For years, Karen Sollman, owner of Absolute Beauty Day Spa and Boutique in Evansville, Illinois, searched for the perfect sugar scrub—but each one she tried fell short of expectations. The solution would bubble up in water or dissolve too easily, or the salt was too hard. Sollman realized to achieve the perfect formulation, she would simply have to make it herself. Sollman knew she had a winner when clients began asking to purchase her scrubs for home use. As sales increased, though, she found her business outgrowing her kitchen laboratory.
So she found a private-label manufacturer who makes and packages her scrubs, complete with a label on the product that features her practice name.
Sollman says her interaction with chemists resulted in the perfect product. Her initial line features three scrubs: cocoa-vanilla, eucalyptus and lavender, with cinnamon and chocolate in development.
Massage therapists interested in creating their own products might want to consider finding a private-label manufacturer. Deanna Kyrola, sales manager for Alliance Packaging Group Inc. in Saukville, Wisconsin, explains a manufacturer works closely with a massage therapist to create the perfect product.
“We take a look at the formula and containers to make sure this is product and packaging that will work within our manufacturing program,” she says. Then, together with a chemist, the therapist brings her idea to reality.
“When approved, we will make a small test run so you can see exactly what the product will look like,” Kyrola adds. After approval and testing is completed, which can take anywhere from a few days to several months, the product is ready for full production.
Full-service manufacturers offer a wide selection of stock products that can be customized, as well as packaging and labeling options, logo design, photography, legal assistance and educational resources.
“We guide the massage therapist through the process of choosing different oils, scents and the proper percentages,” explains Marianne Griffeth, founder, president and lead chemist at Prima Fleur, a private-label company in San Rafael, California. “We also advise on the best packaging for certain products.”
Packaging offered by the company includes white or cobalt blue bottles and 2- or 4-ounce clear jars. “Packaging has to protect the product and if you are into [being] green, it should be recyclable,” Griffeth adds.
Some manufacturers refer therapists to classes, teachers, literature and other resources to assist during the product-development stage.
In most cases, massage therapists already have an established logo or brand. For those who do not, some manufacturers have in-house graphic designers who can work with the therapist to create a label, and then the manufacturer will print and apply them to the packaging. In addition to the logo, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stipulates all ingredients must be listed on the label. Private-label manufacturers can help the therapist comply with FDA regulations.
Turnaround time depends on several factors, including the number of products ordered, formulation process and label design.
“The longest part of the process is getting the labels made, but the average turnaround time is six weeks, [while] smaller orders turn around quicker,” says Kristin Fraser Cotte, owner of The Grapeseed Company in Santa Barbara, California, which uses grape seeds and skins to create private-label professional and personal skin-care products. “All the information is kept on file so reorders are much easier and much quicker,” she adds.
Finances and Liability
Massage therapists should remember that while carrying private-label products can be exciting and fun, there is homework to do before entering this arena. Although a therapist might have a specific type of product in mind, Douglas Preston, who provides consulting services to individuals seeking to launch private-label products and serves as president of Preston Private Label, suggests creating body products that are treatment- or theme-oriented and have a better perceived value. He recommends developing only three or four products that will move quickly off the shelf.
“Retail a product you can mark up more and that is not subject to manufacturer’s suggested retail price,” he says. “Also, if a client uses a product all the time and has to replace it, you will sell more.”
Pricing an item can be perplexing for first-timers. Griffeth notes manufacturers can offer recommendations to massage therapists regarding the lowest and highest prices they may charge, so therapists can achieve optimal sales in their local market.
As for financial investment, depending on the number of products, complexity of formulations, label design and type of packaging, a therapist can expect to invest as little as $150 or as much as $5,000. A manufacturer’s minimum-order requirements, which vary from a few dozen to 200 or more, will also impact the initial capital outlay.
Even though a massage therapist may carry practice insurance, she must be covered for liability when she sells a private-label product. Cotte indicates therapists will be covered by the manufacturer’s insurance policy as long as they mention the manufacturer’s name somewhere on the label.
