How Independent Massage Therapists Can Successfully Compete with Massage Chains

A few weeks ago, I got a call from the owner of a small independent massage clinic in Oregon telling me that last year two massage chains opened up only a few blocks from her clinic. They’ve put out signs for $39 one-hour massages and have blasted the market with advertising. She started crying on the phone saying that after 9 years in business, she doesn’t know what to do.


The reality is that this anecdote is very common. In fact because we work with thousands of independent massage therapists, we’ve heard variations of this story countless times.

The passion we have for independent massage business owners is what drives what we do at Massamio, so in this article, we want to highlight some key things independent massage therapists MUST do to stand out from massage chains and ultimately be successful in business.

Competition as a Blessing

The good news is that competition is not a bad thing. It’s a blessing. So let’s first give thanks to all the massage chains of the world. The fact is, they have made massage therapy more accessible to massage clients than ever before. They serve to introduce people to massage therapy that may never have received treatment had the chains not existed. And, for many people, receiving a basic massage is all they need, and massage chains provide millions of such treatments every year. That’s a good thing.

Become a Specialist and Stand Out

Your blessing can come as a result of the work massage chains do introducing people to massage therapy: Once someone realizes the real benefits of massage therapy, they often are interested in increasing their benefits by finding a therapist that helps them solve their specific health problems. Your goal should be to find your niche that will meet the needs of a subset of the massage therapy client market. Find out more information about niche marketing over at Irene Diamond’s Successful Massage Therapist website.

Lu Mueller-Kaul talks about how her clinic approaches competition with massage chains that charge $40 for a one-hour massage: She doesn’t compete. They aren’t her competition because she doesn’t work on that level. She provides treatments for discerning clients that have specific problems she specializes in addressing.

So, in this sense, massage chains do a very important job for the massage profession: They introduce massage therapy to the world. The job of the independent massage therapist is to go one step further in quality and become massage therapy specialists.

Focus on Turning Occasional Massage Clients into Long-term Clients

“A customer retained is a customer earned” – Proverb

There are few things more encouraging to independent massage therapists than having a new or occasional client turn into a long-term client. You know, the kind of relationship where both you and your client know you are a perfect match for each other. It makes sense business wise to retain our clientele, since it takes 5x more money to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.

Below are some ideas to help you rise to the next level of professionalism and make your independent massage therapy business stand out from massage chains. A way for you to fill up your book by turning occasional clients into long-term clients as opposed to purchasing the next massage Groupon that comes along or defaulting to a massage chain..

Start with your brand

A few weeks ago, we highlighted the profound impact great branding has on your business. The bottom line is that professionalism sells and it starts with how you market to your clients. Key is making a great first impression that clearly shows to potential clients what makes your practice different from massage chains.

Great branding has the impact of making your clients feel privileged to work with you, and it’s what keeps them coming back to you instead of going to some run-of-the-mill place.

Customer service is essential for bookings

Key to booking a new client is to respond quickly. It’s that simple. Most clients looking for a new therapist don’t even know what they need. They are looking for a therapist that can help them with their pain, and often one of the most important factors in booking is which therapist is available. The quicker you answer the phone and can connect with them, the greater the likelihood they will book with you. In fact studies from show that businesses with a quicker response time have a 90% higher customer satisfaction rating.

Three Tips for Improving Response Time

  1. Online Booking: One way to respond to clients is have an automated way for clients to get the information they need. If you’re not doing online booking, you’re leaving money on the table.
  2. Virtual Receptionist: If you don’t have a receptionist in your clinic or office, hire a virtual receptionist. They answer the phone when you can’t and make the connection with clients at the critical time that gets them to book.
  3. Have a Response Schedule & Let Your Clients Know About It: You can train your clients to know when you’re available and when you’re not, AND how long they should expect to hear back from you. The best way to let them know your schedule is to state it in your voicemail.

Create a “sense-sational” experience
From the moment a potential client walks into your spa or place of business, think about what you can do to feed their senses. Aesthetics are important.

Sight – Is the environment warm and serene or will customers get distracted by a cluttered work station? When was the last time you vacuumed the floor? Is your room so dimly lit that they might bump into something? An attractive environment goes a long way with creating an exceptional experience.

Sound – You might consider allowing your client to choose from a selection of music (or encourage them to bring in their own). Many times clients are fine with you choosing music and if you do, remember to change up the music once in a while. It’s a good way to keep your treatments from feeling like the “same old thing”. Remember variety keeps things fresh. In fact, The Soma Institute is quoted on Twitter as saying, “varity is key” when it comes to music. Here is a great list of unique music recommendations for your massage therapy sessions.

