Both independent massage therapists and massage franchises have been affected by the ongoing pandemic, and just as therapists in private practice are now seeing increased bookings, franchises are also reporting an influx of new and returning customers eager to get back to the benefits of healing touch. 

Both independent massage therapists and massage franchises have been affected by the ongoing pandemic—and just as therapists in private practice are now seeing increased bookings, franchises are also reporting an influx of new and returning customers eager to get back to the benefits of healing touch. 

The Role of Massage Franchises

More than 46,000 massage therapists are expected to enter this field between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reflecting a 32% growth (much higher than most other professions). Massage franchises provide one type of employment venue, and as a labor shortage in the massage market continues, many franchise locations are seeking massage therapist employees.

A recent survey of massage therapists conducted by MASSAGE Magazine showed that many massage therapists have worked at franchises: Almost 30 percent of respondents have worked, or currently work, at a massage franchise. Fifty-two percent worked at a franchise for a year, 35% worked at a franchise for two to five years, and more than 9 percent worked at a franchise for six to 10 years. 

When asked what they most enjoyed about working at a franchise, respondents’ answers included working with other massage therapists, not having to manage their own books, a steady paycheck, consistent hours, and training and career growth.  

Massage franchises have been busy meeting the challenges of practicing during COVID-19 by creating new techniques meant to help customers’ stress levels while bolstering sanitation protocols.

What follows are interviews with leaders at Hand & Stone, Massage Heights and Massage Envy on pandemic-related changes they’ve made, the state of the massage franchise industry now—and their viewpoints on the future of massage therapy use by consumers. (Elements Massage, LaVida Massage and MassageLuXe were asked for input for this article, and declined.)

Hand & Stone

Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa Chief Experience Officer Cindy Meiskin; Vice President of Brand Experience Lisa Rossman; and Director of Massage Therapy Training Nathan Nordstrom, LMT, BCTMB

MASSAGE Magazine: What new services has Hand & Stone implemented to respond to clients’ search for solutions related to stress and anxiety?

Lisa Rossman
Lisa Rossman

Lisa Rossman: At Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, our ultimate goal is to help clients reduce stress and anxiety. In order to help with this mission, we recently launched a new service called Contrast Stone Therapy, which utilizes both hot and cold stones throughout the massage to improve muscle tone, reduce inflammation and loosen tight muscles. The feedback so far has been incredible, and clients really love the experience. Another option is one of our most popular services, Himalayan Salt Stone Massage; it provides a healing and relaxing massage especially when combined with a Cold Stone Face Massage add on service.

Cindy Meiskin
Cindy Meiskin

Cindy Meiskin: On the skin care front, we’ve introduced two new facials to help clients reduce stress. The first is a CBD Facial called the Return to Calm Facial, and the second facial is the Well Being Facial, which integrates Himalayan Salt Stone into the service.

Nathan Nordstrom: At Hand & Stone, our membership packages roll over to the next month. Because of covid, many members have multiple months that they have not come in. To make it convenient for our customers, we have created service packages that implement more than one month’s membership. We are always working on new services. For example, we have implemented a Contrast Therapy Stone service this year that includes Hot and Cold Stones.

MM: Is membership at Hand & Stone up this year?

Nathan Nordstrom
Nathan Nordstrom

CM: Our membership base has increased by 11% since year end 2020. The number of services performed in 2021 has also increased over 39% since last year. I attribute this to all of our clients, new and existing, missing the services Hand & Stone offers. We’ve built a brand that people trust and have enforced safety standards to keep both clients and employees safe.

We even hired a COVID medical consultant to help create the reopening protocols we put into place. From the day we closed due to COVID in March 2020, we began working on how to safely reopen and have guests and employees feel safe from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave.

LR: On top of customers feeling safe, I think a big part of our increased numbers is the pent-up demand for people who want to be taken care of. It’s been over 18 months for many people since they’ve taken the time to take care of themselves. Another reason our facial services are booming is because of the increase of Zoom and video calls in which we’re staring at ourselves all day and seeing things we want to improve on with our skin. We’ve set the stage to be safe, and now we’re seeing new and existing clients request our services.

MM: What is your viewpoint on the future of massage therapy use by consumers?

CM: We’ve proven we can survive a global pandemic, so I think the future has endless possibilities. People have confidence in Hand & Stone’s massage and facial safety standards and the business model, and we are thriving. With work at home becoming a permanent part of the workforce, there’s an increased demand for massages due to constant sitting, tech neck and posture problems to name a few.

In addition to that, over the past 18 months, people are craving human touch and to be taken care of while prioritizing their health. Health and wellness as a whole is going to be huge. Consumers are more confident now that getting a massage or facial is not going to get them sick and with touch deprivation and maskne (mask acne) they’re ready to be back in the spa.

LR: Massage therapy truly is booming. The phones are ringing more than ever. People definitely want to take care of themselves. Massage therapy is also a great field to get into at the moment due to a shortage of therapists. There is an increased demand for the job, and employers are willing to pay for massage therapists.

MM: What other policies related to safety has Hand & Stone implemented?

CM: Hand & Stone has always had strict cleaning protocols, but we’ve furthered those efforts over the past 18 months. We’re abiding by all state and local guidelines and have transitioned to digital forms in order to promote contactless check in/out processes and sustainability. We also utilize sophisticated text analytics on our customer survey sent to all guests after receiving a service. This allows us to create safety and sanitation alerts, to ensure all of our safety standards are being followed. My team receives and reviews all alerts, , but we can confidently say that we haven’t had an outbreak at the spa level.

