Updating massage legislation to meet modern-day demands

by John Hoose

Massaging Away Old Doubts, MASSAGE MagazineHealth and wellness has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, and there is growing awareness of and appreciation for organic products, healthy lifestyle choices and activities and services focused on health and well-being.

One of the most popular—and fastest growing—of these health and wellness concepts is the therapeutic massage industry. With the growing understanding of the degree to which massage can be an important part of a comprehensive approach to healthy living, there has been a subsequent spike in the demand for new locations that provide professional massage services.

While the massage industry is experiencing a period of tremendous growth and innovation, entrepreneurs and industry professionals have been forced to confront a lingering problem: restrictive ordinances and decades-old legislative roadblocks instituted to specifically discourage or prevent the establishment of a business that provides massage services. The byproduct of a time when massage “parlors” had a reputation for questionable practices, these ordinances were part of trend using increasingly strict regulatory measures to eliminate unwanted businesses. Of course, the world and the industry are in very different places today.

But as business owners apply for licenses in municipalities around the country, they are discovering that these obsolete ordinances present a real obstacle to establishing a successful business. From exorbitantly high fees and burdensome restrictions, to requirements that mandate expensive or unrealistic standards, the range of ordinances that were passed to keep out massage-based businesses was limited only by the creativity of local governments. Overcoming the legacy of these outdated legislative relics can present a thorny logistical challenge for today’s business owners—but it is a vital first step toward not only creating a more welcoming municipal legislative environment, but also for promoting the growth of the industry as a whole.

The reality is there is almost always a lag between the emergence of new trends and the implementation of corresponding legislation. The job of the massage owner is to speed that process along. The first step in the process is to educate, inform and advocate in the interests of overcoming lingering prejudices and misunderstandings. Try not to view these challenges as obstacles, but instead as opportunities to present an engaging and positive perspective. In a world where the initial skepticism of chiropractic has evolved into respect and understanding in just a few short years, it should be an intuitive process to help civic leaders understand that massage therapy today enjoys multigenerational and gender-neutral appeal and is increasingly an important component of a wellness-based lifestyle.

Improved education and greater understanding is just the first step. When it comes to revising or repealing overly restrictive ordinances, aspiring business owners will likely need to go before the local board and apply to amend the ordinance in question. When doing so, be sure to be practical, respectful and thoughtful. Understand that changing longstanding policy can be difficult for officials who have to explain their decisions to the public. The more information you can supply, the better, and it is vital to communicate with decision-makers ahead of time to discuss the ordinance in question. Doing so ensures they will not be blindsided at the hearing and enables them to make an informed and timely decision.

Work with lawmakers and offer straightforward remedies that can be implemented with a minimum of fuss. One simple solution, for example, is to amend an existing ordinance to only apply to businesses with late-night operating hours, preserving the original intent of the ordinance while opening the door for legitimate massage therapy businesses. The support of a respected franchise can be helpful during this process, not only for the legitimacy and clout that can help facilitate ordinance change, but also for the resources and collateral materials that can help present a more compelling and effective case to municipal leaders.

Increasingly, overall health is not something people are willing to compromise. As a result, the next evolutionary step in the growth of the industry is making therapeutic massage more accessible not only to municipalities, but also to businesses and clients. This requires not just changing a local ordinance or two, but also by subsequently reevaluating everything from location to price points, to operating hours and even décor. A new generation of professional massage providers is already developing the practices and strategies that will help to cement massage therapy as an integral part of a more effective and appealing health and wellness lifestyle.

John Hoose is founder of Commerce Township, Michigan-based LaVida Massage. For more information on opening a LaVida Massage, contact Hoose at jhoose@lavidamassage.com or visit www.lavidamassage.com.