While Massage Envy® moves closer to opening its 1200th location, most chiropractors would be thrilled to have 8 busy therapists – heck, even 4 – no make that, 2 busy therapists!

Although there are many in chiropractic (and many more in the massage profession) who poo-poo the notion of the Massage Envy®  franchise and its business model, it’s hard to get around the fact that they are a phenomenal success.  Numbers talk and nearly 1200 locations later, the franchise still is finding folks willing to shell out $45k to start the franchise and pay a 6% ongoing royalty fee to the franchise.

On the other side of the fence, I’ve heard from far too many chiropractors who have failed or who have massage departments that are limping along sans profits.  So, an astute business person would look objectively at the two cases and wonder what can be learned here.  After all, massage itself is booming and the combination of massage and chiropractic would seem like a match made in heaven.

What Massage Envy Does Well

Truth be told, Massage Envy® does some things well and you, maybe or maybe not.  So today I’d thought we would take a look at the mistakes Massage Envy®  does NOT make.  Why?  Because, too frequently, these are mistakes chiropractors DO make with their massage department even though they are avoidable.

  • Salary Suicide:  Though Massage Envy® gets many complaints from therapists about their low wages, it is consistent with their business model. This also happens to be the absolute biggest mistake chiropractors make. Some docs simply pay their therapist too much.  Others don’t match their model. While I don’t necessarily agree with paying minimum wage; paying your therapist $45/hr is profit suicide if you charge $60 for the massage. You will never make any profit and you will have an unhappy therapist on your hands in 6-12 months because they will ask for a raise anyway.  Do the math and calculate what a reasonable, fair wage is for what you charge and for your region.  And don’t depend on the therapist to tell it to you.  Someone must train them to state that they are worth $60 per hour right out of school.  Unfortunately, this someone doesn’t have their feet on the planet.
  • Predictability:  The funny thing about franchise massage chains is that you rarely hear anyone rave about the massage they received.  Like most franchises, people aren’t necessarily choosing for the quality.  Predictability, convenience, low price – they are what drives most folks to eat at McDonald’s, shop at WalMart and even, get their backrub from Massage Envy® .  Every franchise is clean, designed in a similar layout and has a similar menu of services. Hours are abundant and similar.  Insurance acceptance is the same – none.  The experience is predictable from start to finish. The flip side is the therapist working out of her home every other Tuesday, the massage parlor with unlicensed, questionably therapeutic massage (and free well drinks until 9pm) or…even your office.  Far too many chiropractors have therapists who work oddball hours, whenever they feel like it.  They have several on staff whose talents range from awful to awe-inspiring.  Some offices have a massage room that doubles as an exam room; others do a massage on a chiropractic table; still others stick their therapist in a hallway.  (Not kidding, read Yelp reviews and weep!) Generally speaking, there is no predictability in chiropractic offices that have massage.
  • Uniformity:  Similarly, when you go to Massage Envy® , you know the therapists will be dressed professionally, in scrubs that bear the ME logo.  Chiropractors, on the other hand, employ massage therapists that wear just about anything under the sun.  Some look like they are about to embark on a night of drinking and dancing; others look like they just returned.  Some look like rejects from Woodstock (1 or 2) and others make you simply glad they are clothed, even if their clothing speaks more about their personal life than their professional status.  While this may sound prudish or nit-picky, the fact remains that patients are paying good money to put their aches and pains in the hands of a professional; dressing appropriately is just one way of reflecting their expectations.
  • Simplicity:  At some chiropractic offices, the question of “how much does a massage cost” unleashes an hour long discourse on the nature of fees, the economy, health insurance woes and a whole host of cost considerations. Often, the question of how much is met with more questions deflected back at the patient. Occasionally, the simple question will even stump the front desk CA at some chiropractic offices, particularly when verification of benefits is not complete.  Anyway you slice it, this is confusing for patients who appreciate simple.  Massage Envy®  critics complain that they hide behind their $39 Intro Massage special.  But there is hardly a hidden agenda in the word “intro.”  Once the initial massage is done, fees are straightforward depending on whether or not you choose an ongoing package.

Could It Be The Systems and Not the Service?

So when I hear the frustrations from chiropractors who tried massage in their office and claimed that “it didn’t work,” one question comes to mind: could it be your systems and not the service (massage)? Because if it were the service (massage) that was the problem, franchises wouldn’t exist.

Sure, each marketplace may be different in terms of insurance coverage for massage. But that’s a “model” question — not a question of whether or not massage works in your office.  Plain and simple – it works via cash and/or insurance.  How well it works in your office explains how well you understand the business model and how well it fits with your practice.

That’s why when I am asked for help from chiropractors who are considering, frustrated, re-considering or just wondering how to make massage a profitable entity, typically my first suggestion is to recommend my Build a $300,000 Massage Practice in Your Chiropractic Clinic program. Certainly, that may sound shamefully self-promoting, but here’s the way I look at it.  If you asked me for a recommendation for a little piece of breathable bandage with a piece of gauze in the middle that would stick to a wound, I would suggest a Band-Aid®.  Are there other first-aid remedies available?  Absolutely!  And I’ve tried them and think everyone is inferior to the iconic name brand.

So, yes, I will recommend my own program not because I have all the answers but frankly, because it works and because many of the questions that I am asked are addressed in the book. Build a $300,000 Massage program has been out nearly 10 years now, is being used in every state in the union and a handful of foreign countries and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve seen chiropractors build their massage program from scratch to three, four and even five busy therapists and I’ve seen busy massage departments grow and get even busier thanks to the suggestions in the book.


There are several more great lessons that chiropractors can learn, adapt and utilize from the success of Massage Envy®  to help their own chiropractic practices.  And while it may seem like I am a huge fan of Massage Envy® , the truth is that I am a huge fan of modeling the success of others.  No need to re-invent the wheel.  Find what works, tweak it for your own situation and watch the results.

Can you do the same?  Certainly!  Turn around the failures above and tweak your own massage practice for success.  Start by paying a reasonable wage that allows profits.  Then, take an objective look at the hidden surprises you are foisting upon your patients and make your massage experience more predictable. Pick a professional looking uniform and require your therapists to dress appropriately. And finally, keep it simple – don’t overcomplicate your fee structure (or anything else for that matter).  Doing so usually either alienates patients or gets you into some sort of compliance hot water anyway.

By the way — if you want to learn more SYSTEMS that you can model for your massage success — from marketing, to setting up your massage department correctly, to billing, coding and documentation — you should strongly consider our Building a $300,000 Massage Program in Your Chiropractic Clinic program which is even promoted by other consultants (who are technically my competition) as the go-to-guide for massage.  And until Mother’s Day, you can get it on sale!