Episode 183

Oct 9, 2018

Sara Kotila returns to tell us about her system for selling retail (and training her staff to sell, too) but keeping it real and authentic and not at all smarmy.

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Sara Kotila returns to tell us about her system for selling retail (and training her staff to sell, too) but keeping it real and authentic and not at all smarmy.

You can learn more about Sara at her website kneadtorunmassage.com.

This episode is sponsored exclusively by PurePro, featuring their product packs for resale.

Learn more about PurePro’s resale options here, and remember to use the code SELL at checkout for $10 off your 4 pack, valid through November 15, 2018.


Sponsor message This episode is sponsored by Pure Pro massage products. For over 24 years, Pure Pro has distinguished itself by adhering to the values of quality, purity, efficacy, and education. All Pure Pro products are vegan, cruelty free, and nut free, making your job as a safe, mindful practitioner that much easier. Even more exciting, Pure Pro makes it easy to resell many of their products directly to your clients. Pure Pro peppermint pedango, arnica relief massage lotion, arnica therapeutic concentrate, arnica massage oil, all the essential oils, and essential oil synergies. You can get $10 off any of these four-packs of products to resell to your clients. Use coupon code SELL, that’s S-E-L-L, at checkout. You can see all their options for resellers at massagebusinessblueprint.com/sellpurepro and use coupon code SELL for $10 off any four-pack valid through November 15th, 2018. That’s massagebusinessblueprint.com/sellpurepro.

Allissa Haines Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. I am excited. I am Allissa Haines, first of all. And I am excited because I am here with our friend, Sara Kotila. Sara, hi.

Sara Kotila: Hi.

AH And you might have heard of Sara, because, well, unless you’ve been living under a Blueprint rock here, Sara runs a massage business in Exeter, New Hampshire called Knead to Run. Technically — is it called Knead — yeah, it’s called Knead to Run Massage, right? Is that right?

SK Yes, it is. And actually we just opened a second location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

AH Heck, yeah, you did.

SK Yeah, in March. So that’s super exciting.

AH How many people do you have working for you?

SK Currently, I have three people working for me, but I’m actually actively in the process of looking for an executive assistant to manage my life.

AH Nice.

SK It seems super luxurious and something that only movie stars do, but I’ll tell you, putting together that ad was like, Oh, my God, this person is going to be my lifeline and probably a second family member.

AH That’s my backup plan, you know, to be an executive assistant, like a virtual executive assistant/personal assistant. I think I would be really, really good at that.

SK I think you would, too. Yeah.

AH Anyhow, let’s get into — Sara’s here today to talk to us because she has implemented a new system for selling the retail in her office, and we are going to get into the nitty gritty of that shortly. But first, let’s learn a little bit about Sara because I don’t think we’ve done a deep-dive on her, and I learn a ton by how Sara operates and how she asks questions and how she interprets answers and applies things practically to her massage business. But, Sara, how did you get into massage?

SK You know, it’s funny because I get asked this question a lot, obviously, by clients. But it wasn’t something that was Oh, my God, I want to be a massage therapist when I grow up. I literally — I came back from living in the Virgin Islands for about 9 months, found out I was pregnant with my daughter, and needed a big-girl job. That is how I found massage therapy, because I was a bartender and a waitress at the time. And I knew that I didn’t want to be a bartender and waitress at 45 — not that there’s anything wrong with people who make a living as a bartender or a waitress. You can make really great money. I just knew that raising a child as a single mom, that wasn’t going to be it for me. And so I was watching a TV ad for the school that I eventually went to, and my sister in law at the time, now my ex-sister in law, she was over the house and we got to talking. Her sister was in the program, and so she encouraged me to talk to her sister, and so I called Becky and I said, Hey, can you tell me about the massage therapy program at Hesser? She said, Yeah, I love it. Blah blah blah. They’re having an open house this week. So I went to the open house, I registered that day, and the rest is history.

AH So you went to school while you were pregnant?

SK No, Riley was about six months old at the time.

AH Ah.

SK Yeah, yeah. Because I registered while I was pregnant, and then their next enrollment wasn’t for a while.

