Massage collectives offer a supportive network, learning opportunities and lower overhead cost for the solo practitioner.
For these reasons — as well as for the camaraderie they offer — massage collectives are growing in popularity.
Consider Hands in Harmony, a collective of 34 staff working between two locations in eastern Iowa, including 28 licensed professionals and seven support staff. “We are a diverse group working together for the greater good of our clients and our staff,” owner Wahneta T. Dimmer, LMT, RMT, KRMT, told this publication. This business was started in 2006 to bring therapists together in harmony — hence the name.
In addition to Hands in Harmony, we talked to therapists at collectives in Kansas, Tennessee and New York to show you the benefits and challenges you might expect when working in this type of venue.
A Shared Vision
Joy deMaranville, LMT, founded the Southwind Health Collective in Lawrence, Kansas, 33 years ago with the vision of being independent and having a massage clinic that provided a supportive environment for massage therapists. She brought together therapists with the shared mission of putting clients’ needs first.
“I didn’t want to have a boss or be a boss,” said deMaranville. What started out as two massage therapists has grown to seven who share the four treatment rooms. Each therapist controls their own business within the collective, but they also participate in the running of the business.
The Tennessee Massage Collective was founded by Blake Bates, LMT, in Franklin, Tennessee, eight months ago after he had grown tired of the questionable business ethics of other employers he had worked for as an independent contractor.
“They would often take a lion’s share [of pay] — and it didn’t bother me that they were taking a portion or even a big portion, but the way that they operated bothered me quite a bit,” Bates said. Sometimes, he added, it was difficult to get his pay at all. “I felt as a massage therapist I was being taken advantage of.”
Bates also realized that as an independent massage therapist it was hard to get noticed online and that banding together with other therapists could get them all noticed.
While the Tennessee Massage Collective doesn’t have a central location all therapists work out of, their collective focus is on uniting massage therapists who work independently and sharing the resources they have.
For instance, Bates’ office is open to anyone in the collective to use for business. On the website, clients can book services with any of the practitioners for an office or in-home session. Their approach is directed at developing a strong online presence and marketing themselves to events and hotels.
The Brooklyn Bodywork Collective, in Brooklyn, New York, was also formed from frustrations therapists were experiencing when working for employers.
“I worked for the largest spa provider in the New York City area, so when I decided to leave them and go out on my own it was a bit intimidating — but also freeing, because I couldn’t stand the corporate structure,” said Emily Glinick, LMT, who founded the Brooklyn Bodywork Collective in January 2019.
Glinick rented a 1,000-square-foot studio with one treatment room and a large community room that could be divided into small work areas. It has had as many as two massage therapists and two physical therapists sharing the space and referring clients to each other. Her vision in the collective is to bring together bodywork and movement therapy to create one location where clients can receive massage therapy, physical therapy, stretching and movement therapy.
Massage therapists throughout the U.S. have faced challenges related to coronavirus (COVID-19), from mandatory business closures to developing increased safety and sanitation protocols. Social distancing can present a particular challenge to team spirit and inspire new ways of connecting.
“We are down from 54 staff prior to COVID-19,” said Hands in Harmony’s Dimmer. “From March 17 to May 15, Iowa licensed massage therapists and estheticians were unable to work. We maintained our social connections on a private Facebook page, Marco Polo and occasional Zoom cocktail meetings.”
As her team prepared to come back together, the goals were to create the safest possible environment for the therapists and clients and still offer a nurturing spa experience.
“We have changed protocols for client missed appointments and no-shows; we don’t want clients to feel obligated to come to an appointment if they are feeling sick yet worried about money,” said Dimmer. “Our team has truly stepped up in the event of testing, quarantine and illness for staff to cover client needs.”
No More Competition?
There is little to no competition within the collective because therapists agree that the main focus is for clients’ needs to be met and for the group to match each client with the massage therapist who is most compatible with the client. By doing so, therapists can have peace of mind that when they are on vacation or have to take a leave from work for a major life event, their clients will be well taken care of by their colleagues and there is no threat of losing them to another therapist.
Teaching clients that it is encouraged to receive treatments from different massage therapists within the collective without feeling like they are stepping on anyone’s toes allows the collective to be successful as a whole.
“We are constantly highlighting different people in the collective. Honestly, we don’t have a lot of competition because we are supporting each other and holding our clients’ needs in the forefront,” said deMaranville.
A collective is a win-win for both clients and massage therapists. With hundreds of massage therapists with their own independent listings online, it is hard to get noticed and it can be even more difficult for clients to find the right massage therapists for their individual needs. A collective takes the legwork out of the equation for clients and gives people a place they can go for a quality massage. Massage therapists feel less alone and less overwhelmed with the tasks of running a business divided among the members of the collective and most responsibilities fitting the talents each one brings to the business.
“We know that if one of us thrives, we all thrive,” Bates said. “And having the support of this group, we share and exchange ideas, we talk about the ways we could market better or get more clientele in the door.”
Support and Camaraderie
That supportive environment and camaraderie is one of the benefits of being in a collective. Massage therapists can develop a built-in group of people they can count on.
When deMaranville lost her son in a tragic car accident a few years back, her collective colleagues and friends were there to hold her hand.
“I was not in good shape to work, and my coworkers took care of my clients while I was off. They brought me a basket full of gifts. It was very supportive,” she said.
Other times when she has felt strong and her coworkers were going through an issue like a divorce or life problems, she was there to support them, deMaranville added. “For me, that is one of the best parts of being in a collective,” she said.
Success is not reached alone and Bates recognizes that as a positive aspect of his collective. The team is there to help each therapist learn, grow and thrive. There are massage therapists within the collective who are good with websites, the scheduling software, or a particular modality, and they can handle that task for the group and also share success strategies with the team.
“You have to have people who have your back in order to be successful in anything in life,” said Bates. “You need people who have your best interest in mind.”
Interested in Joining a Massage Collective?
A massage collective is a business, and many are set up as an LLC and have a common bank account for paying overhead, marketing and shared expenses. It can be wise to ask, “What do I have to lose”? If you have dependents you support or other commitments, then taking a business gamble away from a regular paycheck can be daunting.
You can reach out to those who have gone before for advice. Perhaps find a collective already up and running in your area. Or, pull the best people you know together and start your own. If you have built up a great list of contacts within your field whom you know to be quality professionals you trust to be responsible in their commitments, then the rewards could be well worth any risks.
“If you can stay independent and develop your craft, and innovate and educate yourself and have this team of people around you who push you to be better, that’s the obvious move for the industry,” said Bates. “You just have to find the team that makes you better.”
What type of massage therapist will thrive in a collective? In three decades of running a collective, deMaranville has recognized certain traits in massage therapists who work best in a collective business environment.
“It requires people who are self-motivated, who can see what needs to be done and does it. It works best for people who are independent but also willing to work in a group,” deMaranville said. “They need to be people who are self-motivated and good communicators — and always hold our clients’ needs at the forefront.”
About the author
Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 18 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for massagemag.com include “Advanced Massage Training Will Take Your Career to the Next Level — Just Ask These Massage Therapists” and “The Massage Therapist’s Guide to Assisted Stretching Techniques.”