global domination

Massage Envy announced today the first sale of a franchise contract outside the U.S., signaling a strategy by the popular membership-model franchise company to achieve global domination in the massage market.

Australia’s Collective Wellness Group, which already runs a fitness brand, inked a deal with Massage Envy to open up to 100 locations over the next 15 years. The first Australian location is scheduled to open in May.

Massage Envy’s senior vice president of global sales & international, Lee Knowlton, spoke with MASSAGE Magazine today to explain the franchisor’s plans for global domination in the area of massage.


Strong Partners

Partnership is the number-one factor driving Massage Envy’s expansion into other countries, Knowlton said. He was brought on after successful stints at T.G.I. Friday’s, where he oversaw the first such restaurant opening in Seoul, South Korea; and Cold Stone Creamery, which had opened 500 stores in 25 countries by the time he left to join Massage Envy in late 2015.

International partners that already run successful brands—whether those are restaurants, fitness clubs, entertainment venues or retail stores—possess the brand awareness, customer service, infrastructure and marketing know-how to make a partnership with Massage Envy a success in their home country, Knowlton said.

Collective Wellness Group, for example, has the Anytime Fitness brand of 430 health clubs throughout Australia.

Knowlton said Massage Envy has been looking at certain metrics of 50 countries—metrics that include population size, market size, consumers’ income levels, political stability and tax issues—and came up with a top-10 list of countries to consider moving into.

The additional countries Massage Envy is looking to expand into are Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, Germany, Turkey, Japan, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.

united kingdom

Lessons Learned

Massage Envy is looking to lessons learned by other corporations that have tried—and failed—to enter non-U.S. markets, said Knowlton.

“Walmart failed in India, and Target failed in Canada,” he said.

Having one established partner to open multiple locations—like Collective Wellness Group’s 100 Massage Envy locations—should prevent similar failure, Knowlton said. That partner also needs to possess passion for Massage Envy and the growth of massage, he added.

“This is where our approach might be different from other companies that might do an individual franchise in another country or work through an investment group,” Knowlton said. “That’s just not my philosophy, or our philosophy, of ensuring that we launch successfully in a country.

“Our odds of being successful [will be] extremely high based on the partnership and commitments that both groups have to make sure we are successful in that country,” he added.

However, Massage Envy is not the only franchisor expanding globally: Massage Heights franchisor has 10 locations in Canada and also plans to expand internationally. Massage Heights has about 100 locations open in the U.S., to Massage Envy’s 1,100.


What About Training?

Massage therapists working in non-U.S. franchise locations will need to have the skills and training required to offer the expected Massage Envy body- and facial-care sessions, Knowlton said—yet he acknowledged that education and regulation of massage therapists varies widely from one country to another.

Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia all offer training in massage therapy that is similar to that found in the U.S., for example, and a quick Google search shows that courses in massage specialties such as reiki and sports massage are offered in the United Arab Emirates. But in Mexico, where Massage Envy has begun talking with a potential partner, sexual massage is legal is some areas, and massage therapists are still often referred to as curanderos, a type of folk healer.

Research into all of this is needed, Knowlton said.

“The partner does the research and brings us the information, because that’s the role they need to play,” Knowlton explained. “We’re in the early stages in Mexico, and they are looking at the therapist supply, training and schools.

“I can’t tell you those [massage education and regulation] policies and practices right now, down there, but can say they need to meet our standards for body care and facial care because we won’t accept anything less.”



There is an opportunity for American therapists to work at Massage Envy franchises in other countries, Knowlton said, although specific details related to that will be determined in part by each country’s policies regarding foreign workers.

The first Australian location is scheduled to open next week. Considering the success of Massage Envy in the U.S.—growing from one Arizona location to 1,100 franchise locations in 49 states 14 years later—it would seem the company’s global domination of the massage field could be on the horizon.

“Once we get going,” Knowlton said, “I think the growth each year will grow with the number of countries signed.”


Karen MenehanAbout the Author

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. She has edited and written for additional publications and organizations, including Imagine Magazine, the Sacramento Bee newspaper and the LIVESTRONG Foundation. She wrote “Getting to the Heart of Prejudice in Health Care” for