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The Changing Face of the Massage Industry

May 15, 2015 3 min read

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Female Massage therapist gives a young woman a massage in spa setting
With the escalating growth of massage franchises across America, it may seem that the benefits of massage are reaching a larger demographic. At first consideration, this can only be a good thing. But could it perhaps be said that this situation has potential for cheapening the experience for therapists and customers alike?
Sure, it brings the price down and makes massage therapy more accessible to those who may have previously regarded the massage experience as a luxury; an indulgent treat for those with lots of spare cash to throw around. There can’t be too many people who wouldn’t jump at the chance for a good massage on the weekend or after work, to wind down from a stressful day. Treating friends and family to a spa-style day out may suddenly seem more doable. But if you turned up at your local massage franchise – even completely unaware that it was a franchise – to find that you were ushered in, laid on a table and given a hurried, sub-standard massage with cheap products, by a poorly trained ‘therapist’ (one who seemed to be more interested in getting the experience over and done with than making you feel like a valued customer) - wouldn’t you feel cheated, regardless of the cost? 
With an emphasis on keeping costs down to attract franchisees, it is common that therapists are underpaid. The trade-off seems to be that they have job security, and in a time where the economy is less than perfect, job security is a sought-after thing. If it means a pay cut, so be it – but this is likely to be at the expense of staff motivation. Just as in any customer service oriented industry, if the massage therapists are unmotivated, the customers are going to notice. How is a therapist likely to feel if the unique stamp of their independent workplace is no longer something they feel proud to identify with? 
Massage has a reputation for being a treat, and most are aware of the health benefits. It’s hard not to notice the wonderful, relaxing sensations when you’re welcomed into a beautiful spa or treatment room with soft, well-chosen music and high quality, comfortable massage tables suited perfectly to the experience you are seeking. When the time, care, and individuality that the unique therapy rooms are reputed to have is diminished in favour of a ‘cookie-cut’ treatment room with unmotivated staff, you are bound to notice the difference. Nobody wants to feel as if they are there to line the pockets of an unseen big boss. That’s the last thing you expect when you go for a massage. 
In this video, the boss goes undercover to investigate the franchises of her massage business. She doesn’t have any experience of massage therapy herself, but pretends to be a therapist in training so that she can see how the branches are training staff and managing the place. Finding that staff are unhappy with the pay, thus working more than one job, and that customers are being ushered in and out back to back, she appears to want to rethink the business model. 

 
So far, massage franchise hasn’t become a popular thing in the UK, but like many trends starting in America, it could just be a matter of time. If massage franchise comes to the UK, will therapists jump on the bandwagon and swap the conditions of their usual massage job or business for something potentially more secure but with less focus on the traditional values that the industry is known for? It could attract therapists who never had any previous interest in the industry, but realise they have a chance to get a new job without the effort of long, laborious courses of study. 
The implications for the massage industry could be huge. If the franchises are successful in offering a quality service to customers, this could make life more of a struggle for some of the smaller, independent businesses in the vicinity. Imagining the bigger picture, it could possibly compare to the effect corporate giants like Tesco have on smaller, family-run stores. Owners may be qualified therapists, or they may be business people with more understanding of or concern with profit and loss than knowledge of what combination of attitude, products and training make for a great treatment and bring customer loyalty. 
There is a lot of scope for cutting corners and it unclear how well-monitored or regulated branches would be to ensure that good standards of service were consistently delivered. What are your thoughts? Would franchises be a good or bad thing for the UK?

Would this adversely affect therapists and customers, or make life that bit easier for them? 


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