My traditional Chinese medicine instructor once told me: “People buy billions of dollars’ worth of self-care products every year. They have to buy them from someone. That someone might as well be you.”
His bit of wisdom about selling products stuck with me—and might have helped push me toward a career in the self-care industry.
Good for You, Good for Clients
All professional health care and wellness providers can boost profits by selling self-care products that help people ease chronic pain and achieve good health. Yet most providers don’t do so, thinking it will be too expensive or complicated, requiring business acumen or a bookkeeper to make sense of it all.
While there are things to learn, applications to fill out, and small investments to be made—usually in the form of purchasing inventory—adding retail sales to your business income is neither complex nor risky. It’s not just a matter of making more money; it’s adding income by helping people, your clients, feel better in between sessions.
According to a 2013 American Massage Therapy Association survey, the average gross annual income for a massage therapist, including tips, was estimated at $21,871. In most places, that’s not nearly enough to live on. But you can expand your business, and your profits, by selling self-care tools and other products. There are just a few simple steps.
Step 1: Ready Yourself Financially
If you haven’t already, consider legally establishing your business as a corporation (Inc.) or limited liability corporation (LLC). Choose the type of entity based on your business plan, whether or not you have business partners, or on advice from your accountant. You can also get free advice and information online or from your local Chamber of Commerce. Corporation status can help protect your personal assets if your business should lose money, as well as maximize your tax situation. Most necessary incorporation documents are available online free or for a small fee at legal services websites such as legalzoom.com, with instructions on how to complete them.
About that accountant: It is a good idea to hire one to do your business tax returns and advise you on tax matters. The cost should be reasonable (shop around; ask colleagues), is tax-deductible, and is well worth the headaches and potential extra tax burden having an accountant can help you avoid.
Step 2: Get a Business License
If your city, town or county requires and issues business licenses, get one. (You probably already have one for your practice anyway.) This license is generally inexpensive, necessary, and a deductible business expense.
Technically, what a business license does is register your business to pay city taxes—but don’t worry; most cities have very low tax rates to keep businesses from moving away. For example, in Los Angeles, California, your business’ gross annual revenue must be more than $100,000 to incur any tax.
Make sure to research licensing and tax rules in the city and county in which you reside to ensure that you operate your business legally.
Step 3: Prepare to Pay Sales Tax
Forty-eight states have sales tax, and most require you to have a retail certificate, also called a reseller’s license or seller’s permit. This state-issued permit allows you to sell products, for which you will be expected to collect sales tax.
As of this writing, only a few states tax massage therapy services, including Ohio, New Jersey and Minnesota. Sometimes, as in the case of New York, New York, a city will tax massage services while the state as a whole does not. However, most states tax the sale of goods. Only Alaska, Delaware, Oregon, Montana and New Hampshire have no sales tax. Regulations change, so the information presented in this article might change—therefore, make sure to check state law as well as local rules in your area.
Sales taxes and records are easily organized with software such as QuickBooks—but collecting and managing sales tax is a bigger topic for another article.
Step 4: Invest in Inventory
Now you need products. Choose products you use, believe in and trust. That way, you’re not selling—you’re recommending. Selling is hard work; recommending is easy. Start small. Try one or two products and see how it goes. Be patient. People can tell if you’re sincere or just trying to make money.
Research and get price quotes on different types of self-care tools that would benefit your clients, such as self-massage devices, foam rollers or trigger-point tools. Depending on the manufacturer of the products you choose, the manufacturer’s standard retail price (MSRP) will be anywhere from 50 to 100 percent higher than the wholesale price you pay. A profit margin of 100 percent offers a great opportunity to increase revenue. A smaller margin can be profitable also, provided you can sell enough product.
Some tools will have higher wholesale prices and smaller margins because they are sold only through distributors who charge a markup on the manufacturer’s wholesale price. On one hand, if that product has a recognized brand name and people are aware of it and looking for it, it may be much easier to sell than a new, unknown product, which can make up for a small profit margin. However, most companies will sell directly to retailers, and many will have a wholesale discount as low as 50 percent of retail, even if you don’t buy in volume. Just ask.
To get an idea of how much your product inventory will cost, search online for a product you’d like to sell; often, the company’s website will have a become a distributor link or contact page. Ask for a price sheet. Most will have one. Some offer deeper discounts based on volume, so if you buy 120 instead of 12, you pay less per unit. Most companies will require a minimum purchase for volume pricing, usually a case. A dozen units is a standard minimum, but this too can vary.
If your product sells for $40 dollars, it will probably cost at least $20 dollars per unit wholesale. You usually pay for shipping, which will add to your total order, depending on weight and package dimensions. You can usually purchase inventory by credit card, although some companies will set up an account where you will be billed after purchase and asked to pay by check within 30 days.
So let’s say your investment for inventory, plus shipping, for 12 units is around $265. You may sell the same products for $480, a profit of $215 per case.
Step 5: Massage Your Retail Offerings
Selling one or two products won’t make you rich overnight, and much depends on how quickly you sell your inventory. You might want to try out a few products to see which ones sell best in your area or for your typical client. You’ll see which ones sell, and then you can add others.
Do the math. Say a certain self-care tool sells for $44.99 retail and $22.99 wholesale for 12 or more, which means each one you sell makes you $22 profit. Move a dozen every month and you earn an extra $264 per month. If you offer four products with similar price points, this can add more than $1,000 to your monthly income, or more than $12,000 per year. How many massages would you have to provide to make that amount?
Of course, making thousands of dollars in product sales doesn’t happen automatically, and the more effort you put into selling, the more you will sell. But many self-care tools sell quite easily if you simply leave one out in your waiting room or session room to try. For example, when I created my self-care product, I kept it in the treatment room and clients inevitably asked what it was for. I would show it to them and let them try it. Once they tried it, they often would buy one.
One final consideration is storage. Self-care tools can be stored almost anywhere, but you will need to have the space. If you have a large closet or garage, this isn’t usually an issue.
Try It So They’ll Buy It
Selling self-care tools isn’t for everyone, but it’s neither difficult nor bank account–breaking to get started. Dip your toe in the water of retail sales by trying one product. Chances are, if you use the product and believe it’s effective, so will many of your clients. They’ll thank you, and you’ll benefit from added income.
They have to buy it from someone—so it might as well be you.
Paul Kleiman, President of Massage U Inc. (est. 2006) and U-Selfcare.com, is an inventor, writer, attorney, musician, massage therapist and former massage therapy program chair at a Long Beach, California, college. He invented the Roleo Arm and Hand Massager; a new Roleo for legs is under development for 2017.