LR: We’ve also removed facial product testers from the lobby and are ensuring that employees are mindful of transmission and up to date with the latest local guidelines.

NN: We have a Spa Sanitation and Illness Prevention program that includes current mandatory masking and following all state and local guidelines. Our spa sanitation & Illness Prevention guidelines are constantly in flux depending on the current national standards and CDC updates. We also advise each spa to know its local governing policies.

Massage Heights

Russell Hoff
Russell Hoff

Russell Hoff, Vice President of Operations, Massage Heights Franchising

MASSAGE Magazine: What new services has Massage Heights implemented to respond to clients’ search for solutions related to stress and anxiety?

Russell Hoff: The past several months, our members have happily returned. Our members missed getting massage and facials as a way to support their overall health and wellness and manage stress and pain. Earlier this year, Massage Heights launched a new service called “Active Therapy.”  This service combines massage, stretching and the use of cold stones with sports balm. We are also launching the use of the Cranio Cradle this fall, which will enhance the relaxation component of our massage services. 

MM: What is your viewpoint on the future of massage therapy use by consumers?

RH: Spa and wellness service demand will continue to grow. These types of natural, holistic services offer healing and relaxation which is much needed in today’s stressful, fast paced world. 

MM: What other policies related to safety are being implemented by Massage Heights?

RH: At the beginning of the pandemic, we created video trainings and a guidebook on requirements for cleaning and sanitation. This included mandated cleaning between sessions, common area cleaning and end of day cleaning. 

We instituted curb-side check in, reduced our retail display in the lobby and placed decals on floors for social distancing. We also had mandated instructions for shut down procedures due to COVID diagnosis in retreat which included engaging a profession cleaning company to disinfect entire retreat. 

MM: Is membership at Massage Heights up this year?

RH: Massage Heights member massage and facials services are up from 2019. During the height of the pandemic, we faced the challenges of state- and city-mandated closings and consumer reluctance out of caution to visit which greatly reduced our 2020 performance. However, 81% of our members continued to pay their monthly membership fee, which was a positive during this time. 

Massage Envy

Beth Stiller
Beth Stiller

Massage Envy CEO Beth Stiller

MASSAGE Magazine: What new services has Massage Envy implemented to respond to clients’ search for solutions related to stress and anxiety?

Beth Stiller: One of the things I’m most proud of is Massage Envy’s continued innovations in both body care and skincare. Franchised locations now offer high-end skincare brands that were usually only found in dermatologists’ offices, and we’ve launched our own brand of products, CyMe, for members and guests of franchised locations to experience during a facial and also purchase for at-home use.

I’m also proud of the continued innovations in body care which provide an excellent opportunity for our franchisees’ members and guests to relax and reduce stress and tension. For example, the Total Body Stretch experience can positively affect performance and increase flexibility, and Rapid Tension Relief utilizes Hyperice’s percussion technology, the Hypervolt tool, to ease minor aches and pains.

MM: Is membership at Massage Envy up this year?

BS: We’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how quickly clients of Massage Envy franchised locations have come back to resume their wellness routines. Franchised locations are seeing a lot of demand for both massage and skin care services. I would like to note, given this strong consumer demand, our franchisees are hiring thousands of massage therapists and estheticians.

MM: What is your viewpoint on the future of massage therapy use by consumers?

BS: I think both body care and skin care have bright futures, and the rebound of our business shows that people want help with their wellness routines. For many of us, our homes are no longer an oasis from our everyday lives. Our homes have become our places of work, our classrooms, our job application sites and more. The place where we used to care for ourselves most, has become the place that many of us need escaping from.

More than ever, it’s important that we still create that “me time” for ourselves, and [massage] can be that oasis away from the chaos. Massage Envy has changed the way that many Americans access body and skin care. The monthly membership model allows members to access massage, facials, stretch and other services, that were once considered luxuries, on a regular basis, and the cost is covered under their monthly dues. We’ve seen that now more than ever and consumer demand continues to grow. That survey I mentioned earlier uncovered that massage ranked second only to taking a vacation in order to regain pre-pandemic confidence.

MM: What other policies related to safety has Massage Envy implemented?

BS: Massage Envy has always had stringent sanitation and safety protocols that franchise locations are required to follow. As we are returning to many of the activities that were part of our lives pre-COVID-19, safety remains one of our key focus areas. We have increased these actions, including working with an internationally recognized environmental consulting firm, CTEH, to evaluate our practices.

Some of the new protocols include:

• Training in infection control & prevention for all franchise location employees

Enhanced mandatory cleaning and disinfection protocols for treatment rooms and equipment used in services;

• All surfaces that may have been touched or handled during the service are disinfected with products registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Use Against Emerging Enveloped Viral Pathogens before the next guest;

• In addition to following these brand standards, as always, Massage Envy franchisees must comply with all federal, state, and local laws and orders, including those relating to mask mandates and vaccination requirements.

About the Author:

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, print and digital. Her recent articles include “A Growing Number of U.S. States Require Health Care Workers to Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19” and “As Spa Industry Rebounds from COVID-19, Staffing Shortage Looms.”