As Director of Operations for Massage Envy in St. Cloud, Minn., Tammy Virnig knows what it takes to create a successful business in the massage therapy industry.
Opening the franchise in the St. Cloud area with owner Scott Ziessman in 2012, Virnig was told her biggest challenge would be to staff her therapists. However, she was fully staffed on opening day. Most new massage businesses struggle to fill their schedule. Her shop schedules 50-55 hours of massage a day. Clearly, Virnig knows the secrets to success. Here are her top 5 secrets to growing a massage business:
1. Go to the source. Virnig says that she knew from talking with other franchise owners near the Twin Cities that her biggest challenge in opening the business would be to fully staff the operation. So she decided right away to set up a meeting with the chairperson of the massage therapy degree program at Minnesota School of Business, Irene Rangen, and instructor Michelle Willenbring.
“I took a grad with me–Jessie Spike–and let them know we were coming [to St. Cloud] and what we were looking for,” Virnig explains. “Next we were invited by [Associate Director of Career Services] Maria Janotta to attend a Career Day.”
Since the partnership began, Virnig says, she’s been fully staffed ever since. Currently she has 18 massage therapists employed, 10 of whom are Minnesota School of Business massage graduates. Massage Envy welcomes interns, as well, “because they are more likely to stay [on as employees.]”
2. It’s not just about training. Ninety-eight percent of the MSB graduates have been “great hires,” and of the employees who didn’t make it, she insists, “the issue wasn’t the training. It was about personal choices and work ethic.” As an employer, Virnig prioritizes work ethic and flexibility as skills that predict future success. Knowing how to listen to the client’s needs and to get along with people are both key attributes as well.
3. It’s a team effort. Massage Envy has sales associates (SA) as well as massage therapists as part of the business structure. It is membership and reward based, so it is crucial, says Virnig, that the therapist understand the role that the SA plays. Prior to a massage, the SA questions the client to determine the purpose and desire for the massage and then matches a therapist to the client accordingly. After every massage, Virnig explains, the SA asks the client about the experience. If it’s satisfactory, the SA asks the client to become a member. If it is not satisfactory, the SA’s job is to find the ideal therapist match. The massage therapist is never acting alone in the relationship.
4. Know your client’s needs. Virnig stresses that beyond their massage skills, therapists must become excellent “people readers.” They need to be able to deliver the massage a client wants. Some clients are chatty; some clients are mellow. Some (like athletes) need serious deep tissue work and others avoid it. Therapists need to know how to customize the massage.
5. Use a business model that works. Because Massage Envy is membership-based, Virnig maintains, it breeds customer loyalty. Reasonable rates and discounts for membership ensure that clients remain happy and that a quality massage experience can be guaranteed for everyone. “It doesn’t have to be a luxury,” she says. “You can be a construction worker or a stay-at-home mom. We set our hours so anyone can get in.”