Smell – Who doesn’t love the intoxicating aroma of high-quality essential oils? Consider incorporating the use of scent at the beginning and/or end of the service. You also might diffuse a particular scent into the air while you massage. Even better if it’s a scent you helped your client choose.

Touch – You will obviously be touching your clients, so it’s important to not shock them with your ice cold hands. They will also be lying on your table, so make sure that your sheets are crisp, clean, and soft. You could also add an extra mattress on top of the table for added softness. Other extra touches they may not get from massage chains are hot stones or other tools you can use to make your experience of touch unique. One therapist I know–Olena Fosforova–in Charlotte, NC uses hand warmers that feel great and is a very unique experience her clients remember.

Taste – Taste isn’t usually something we usually consider as massage therapists; however, offering your client an herbal tea or fruit-infused water after their massage is an inexpensive addition and a nice way to encourage hydration. Chocolate is always great too. By the way, all these little touches are what justifies you charging higher prices than massage chains. And, the right clients will be glad to pay the extra fee to get great service. Below is a picture of the mini bar Mending Hands in Sarasota, FL has to elevate her clients’ tastes.


Go the extra mile

Climate – The ambient temperature of the room (if you have control of it) should be comfortable. Show your clients that you care about their needs by offering a heating pad for the table, a space heater or a blanket.

Selection of oil – No one likes to feel greasy after a massage. We recommend that you invest in high-quality oils and educate your clients about their quality. Can you get your hands on nut-free oils in case your client has allergies? Do you have a warming or cooling lotion at easy reach to apply to the client with a sports injury? You might even offer sample-sized packets of particular products for your clients to enjoy the benefits of at home.

The little extras – Don’t you just love it when you receive a massage and you are treated with extra special amenities such as a bolster under your legs, a mask for your eyes, a hot pack on your back and/or a pillow or a rolled towel under your neck? So do your clients! All of these easy and inexpensive little extra touches go a long way toward making your client feel well cared for.

Intention – Show that you really care about your client. Remember their history (including injuries and areas of concern) and also their stories and perhaps names of their family members if they are mentioned (jot down a few notes to review before your service.) If they complain about a particular condition, do some research and find helpful information for them.

More on customer service (because it’s that important!)

According to the Small Business Association, 68% of customers say they leave a company because of the service they receive.

Respect your clients time – Make it easy for them to book with you. Again, consider utilizing an online scheduling service and a receptionist service. If you don’t, promptly return calls and emails. Allow space in your schedule for standing appointments with regulars. Be as flexible as possible to accommodate your clients’ needs.

Invite your client to reschedule – At the end of a service, always always always always ask your client when he/she would like to come back. Sometimes asking is all it takes.

Keep in touch (pun intended) – In today’s day and age, it’s easy to keep in touch with your clients. Encourage them to like your Facebook page or subscribe to your blog. Call to confirm appointments. Send birthday cards. Email special promotions. Drop an email to a client you haven’t seen in a while. Don’t be afraid to be proactive.

Once a client has received your amazing customer service, it’s much easier to convert them into a regular or repeat customer. Make sure you do everything you can to keep them coming back for more, since client retention is crucial to every successful massage business.

Get help and succeed as an independent massage therapist

For any small business to succeed, they must get help (unless having a hobby business is your goal). It’s impossible for serious, independent massage therapists to do everything from being a steller therapist to being a expert marketer, doing laundry and everything inbetween. Learn how to let go of the important but mundane aspects of your practice so that you can focus on revenue-generating activities. You can’t be all things to all people and you can’t do all things at all times.

The 21st century, we believe, has great opportunities for independent business owners. Like never before, we have access to great technologies that can help independent business owners succeed at being successful and independent. Learning where your niche is and how to stand out and benefit from other massage businesses, including chains, will give you the platform to succeed at building your successful independent massage therapy business.


Comments from original Massamio post:

Benjamin, Loved this posting. I will soon be giving a presentation to massage therapy students about being in independent practice. Your ideas are valid, refreshing, and encouraging. Ann — Posted @ Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:55 AM by Ann Lumbrezer, RN, LMT

Ann, thanks so much for sharing. I really appreciate hearing feedback. I’m thrilled to hear about your talk. Let us know if there’s any way we can support you. There is a lot to be encouraged about. Warm regards, Benjamin — Posted @ Thursday, January 16, 2014 12:16 PM by Benjamin McDonald

The first several paragraphs are cut off on the left side-can you fix that? Thanks! — Posted @ Saturday, February 15, 2014 10:22 AM by Laurie