How to Beat that Massage Franchise

A very special thanks to Kat Mayerovitch for this guest post.

Here's a question we get fairly often:

“Several massage franchises are opening up in my area, and I’m afraid it’s going to hurt my business. How can I compete?”

The best way to compete is to not be in competition. You win at your game, and they win at their game. Everybody gets what they want.

To accomplish that, you first need to know what their game is. Why do people visit a chain massage place? Why do they come back? What do they like about it? The easiest way to find out (without stalking and cold-calling people), is to look at reviews. Here are some snippets from Yelp reviews of a massage chain in my neighborhood.

Why they first came in

“This was the CHEAPEST massage I've ever had.  Enough to put a smile on your face :D”

“I got a gift card for my B-day for a massage session”

“I did the [charity organization] discount deal, and was very happy with it from a quality and value perspective.”

“Got my first massage at massage envy. Yes the $39 intro special was a big part of it.”

“Definitely come and try it out for the intro rate.”

Summary: inexpensive, convenient.

Why they came back

“I go into it with the expectation the waiting room and treatment rooms will always be clean. Check. That the billing will be easy and issues resolved quickly. Check. That the locations will be many and convenient for my lifestyle. Check.”

“This location is very professional and i never had to wait long for my appointment to start.”

“I got a 50 min sports massage with [therapist].  He was so cool and really worked those areas that I needed fixed so that I can start my next challenge.  He answered all of my questions and the pressure was great!”

“Their staff, however, is extremely helpful and polite. Their facilities are clean, aesthetically pleasing, and soothing and efficient. I will go back but on a case by case basis.”

“[Therapist] did a great job and I would go back to her.”

Summary: clean, professional, convenient, good experience with a therapist.

What that means to the little practitioner

So if you’re trying to compete solely on price, convenience, or cleanliness, you’ll have to work really hard to attract these particular clients. Luckily, many of them seem to be first-time massage clients, so it’s unlikely that they’ve been wooed away from another massage business in the area.

If that’s the case, what game can you win? There are two parts to this:

  • What can you offer that your competitor doesn’t?
  • What you can offer that potential clients want, but aren’t getting?

To find these answers, let’s look at some more negative reviews. (And quit pretending like the devil on your shoulder doesn’t love reading competitors’ bad reviews. As long as you don’t gloat about it, a little bit of schadenfreude is just fine.)

Let’s look at negative comments for this same place down the road from me

“The employees are yelling to each other down the hallways slamming things around and just no consideration for others.”

“Needless to say, I recommend this deal for someone who has more time or can actually take full advantage of a massage. I spend this every month but have only had about 3 massages in the past 8 months. In my experience, my money could have been spent more wisely. I even tried to get out of the contract, but everyone knows that is not easy to do anywhere.”

“It was very nice & soothing.  I was in PAIN the next day, though! I hear my 6 glasses of water intake was not enough to get all the toxins out...”

“Downside: I don't like pressure to buy into their monthly plans.”

“Even though they tell you that you can get a massage at any of their locations, they will readily admit to you that their computers don't talk to each other, so they never know how many pre-paids to have, if you're credit card is up to date, or anything else you might need to know. If you move, heaven forbid you ever want to cancel, because they REQUIRE you to cancel in person from the location you signed up at.”

“I still have plenty of knots in my back, something she pointed out when pitching her services. ‘You should come back in a couple weeks to get the rest of those worked out.’ I might understand, but my massage didn't even last an hour! I was shorted 10 minutes which I know doesn't seem like a lot, but when you're paying so much, you should get the full hour, eh?”

“I was canceled on numerous times. I was even canceled on 10 minutes before my massage appointment and another time one hour before. But if I had wanted to cancel with that short notice, they would not have let me (3 hour cancellation policy only for the client, not for them).”

Summary: lack of professionalism, bad experience with therapist, pressure to buy a membership, hassles about getting out of a membership, doesn’t work for busy people who want occasional massages.

Who’s looking for you?

The folks who want the cheapest massage just once or on a very regular basis, and are satisfied with the quality of massages at the chain place? Those folks are going to be hard to win over. But there are folks out there who aren’t being served, and they’re looking for someone like you.

  • People who want to know that they can keep the same therapist for a long time.
  • People who want to know you won’t cancel on them at the last minute.
  • People who don’t like to be pressured into buying a membership.
  • People who would like their massage to be the advertised length.
  • People who want the flexibility of being able to get as many or as few massages as they’d like.
  • People who want a therapist who is receptive to their needs.
  • People who don’t want to be injured by their therapist and then fed a lot of hooey about how it’s their fault they didn’t flush their toxins.
  • People who like YOU.

Addressing these issues on your website or blog can help you attract the right clients for your practice, instead of the clients who would just as soon desert you for the chain down the road.

Given, these are based on the reviews of one particular massage franchise, in one particular location. The chain near you might have low turnover and be very good about cancellations, but be in an inconvenient location with no parking and they’re always out of filtered water. Maybe they don’t have a good sports massage therapist, or there’s no place in your neighborhood where you can get spa treatments in addition to massage.

Whatever it is, it’s up to you to put on your detective hat and find out! Once you do, you’ve already made the first step in beating that franchise on your own terms. Victory is so sweet!

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