients at a profit. Don't be bashful about that. "There's a lot for a massage therapist to retail," says Kelly Wilson, national sales manager for Universal Companies, a Virginia-based company that specializes in spa products. "What I'm always struck by is the fact that therapists are resistant to retail. I don't know if it's because they haven't been trained in sales. My own theory is that they don't want to jeopardize that bond between therapist and client, the hands-on healing special relationship. But as a spa-goer, I really want to know about the products. I want to take some of the magic home. I really want to buy the products and extend the experience."
Be sure to ask the companies you deal with what special services or marketing support they can offer. Biofreeze, for instance, has a new "Where to Buy" web-based marketing program. If customers want to purchase the product but don't know where it is available, they can enter their zip code into an application on the company's website and it will direct them to the nearest businesses that sell it. That could be a great way to bring new customers to your business. "We've had massage therapists tell us that people came in to buy the product, saw how nice the salon was, and stayed for a massage," Solien-Wolfe says. 6. Don't limit sales to just massage products
Branch out to any product that seems compatible with your business and your clientele, and that comes from a company with which you feel comfortable working.
Think tea, for instance. Many salons, yoga studios, chiropractic offices, and other complementary therapists serve tea before clients are seen. Stocking teas for resale is a no-brainer for many.
Organic India, a Colorado-based tea company, caters to massage therapists, providing them with initial free samples to give to clients, and setting up wholesale accounts for them. Organic India national sales manager Heather Henning explains, "Our minimum order for massage therapists is just $40, which will get you about 20 boxes of tea."
The company also carries herbal supplements based on ayurvedic medicine. The supplements cost $10 wholesale and retail for $20. "Herbs are becoming more and more common, like turmeric to help support a healthy inflammatory response, so it is a great one to take in conjunction with getting a massage," Henning says. "It helps decrease inflammation and pain and it's full of antioxidants."
Of course, make sure you stay within your scope of practice while educating clients about these options, and be careful not to prescribe products.7. Sell products over the Internet
If you don't have the space to store inventory, sell retail online. Organic India, for example, has an affiliate program for massage therapists. The company will provide you with newsletters and other promotional materials in exchange for you promoting their tea on your website. Starting with a link on the therapist's website, customers can place tea orders directly with the company, and the therapist gets 10 percent of the retail price.
"It's a way to make a profit that doesn't involve having stock on hand at all, so it requires no investment," Henning says.
), an on-demand manufacturing site for custom-generated products, takes it one step further. They allow massage therapists--or anyone, for that matter--to create custom-designed art or logos and put them on everything from t-shirts to paper products to skateboards. Then they'll create a virtual storefront for you, so customers can visit your online shop--hosted on their website--and purchase direct from them. Therapists get 10 percent of the profit.
"The trick for Zazzle is that we're not just a traditional promotional products company," says Michael Karns, director of marketing. "You don't have to place a minimum order. You can order just one item. There's no reason a massage therapist can't have his or her own line of merchandise available--not for giving away for free, but for fans to come to your online store and buy your t-shirt."8. Make it easy for clients to buy more
To give clients the opportunity to purchase your retail products or make other impulse purchases, invest in a credit card machine. "Clients will be more inclined to charge packages on their card or have a massage, even if cash flow is low," Scalogna-Watkinson says.
Don't forget that ABMP members can process credit cards on the go using only their cell phones. Visit ABMP.com
for providers who offer member discounts.9. Offer spa party packages
Product manufacturers can help you with this. Suppliers, such as Universal Companies, offer ready-made spa kits, recipes, and marketing suggestions. Pitch the idea at bridal shows, sports leagues, or sorority and fraternity gatherings--anywhere a group of friends or colleagues might gather in celebration.
Scalogna-Watkinson, who specializes in corporate spa parties, offers her advice: "Always work with a contract and deposits," she says. "If someone is stalling to give you a deposit, take that as a warning sign. Even clients with the best intentions can and will cancel on you, leaving you with a gap in your schedule and wasted energy and resources."10. Savvy marketing
Form partnerships that will get your name out there at little or no cost to you. Take steps to get education brochures into your clients' hands. Biofreeze, for example, will supply as many free brochures as you would like, each with a sample of product, and each with your name and contact info on it. "It's designed for the consumer, and it talks about pain and how you would use the product, so it's a great thing for a massage therapist to give out," Solien-Wolfe says. "If you're doing a health fair or a sports run, people like to give others something. So they give out a client education brochure, and it gets business for Biofreeze and it gets business for the massage therapist."
Remember that ABMP members also have access to online client brochures on ABMP.com
. You can customize them with your contact information and print out as many as you need to circulate. Rebecca Jones is a Denver-based freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com.