Ten years ago, the majority of massage therapists rarely sold products, and those who did only sold a fraction of what they could have sold. Of course, there were those rare exceptions. Recently, a growing interest in retailing has emerged. Some of that is due to employers’ expectations, yet most of the curiosity stems from therapists’ desire to support their clients wellbeing, while boosting their own revenue streams.
Unfortunately, most therapists are still reluctant to embrace retailing.
This article explores three primary myths regarding retailing in a massage practice and concludes with the top three tips to retailing success.
I have heard that phrase far too many times. The closely related claims are along the lines: “Clients come to me for massage, not products,” or “Massage is about my hands, not about sales.”
The truth is that clients see massage therapists for many reasons, ranging from stress reduction to injury rehabilitation to getting fit to pure pampering. The benefits clients receive from seeing you comprise more than the actual hands-on portion of the session. Some of the most profound outcomes result from other things, such as: a client experiences someone (you) who truly listens without judgment—or the client experiences being the center of the universe for an hour.
This also applies to products. You increase the benefits your clients receive by using appropriate products in the treatment and then offering those items for sale. After all, there is only so much that you can accomplish in a given session.
For several years I have been collaborating with Lynda Solien-Wolfe, director of massage therapy and spa at Hygenic/Performance Health, on the topic of retailing. We have facilitated workshops and written articles, and have a website and Facebook page on this topic. She coined a phrase that has inspired us throughout this adventure:
When it comes to retailing, you need to drive your BUS to selling success!
B — Believe in the products you use.
U — Use the products in your sessions.
S — Supply samples to your clients.
You have a unique position with your clients due to the nature of the therapeutic relationship. You know about their needs and what products might support them in achieving their goals. If you view products as an extension of the treatment and a value-added service, then sales become a natural part of the client/practitioner relationship, without pressure—particularly when you use the product within the session. You can also create packages where you use specific products in a session and the client takes those products, or what is left of them, home.
Product sales offer clients a valuable service, because you have access to many products that aren’t easily available to the general public. For instance, there are wonderful self-care products your average clients can’t find at their local health emporium. Many of these products aren’t even directly available to retail consumers; instead, they must be purchased by a practitioner and then sold to the client.
I believe you do your clients a disservice if you don’t offer products they can purchase. Many people are overworked and time management is a problem for them. If you can save them the time of having to stop to buy a product, then you’ve simplified their lives—and that’s priceless. Also, clients with tight schedules may not have the time to fit in both a treatment and purchase wellness products, and you don’t want them to have to choose one over the other. After all, they might not choose the treatment.
How many times have you used a product on a client and she said, “Wow that feels great, what is it?” and you responded by just stating the name of the product? Instead, you could tell the client the name of the product, mention that it’s for sale in the waiting area, and give her a brief suggestion about it’s use, such as, “This will really help if you apply a small amount before going to bed tonight. If you are interested, I can explain it more after the session.”
Some practitioners fear that clients will see them as unprofessional or unethical if they try to sell them things. They want to be respectful and not cross boundaries. The reality is, appropriate product sales actually boosts professionalism.
Offering products make a massage practice more valuable to clients. Clients want you to carry products that help them achieve their wellness goals. Most also appreciate you having a few items that they can purchase as a “treat” or gift.
The tricky part is balance. Your retail offerings should be modest unless you have a bustling office with numerous practitioners, a large waiting area where you can display a lot of products, and a front desk person to process orders.
Ethical product sales is not about hype or “hard-sell” tactics. You must be cautious when selling products. If product sales are not handled well, they can negatively impact your practice. The major issue here is: Are you influenced more by the money that product sales generate, or are you selling products to clients because they need or want them? Exercise caution and check your motives to make certain that you are not pushing a little harder because your income is down or because you are required to meet a targeted sales volume.
A conflict doesn’t need to exist as long as a few guidelines are followed. If you currently run a professional, ethical practice, then retailing can naturally follow suit. If you keep good boundaries, treat people with respect and fairness, and remain client-centered, then you will manage product sales in the same manner that you manage the rest of your practice.
(For more details on how to ethically manage retail sales, refer to Education vs Sales: The Ethics of Retail from the November 2012 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.)
Much of the reluctance to selling products stems from the fear of the required paperwork, not knowing what products to choose, and not knowing where to purchase products. The good news is the fundamentals of retailing are easy to implement, it is easy to comply with the laws related to retail, collecting and remitting sales tax is quite easy to do once you have the proper licenses, and there are many products to choose.
Let’s start with paperwork. The first thing you need a Transaction Privilege Tax License if you live in a state that requires you to collect and remit sales tax. Many cities and counties impose additional local sales taxes. Sales tax is calculated by multiplying the purchase price by the applicable tax rate, and is collected by the seller at the time of sale. Technically, you don’t have to “collect” it, but that is the amount you must remit to the government. If you don’t charge your clients the sales tax, that money comes out of your pocket. Keeping track of this is extremely easy if you use business software that calculates the tax you need to collect and prepares the required reports.
There are so many products that you can sell. You just need to make sure there aren’t any local statutes or specific industry guidelines forbidding the sale of certain items. In addition to healthcare products designed to assist in the relief of pain and promote wellbeing, it’s fine to sell ancillary items that are fun or make for unique gifts. Selling products that help clients feel pampered is also appropriate. Do proper research and test the products on yourself.
When choosing the right product, ideally choose one that is not commonly sold, is unique, and if possible, is an extension of your work. Ideally, you would use some of these items in your sessions so your clients associate those items with their experience of your work.
Financial success in retailing requires that you purchase products at wholesale prices and mark up those prices appropriately. Many practitioners purchase items from a distributor that carries a wide selection from a variety of manufacturers, or buy bulk products directly from a manufacturer or publisher. Sometimes you can get a better price if you go directly to the manufacturer.
Yet, many manufacturers only sell through distributors. The main benefits of buying from a distributor are that you only have to place one order, and the minimum quantity orders might be more flexible than the manufacturer’s requirements. The bottom line is that you need to find companies with which you feel comfortable.
Product sales are a great diversification method, and profits from them can defray overhead expenses. Product sales add value to your sessions, extend benefits at home, and increase your bottom line. Product sales are a natural extension of the standard of care and healing already associated with massage therapy.
You already have a relationship with your clients, and retailing is simply another avenue of supporting your clients in their wellness. Clients like to get products from you, and they appreciate the convenience of being able to do so. They expect you to have more knowledge than they do about these products, and will trust your recommendations.
Ultimately, selling products is just like selling your services—simply share your enthusiasm about them. If you make your products visible, accessible, attractive and affordable, your clients will buy them when appropriate. Educating your clients about products means there is no real reason to “sell” anything to your clients.