AH I am really loving getting the biography on people doing these episodes because I found that so many of us did not come to this by some big emotional epiphany, and I like that. I think there’s something to be said for that. While I think entering massage because you’ve had some beautiful experience with touch is valid and lots of people are super successful upon doing that, but I like hearing that you can also be very successful and pragmatic about why you’re doing this work and unattached in a lot of ways to the touch — I don’t want to say unattached to the touch issue, but I like that you didn’t have some big spiritual epiphany; it was just practical.

SK Yeah, definitely. I mean, you know, I can certainly attribute the fact that my mom used to pay me a dollar when I was 8 to brush her hair and rub her hands and her shoulders because she knit a lot. That’s how I earned my allowance when I was a kid. But it wasn’t — that wasn’t the thing that was like, Oh, yeah, I love to do this; this is what I want to do with my life. So yeah, it was literally that I needed a big-girl job.

AH That’s awesome. So how long ago was this? How long have you been doing this?

SK Ooh, wow. Twelve and a half years.

AH Nice. So tell us from the time you graduated, what has the evolution of your career been like? Where have you worked?

SK Well, I have work for myself, I have worked in spas, I’ve worked in chiropractor’s offices. So I’ve really done the gamut of everything that there is to do as a massage therapist. I’ve always had some sort of foot in the door with working for myself. And I really — I knew that when I went to massage school, I didn’t want to work for somebody else. I’m a horrible employee. I can’t follow directions, and I always think that I can do my job better than you. So that is probably why it’s best that I work for myself. And I found that I didn’t know anything coming out of school in terms of the business end. If somebody had handed me a book and said, Here is everything you should not do to be a successful massage therapist, and I opened the book and said Hmm, page 1, okay. I’m going to do this, this, this and this. The first go-around of being a self-employed massage therapist was a complete mess because I didn’t value myself as a massage therapist. I didn’t know what I was doing; I just made a lot of mistakes. But luckily as I got more tenure into the career, I started realizing, okay, I need to start boning up my business skills. And then that actually led me to a job as a studio owner of a franchise — I’m sorry studio manager of a franchise. And that gave me a lot of foundational business skills and, although the entire experience from an emotional standpoint was a complete disaster, I took what I learned from that in the business sense and then applied it to what is now Knead to Run and have been super successful ever since.

AH How long ago — so what is now Knead to Run was, what? SK Massage for a while?

SK Yep, so —

AH And when did you start that?

SK Okay. So, when I left the franchise, basically there was a lot of backstory and if anyone cares to hear it, they can email me privately. I’m not shy about it, but it’s a long story. I was either told to suck up a demotion or quit. So I surprised my boss and I quit.

AH Nice.

SK Yeah, so I left a fairly lucrative massage management job with no income and no idea what I was going to do and I said, Oh, crap, what do I do now? So I decided I was going to make a go as a massage therapist. And that was probably four years ago now.

AH Wow, it’s only four years ago.

SK Yeah, I know. It seems like a lifetime, but Knead to Run actually just celebrated it’s one-year anniversary in August.

AH So tell us about what the business was like before you made the switch to Knead to Run and what is it now?

SK So SK Massage and Bodywork was just a one-woman shop in an 8×10 room in the downtown Exeter, New Hampshire area. And I really worked hard to make a name for myself because I didn’t know anybody. I wasn’t from Exeter; so I had no clients, I had no way of getting myself known in the community, I didn’t know any of the other massage therapist in the community. So I actually did a very strategic Groupon-like ad. It’s a company that does more of the local marketing. I think Amazon tried to do it very briefly with their Amazon Local, and it was called Limelight. And I liked it because it focused specifically on my town of Exeter plus the surrounding towns that were within a five-mile radius. I got a lot of clients from that ad because I did it very strategically, and a lot of them are still with me today, which is nice. So I operated like that for about two and a half years and then the opportunity came to move to my new location. It was a much larger location; it was two rooms plus a waiting room, and it came with a three-times-the-amount price tag. So I said, Hmmm, what is my next step here? I thought, Okay, I’m going to hire an employee. I hired my first employee in November of 2016, and now I have three employees. We changed the name, like I said, to Knead to Run about a year ago, and I have three employees now plus myself.