“Smaller spas use our insurance coverage,” she says. “It makes for the least amount of headaches since it’s expensive to get these insurance policies.”
Therapists who have multiple locations or plan to sell their business in the future may find private-label products build brand equity in the practice. Having your own label fosters customer loyalty and boosts retail sales, according to Preston. However, he advises therapists to research brand names “so you aren’t violating any existing trademarks.” He says, “If you are planning to distribute products in a big way, do your research or you may be challenged and you’ll lose your investment.”
Market Your Products
Using a lotion, essential-oil blend, cream or scrub during sessions offers the best opportunity for clients to experience firsthand the benefits of the product. In addition to carrying full-size bottles or jars of product, Cotte suggests one-use sample packets as an inexpensive way to market your skin-care items. “You can offer them to clients to take home and try out. It’s an affordable add-on to the program,” she says, adding that word-of-mouth also spreads a message effectively.
Technology has become a cost-effective, quick way to market products. An email blast via a content-management system reaches clientele quickly and inexpensively, says Griffeth. “Establish a client database, send the blast and mention the products. Then offer them online,” she adds.
Companies that offer low minimum orders may attract therapists who want to have small quantities of private-label products on hand to use as giveaways and for holidays or other occasions, according to Jennifer Jack, founder and owner of Good Fortune Soap in Cleveland, Tennessee. “Most of our customers order private-label items for special events,” she says. Whether a therapist orders in bulk or small quantities, Jack points out the basic philosophy is to “create loyalty and relationships.” She says, “This is more than just a service industry.”
Targeting products to a particular population or medical condition sends a positive message and creates goodwill with clients, according to Jack. “When selling a product, you want to offer inspiration. By creating private labels with a message—for instance, [focusing on] healing or cancer recovery—you provide empowerment,” she says. “Labels with the words love, joy or strength on them present a unique angle and unique packaging.”
A good example is Sollman’s scrubs, which she calls the Titus Cole Collection by Absolute Beauty. Sollman named her sugar scrubs after her niece’s adopted son, who died from sudden infant death syndrome.
In Sollman’s case, product sales benefit her financially and also allow her to contribute to a good cause. “Seventy-five percent of the profit goes to international adoption,” she explains.
However you plan to market your products, Griffeth reminds therapists to proceed cautiously. Although initial profits may be small, make sure there is sufficient capital to cover initial costs.
“Don’t develop six different products,” she says. “Use common sense when choosing your first product. Make sure the product is easy for the client to use, use up and buy again.
“Strategize for different phases of the business,” Griffeth adds. “If you overstretch, you won’t do anything well. You have to be unique, great and different from everyone else.”
Keep it Small
Some massage therapists purposely keep operations in-house. Hope JelinekBerry, who has offices in Skokie and Wilmette, Illinois, launched her product line in 2008. While she sought to create a hydrating lotion with good glide, she also wanted to address specific client needs. Her customized lotions, salt soaks and aromatherapy mists are designed individually for clients who need to detoxify and de-stress.
“People without the time to soak use a [customized] aromatherapy mist,” she says. “A quick spray before bed brings them back to what they experienced during massage.”
JelinekBerry uses 2-ounce frosted jars and a cobalt-blue spray bottle for her products. “I worked with a graphic designer to create my labels,” she says, noting she developed her formulas through “lots of reading, research and feedback from clients.”
Whether you choose to engage a manufacturer to produce your private-label products or convert your kitchen into a small laboratory, JelinekBerry emphasizes the importance of maintaining passion for your endeavor. “You have to believe in what you are making,” she says.
Therapists can build brand awareness by introducing their own private-label products to the market.
“Someone comes in for a massage, buys the product and takes it home—so the lotion is with them every day and they recall the massage experience. You are trying to establish yourself and look different than others. This is a great way to do that,” says Cotte, adding, “you can’t put a price on that.”
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Your Signature Services: Create a Menu to Increase Clientele.”