In 2016, more than 4,000 food trucks are in operation, according to the food-truck industry website mobile-cuisine.com—and with the emergence of the food truck industry in the U.S., other industries, from tattoo artists to clothing salespeople, are climbing on the food truck trend and using trucks to run their mobile businesses.
Onboard with this trend are some enterprising massage therapists. These entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the new massage-truck industry, taking healthy touch to festivals, neighborhoods, yoga parties, rodeos and everything in-between.
Have Truck, Will Travel
For the mobile massage therapist, a willingness to travel is a necessity. But how far, exactly, varies from business to business. For Ashlee Hatch, of Country Road Massage in Dayton, Idaho, the main motivation for travel is the opportunity to meet new people.
“There are kind-hearted, God-fearing people out there, and I enjoy meeting every single one of them,” she said.
Hatch travels around her home state of Idaho, as well as Wyoming, Montana and Utah. In coming months, she plans to extend her massage business into Washington and California. She has found a niche in providing massage for contestants at rodeos, which are major events in the Western states.
In her words, Hatch’s clients are “cowboys,” rodeo contestants who consider themselves professional athletes. Hatch started off making home visits and doing smaller rodeos, but switched gears when she didn’t see an immediate profit.
Now, she works almost exclusively at big rodeos that last five to 10 days. She schedules her work several months in advance, advertising mainly through word-of-mouth and her Facebook page.
Spread the Benefits
According to Bettina Freese, of Be Free Massage in Asheville, North Carolina, the best part of mobile massage therapy is spreading the word about the benefits of massage. “It gets more people interested in massage,” she said. “It educates them.
“[Truck-based massage is] easier for people to do than calling up a therapist and then setting up the appointment,” Freese added. “People are relieved that all they need to do is walk up to the truck.”
Freese has carved a niche for herself by working bike races, marathons, and yoga-and-massage parties. She started off doing massage out of her home, but moved her business to a truck as a way to reach new clients.
“Occasionally, I’ll go out and do a house call [with massage provided in the truck] if they have at least three hours’ worth of massages to pay me for,” she said.
Freese also hits Asheville’s food-truck park and local bed and breakfasts. Recently she started scheduling appearances at marathons.
“It’s expanding,” she said of truck-based massage. “I’m starting to do weekend tours with cyclists and runners. [They] have so much fun. [They’ve] run 20 miles, and having [their] massage therapist with [them] is a bonus.”
For La Shauna Moore, of Heavenly Hands Massage in Detroit, Michigan, flexibility is the main benefit of operating a massage truck. She likes making her own schedule and having a constant change of scenery.
“I’m not tied down in an office, and I’m in a new atmosphere every day,” she said.
Moore operates a massage bus replete with a hot-stone oven, and will travel up to 50 miles from her home base of Detroit. For her, athletic events are less of a draw than taking her bus to someone’s home. She estimates that 80 percent of her business is home visits, with services provided inside the bus.
Challenges of the Food Truck Trend
Mobile massage therapy has its challenges. And, like the benefits, these also vary. For Moore, truck repairs are the main pain.
“It’s a challenge because it takes time away from clients,” she said. Moore sees the solution as having more than one truck, and intends to take that step in the future.
For Freese, the biggest challenge is simply getting people to understand the nature of her business.
“Just getting people to figure out what I’m doing, that’s the biggest challenge,” she said. “People aren’t sure what to do when they walk up to the truck.
“I have a sign out there that says what my rates are and how long sessions are, but having an extra person is good,” Freese added. “Sometimes I just walk around as a scout to stir up business.”
Getting On the Road
Like any business, getting a mobile massage business going is hard work.
“I had to make a leap,” Hatch said. “I went into it thinking, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? I can fail. I can lose money. I can go bankrupt.’
“But I put my blood and sweat and stress and hard work into emailing and talking to people and really selling myself and selling what I have to offer,” she said. Plus, Hatch added, “I had to buy my truck, and it was a pretty penny.”
Freese relied on helping hands to get her truck in operation. She bought a 14-foot U-Haul truck that had been discontinued and then asked her husband to help her build it out. She commissioned an artist friend to do the truck’s artwork.
The Future of Mobile Massage
In the United Kingdom, a London-based beauty spa called Elemis has rolled out a double-decker “spa bus” that includes “Intelligent Massage” sessions and shiatsu on its upper level. For a few pounds, Londoners can have a 15-minute treatment and then dive back into their busy day.
Perhaps this speedier, more spa-oriented version of massage will catch on the U.S. In the meantime, American massage therapists are focused on providing more traditional massage from their trucks and buses.
Either way, it’s obvious that these truck-based massage therapists are going places.
Phillip Weber is a San Diego-based writer and co-founder of The English Adept, a language-learning website where he blogs frequently. He wrote “Sports Massage Therapist Heads to the Olympic Games” for massagemag.com (July 13, 2016).