AH And you didn’t just change the name. What else did you do to to really — tell us a little more about your niche and what you did to sink into it.

SK Oh, so I’ve always worked on runners and athletes, and I’ve always enjoyed doing that. When I was a student in school, there’s a local Ragnar race called Reach the Beach. It’s a 200-mile relay race from Brenton Woods to Hampton Beach, which is like north of New Hampshire to the sea coast. It’s a very big race that a lot of sea coast people participate in. And as a student, I did that race and I absolutely love it. As I was starting to think about what is it that I want to do, and I was participating in a lot of office hours with you and Michael, and you guys started talking about this idea of niching. I was like, Hmm, okay. And I really kind of grabbed onto that and filtered through my head what are the types of people I liked working with? Because I do like working with neck pain and back pain and hip pain, but I didn’t feel like that was specific enough to create a niche, and so I started thinking about what do all these people have in common or what is the type of market I can serve? And I remembered I really like working on runners. So with a little help from you and Michael, I kind of pushed in that direction and that was how Knead to Run was born.

AH Sweet. And so you have three people working for you right now — three therapists, three massage therapists — and how many massages are your offices doing a week?

SK Currently — because I just hired my third person two weeks ago, we’re up to about 40 a week.

AH Nice.

SK Yeah, so it’s not a ton versus some of those places that have five, six, ten massage therapists and are doing over a hundred a week. But considering that’s way more than I would personally be able to do on my own, I think we’re definitely heading in a great direction.

AH That’s awesome. So we brought Sara in to talk — oh, no I didn’t ask you, I’m sorry. I forgot my last question; it’s my favorite question too. I was so staying on task that I missed a task. What is your “fantasy/job/location if I win the lottery” plan?

SK Okay. My “fantasy location if I win the lottery” plan would first be to talk all of the continuing education classes that I’ve ever wanted to take just for the sake of taking them because then I can have that knowledge in my brain. The second thing I would do is I would rent an RV and I would do an MBB road trip and visit all of my MBB buddies that I’ve made through the massage therapy Blueprint Facebook group.

AH I would totally come with you on that road trip because it’s my dream to visit every single premium member.

SK Oh, my God. How funny would that be? Literally a road trip with you and Michael. We’ll give you celebrity status and the whole nine yards.

AH That would be awesome. We could have a tour bus.

SK [laughs]

AH I want to do this. Not that I necessarily want to be trapped in a bus with Michael for several months. And he would not like that. He hates that. But he could meet us in the bigger cities. So yeah, I am — let’s see if Michael even listens to this podcast episode and see if hears that he is not invited on our tour. We’ll find out about it if he is.

SK Yeah, exactly.

AH That sounds kind of awesome.

SK And I would still do massage therapy. I love it enough that — there are enough people that are like No way, when I win the lottery, I am quitting my job. I would do it, but I would do it from the standpoint of I don’t have to do it for the money; I am doing it for the passion now. I would want to fly different places, wherever my clients were, if they were on vacation, they’d pay to have me on retainer. I’d have maybe five or six clients. I’d fly all over the place, wherever they were, and be their personal massage therapist .

AH That sounds all right. That does not sound terrible. So Sara’s with us today because we are going to talk about how she has been selling retail in her office. She’s got a new system for doing it. Thankfully, our halftime sponsor is Pure Pro massage products.

Sponsor message We are so please to have Pure Pro sponsoring this episode and even more pleased about the package they have put together. So if you didn’t know, Pure Pro makes it easy to resell many of their products to your clients. They’ve put together four-packs that save you money on the peppermint pedango, arnica relief lotion, arnica therapeutic concentrate, arnica oil, all the essential oils, and essential oil synergies. You can buy in packs of four at a better price and resell to your clients. You can check out the full line for resellers at massagebusinessblueprint.com/sellpurepro and use the coupon code SELL, S-E-L-L, at checkout to get $10 off any of those four-packs to resell. And that offer is valid, that $10 offer is valid, through November 15th, 2018. Go to massagebusinessblueprint.com/sellpurepro and use checkout code SELL, S-E-L-L.

