The 65 or so people in Altria’s customer supply chain group spend their days parked in chairs, typing on computers in their office in Richmond, Virginia.
It’s a recipe for aching lower backs, clenched shoulders and stiff necks.
Karen Braziel, the group’s administrative assistant, heard about her co-workers’ physical complaints and also considered her own.
“I thought it would be a great idea for us to get a massage just to improve the circulation and have our bodies flow a little bit better because we’re just immobile in these chairs all day long,” Braziel said.
She knew another department in the company had had a local massage therapy company come to the office to do seated massage. She got the OK from her boss and the name of the company—Richmond Massage Therapy LLC—and called. That was a year ago.
“Everybody was excited [to have the service],” she said. “They thanked me profusely. To this day they thank me for it. It’s a great service. It’s a great benefit for us here. We love it.”
Altria, which is the parent company of Philip Morris USA, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and other companies, just extended its contract with the massage business into 2018.
A Foot in the Door
With a background in computer engineering and nearly two decades working in that field, Joan Woods, owner of Richmond Massage Therapy LLC, never considered massage therapy as a career or that she would one day run her own massage therapy practice, but, as is often the case in life, fate intervened.
As her own health began to feel the effects of long days sitting in front of her computer and she saw her colleagues succumb to things such as heart attacks, she knew she had to find a different path. “You can earn a lot of money and save it for retirement, but can’t enjoy retirement if you don’t have your health,” she said.
By chance, while visiting Texas, she and her mother-in-law went to an event held by a local massage therapy school. She was so impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of the students and felt the impact of their work on her own body, that she decided to look into massage therapy as a career for herself and got hooked.
When she first started out as a massage therapist, Woods worked for other people, soaking up the business like a sponge and doing her research to learn how people in her area consumed and used massage therapy.
As the benefits of massage therapy are more widely recognized, and the harm of sitting all day is better known, massage therapy in the workplace is not such a strange concept today. But it was practically unheard of 20 years ago when Woods worked as a software engineer in a high-stress corporate environment.
“I never saw it appear in the corporate environment when I worked there,” she said. Still, Woods’ experience in the corporate world left her with the impression that massage could be help employees in that world.
So, when she was deciding on which services she would offer when she opened the doors of her massage therapy practice in 2010, she knew she would include corporate massage right from the start.
She said there is a big need for massage in the corporate world, yet that need is not being adequately met yet.
“As a thinking person, you think, ‘Well, that’s a market to pursue,’” Woods said.
What You’ll Need
Woods built her business by first taking the time to understand how people looked for the services she was offering. She knew the people at corporations—usually someone in human resources—would look for a corporate massage provider through word-of-mouth and the Internet.
She listed the service on her website and she and her team began doing free events in the area so they could get exposure. It worked.
Corporate massage accounts for about 15 percent of her business today, which is by choice. Woods offers other services in her practice and wants her therapists to have time in the main office as well.
There’s a low threshold to get into corporate massage, Woods said. All you need to get started is the appropriate training, a good chair and transportation—but therapists who are interested in starting a corporate massage business as a solo business or part of a line of services, need to remember that onsite massage takes a toll on the body.
“This is a thought process that every practice or every therapist needs to go through: what part of your business do you want corporate to be?” Woods said.
Lugging massage chairs and tables in and out of vehicles, setting up and taking down in offices, and the travel to get there and back in all kinds of weather can add up. “Oftentimes, therapists don’t think about that when they set up their model,” she said.
Something else Woods put a lot of thought into is how to price corporate massage. She has seen many of her colleagues underprice their services.
“If more therapists understood that you don’t need to undervalue the price of your service, I think they would be better off, and it would help the marketplace understand that realistic pricing for this service is X,” she said.
Instead of scoping out what her colleagues charge and basing her service pricing on that, she looks internally. “I don’t care what the market charges,” she said. “I care about what will it cost me to provide this service.”
To that end, she factors in the cost of traveling to and from the corporate location, the time it will take to set up and take down and the time she and her Richmond Massage Therapy LLC team will actually be doing massage work. She compares all that to what she’d be earning if she stayed at her facility and saw clients there.
“That’s the comparison to me,” she said. “I don’t care what anybody else is charging because their cost to provide service may be very different from mine.”
Corporate massage is different from any other massage therapy service offered, Woods said. That’s largely due to each environment being different from one corporate client to the next.
But it’s also in how you handle the service.
You have to approach your limited time at a corporate location like a math problem, for one. You need to know how many people you’ll be seeing and what length of time you’ll be there to determine how many minutes you can spend with each employee.
You might not be able to complete an in-depth health survey completed by each person, for example, so you have to ask the right questions to get at what their health status is. And you have to be able to put employees at ease while they receive the therapy in an often public location.
In terms of a service for massage therapists to offer, she said, corporate massage is a lot of fun. “People are happy to see you,” she said. “They’re generally lining up.”
About the Author
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine, and her articles include “Support Your Clients Following Disastrous Events” and ”Meet the Massage Therapists Who Work—and Travel—With AIDS/Lifecycle Riders.”
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