AH Sara, what do you sell — real quick, what do you sell that is a Pure Pro product?

SK Well, we sell the peppermint pedango foot cream —

AH Oh, yeah.

SK Yeah, oh, I love that. We sell the arnica therapeutic concentrate, which we absolutely love. And we also sell and use the arnica relief lotion in our sessions.

AH I do too. And it sells pretty well for you?

SK It does. It sells really well with our athletes because a lot of them come with post-race soreness or post-run soreness, and they really say that they can feel a difference after applying it after their run. But we also get a lot of compliments from runners and non-runners alike about the scent.

AH Right?

SK Yeah. It is crazy how well it just blends together.

AH And it’s not a minty eucalyptus situation. It’s a sweet birch, which has this very light, not hyper-feminine, not hyper-masculine, a very light scent that doesn’t stick around long enough to annoy you. I used to sell a lot of it when I had a bunch of clients doing black-belt boot camps. I would just sell a ton of it over those 10 weeks.

SK Yeah, and I like, like you said, it’s not hyper-masculine, it’s not hyper-feminine so it really works for both my male and female runners.

AH Word. So let’s jump into — Sara was talking in our Massage Business Blueprint premium member discussion group about using a new system for selling retail and how she had doubled her sales in a week or something. Tell us what’s going on with your retail secrets, lady.

SK So I — as my business starts to grow and starts to take on different shapes and forms, one of the things that I really decided on that, in the interest of full disclosure probably should have decided this before taking on employees, but I’m a “shoot first ask questions later, what do you need to read the manual for” kind of person. I decided that I wanted to create a step-by-step system for my employees to follow from the time that the person walked in the door to the time that they rebooked and walked out the door that was replicate-able so that if I wasn’t necessarily there or I wasn’t the one eventually doing the team trainings, that my trainer had something to follow. Something that I noticed as a hole, so to speak, in the process was that we really didn’t have a great system for selling retail. We had it there, but nobody knew what to do with it. So I created the step-by-step system that included a retail step. In using that retail step, I have quadrupled, actually, my retail sales in the last month and a half.

AH Dang.

SK [laughs] Yeah. And it’s super simple. It’s not anything like super sales-y. Because I think a lot of people, and massage therapists especially, are afraid of coming off as sales-y. And so there are a couple of things that I did. One is I created a document for my team about selling with integrity. Because I really thing that that’s important. Having integrity when you sell something says that I’m not just selling you something for the sake of making a sale. I’m selling this product to you because I truly believe that this is going to help you.

One of the things that really helped me see that is I have a lot of weekly clients because a lot of my clients are long-distance runners; they run more than 50 miles a week and their bodies get beat up. So I did the math and I said, you know, there are 168 hours in a week. I’m only getting you for one of those hours. I can’t possibly undo all of the other 167 hours that you’ve done. You need additional things to take home with you to help with that. So that really — when I had that mind shift of I am helping you reach your goals, it — light bulb went off and it was like. Oh. It just — that made the process of being able to talk about retail products and sell them so much easier because it really is just a conversation.

AH And that’s a brilliant script. When people — because people constantly ask what can I do to maintain this? To be able to say, I see you for one hour of a month, one hour of a week. What I can do is limited. Here’s what I would do to make it last and to get this result on your own as much as possible. That’s brilliant.

SK Thank you. I have those sparks of inspiration every now and then.

AH All right carry on. I’ll be quiet.

SK No, it’s all right. So I listened to my clients in their sessions — actually, a great example is last night I had a client who was telling me about she was doing trigger pointing with this hard, spiky ball that she had that she bought off Amazon that she really like, but in the process of moving she lost it and just hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. Instantly, the light went off in my head going, Oh my goodness, I have a product for that. When I brought her out front to do her rebooking and cash-out, I grabbed the product off the shelf and I said, I want you to take a look at this. And I described the benefits of the product, how it was different than what she was currently using. The product is called an acu-mobility ball, and I like it because it has a flat base so you’re not chasing a ball all over the floor, which is awesome. But it also – you can get in a little deeper than, say, a tennis ball or a lacrosse ball. And I had her actually try it. That is probably the number one selling secret to all of my foam rolling and trigger pointing products sis have the client try it, demonstrate it, and they’re like Oh, okay, this is coming home with me.

AH Sweet. That’s — yeah. I sell the Mother Earth heated wraps, and I keep and extra shoulder wrap in my hot towel cabbie so that when clients see them I can pull it out of the hot towel cabbie and put it on their shoulders and be like, Hey, try this. This is how it feels when it’s warm and it’s on your and it’s amazing.

SK Yeah, I’m just such a believer in the “try it” phase that it just allows people to experience it and it makes a stronger mind-body connection.

AH I’m going to take a moment because I love that I’m hearing the siren in the background.

SK Oh, okay, yeah.

AH Sara’s in downtown Exeter, and I have always been anti — oh my God, people take your siren sounds and your siren audio clips out of podcast episodes. And I want everyone to know that it’s happening naturally. This is not a sound effect that we’re putting in to make you want to pull over. This is just — you’re going to hear birds chirp on my end, too, because Sara and I are leading very different lives right now.

SK You know, it’s kind of funny, actually. The dog is at day care right now, but if she’s home, she’ll howl at the fire engine.

AH Oh, poor Mocha. So what are some — so you’ve got the how you approach it as how you help you clients for more hours a week. You’ve got the “I’ve got this thing that could help you; here, try it”. What else you got?

SK And basically the bottom line is if they say no or I have to think about it, whatever their objection is, don’t be afraid to push that boundary a little. You know your clients best, so maybe there are some that you can jovially joke with and jazz them a little bit, and there are some that you are like no means no at this point and just put it back on the shelf, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t bring it up at their next monthly massage or two months later or whatever frequency you decide. Just letting them know that, again, I’m not doing this just for the sake of a sale, I’m doing this because I really think that you could benefit from this.

AH I think there a place, too, for — we don’t want to be pushy, but what else could we do to nudge this client along. So if it’s something who is seeing you weekly — and I’ve done this before especially with my weekly clients. I’ve given them a loaner. Try this. I have an extra heat wrap, and I have a whole bunch of the covers that come on and off and wash it. And I’ll put a clean cover on it and I’ll say, Take this home for the week with you and try it. If you like it, great. Bring it back you can buy a fresh new one. If you don’t, then we know this doesn’t work for you and let’s think of something else. So with smaller retail items, things that are not consumable, things like trigger point balls and things like that, you can do that. You can loan an item to somebody. If they’re a regular client and you know you’re going to see them again, you can totally give someone a loaner and then they can sell themselves on it or not.

There’s also a place to — in this conversation about retail — there’s a conversation to have about gifting. Occasionally, annually gifting things to your clients because you know they will be a useful tool. So if someone’s not going to buy something but it could really help them, then maybe you make a little note of that, and if it’s a $12 retail item that you have spent $6 on, you can gift it to them at the holidays. In turn, that will turn them into an evangelist for your services and probably for that product, and you’ll sell more in other ways to other people.

SK Absolutely. That’s a good point is we do have our foam rollers that we lend out to people to try them if they’re like, Yeah, I don’t know about this, or they’re like, Well, I have a foam roller so what really makes this different? We have a particular foam roller called the VECTOR that is made in New Hampshire, so I am super excited about selling that, but it’s very different than any of the other foam rollers that we have in the office and people are like, Well, no, I have a foam roller, what do I need this for? And I say, You know what? Take this home, bring it back to me next week. They’re like, Okay, I need to take one of those. It just is a really easy way to, like you said, not be sales-y and not be pushy. But I also love, actually, the idea that you can gift things to people because it does — it shows your clients that you care, and it gets you exposure in many different ways. But also, like I said, we well the peppermint pedango foot cream. I’ll send people home with a sample and say, Hey, try this on your feet tonight before you go to bed. If you like it, pick some up at your next appointment.

AH And that’s a big deal too. I’ve noticed this with how we sell massage and not just retail products. But when you don’t offer someone something, you’re making decisions for them. If you think the pedango could help someone’s diabetic feet, which they can, or help someone with peripheral neuropathy and you don’t offer it to them because you think they can’t afford it or you think they won’t be interested, you’re making that decision for them, which is ridonkulous. When you don’t offer to rebook someone because you think they can’t afford to come back, when you don’t say, I think you need to be in here weekly because you think they can’t afford weekly, you’re making decisions for them which is just completely inappropriate. Offer them truly what you think is best and they will decide, with your educated input, what’s best for them. And that’s okay. That’s what you’re here to do. You’re here to offer your professional opinion. I think this arnica lotion is going to help you with residual soreness. There you go. If they choose to take you up on it, great. If they don’t, that’s fine too. We don’t want to be attached to the outcomes here. That’s what smarmy selling is, being attached to the outcome. Yeah, so there’s my point there. My friend Greg kind of taught me that. It’s none of our business to make decisions for people. Just give them the information you have as an expert here and step back. Anyhow, what else you got, Sara?

SK I just want to expand on that statement you just made a minute ago because I think it is so important. When we start making those decisions based on how we feel — and I come across this with my staff sometimes, not just my current staff, but previous stuff that I’ve had — that maybe they can’t afford $85 for a massage every week so they’re like, I can’t ask my client to come in and spend $85 a week because that’s a lot of money to me. But I don’t know if anyone realizes this because maybe you haven’t read it in a while, but it’s actually in our massage therapist code of ethics to give our clients the best information based on our professional opinions. So when you’re not suggesting a retail item that can help them or suggesting more frequent massage because you know that once a month is not necessarily going to be the best way for them to reach their goals, it’s — in my opinion — a bit unethical.

AH That is an interesting take. I like it. That’s a really good point. If you think something can help someone, it’s incumbent on you to share that information with them.

SK And you can’t control them. What they do with that information is not your decision, it’s not under your control. But it is under your control to give them that information.

AH Brilliant. So what else you got Sarah. How do we wrap this up?

SK I think those are my best tips. But really just try it. Take one of these ideas and implement them and see if it works for your practice. It does — it takes a little bit of time to get comfortable with it. I would maybe create a script that if you’re struggling with exactly what to say, practice it over and over again until you become comfortable and you can adlib. But I’m a huge believer in scripts and role-playing — and I wasn’t always, but I love it now and my staff is learning to love it.

AH Yeah. Role-playing is so gross, but it’s super helpful. As much as we hate it, the things that make you uncomfortable are the things you need to do and then you get comfortable with them.

SK Absolutely.

AH I was uncomfortable touching naked people and then I become a massage therapist and then I learned how to get over that. It’s just — it’s not rocket science here. If you push yourself out of your comfort zone, good things will likely happen or at the very least you’ll learn an important lesson.

SK Absolutely.

AH Thank you, Sara. Thanks for sharing this. I’m about to spiff up a whole bunch of retail stuff at my office as well so I really appreciate your tips. And I appreciate your approach and your encouragement to take a new mindset with this because I really need this as well. Thank you, again, Sara. Everyone, in the podcast notes will have a little more information and a link to Sara’s website so you can check it out and learn more about her and also mimic her because she is, in a lot of ways — you can copycat her even though we had a podcast about not doing that. She has become really a textbook example of successful niching and really going all in even though it was scary and is building a bigger and bigger practice and a bigger and bigger income because of that. Thank you, Sara Kotila. I appreciate it.

SK Thank you so much for having me, Allissa.

AH Yay. And thanks for being a premium member for so long and being really part of the leadership of our group. You’ve led a bunch of stuff —

SK Oh, my God. Are you kidding me? I would not have survived this long without you guys, so it’s a nice symbiotic relationship.

AH I kind of feel that way too. Everyone, thank you. If you appreciate these podcasts, if you like the longer interview podcasts, tell us about that. You can send us questions or comments at podcast@massagebusinessblueprint.com. You can leave us a review at iTunes or Google Play or Stitcher, and that helps other people, other massage therapists, find us. And also you can just tell your massage friends, Hey, I heard this podcast and it doesn’t totally stink. We would really appreciate that. Everyone, have a great business day, make a ton of money. And Sara, thanks again for being our guest.

SK Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.

AH Bye, everybody.

SK Bye.