Sponsored by Custom Craftworks
Dale Wheeler, N.C.T.M.B., is one of the many massage therapists who has discovered innovative and rewarding ways to use a massage chair to build a table practice—but the chair-to-table route is not one-way. In fact, that route is circular in nature, meaning promoting chair massage to table clients also builds chair clientele, which in turn creates a massage practice with more variety, freedom, clients and income.
As Wheeler puts it, “Chair massage can feed your table massage business, and table massage can feed your chair massage business.”
When the massage chair was invented by instructor and therapist David Palmer and introduced in 1986, no one could have envisioned the revolution that would be touched off. What appeared as an unassuming wooden box with a face-cradle attachment, the first massage chair was immediately identified, by instructors and seasoned massage therapists, as a fun and easy way to introduce massage to the public.
Thirty years after that first chair was unleashed on the world, chair massage is now ubiquitous, and used by massage therapists at corporations, athletic events, airports, health-and-wellness festivals, art fairs, and any other location where the public might want to experience the relaxation and pain relief engendered by healthy touch.
Today’s massage chairs are achievements of high technology: portable; easy to set up and pack up; and sleekly stylish in color and design. One popular massage chair, for example, weighs just 18 pounds yet can support an up-to-300-pound client; is available in a wide selection of upholstery colors; and sports a removable sternum pillow.
The first month Wheeler’s Overland Park, Kansas, practice was open, in 2001, he saw just three table-massage clients—and quickly realized he needed to do more to boost business. Chair massage seemed like a natural extension of his hands-on work, so he began developing relationships with local stores whose customers matched his then-target clientele of athletes.
The fruits of his chair massage marketing were realized quickly.
“I still have a client that I met doing chair massage that first year who has scheduled nearly 40 table massages a year ever since,” Wheeler said. “Not a bad return on a small investment of time.”
Today, Wheeler provides chair massage to four businesses, on a regular—weekly or monthly—basis, which provides a stable income he can count on, in addition to what he makes from his table practice. Wheeler also offers chair massage at health fairs, conventions and personal parties, and to additional businesses on an intermittent basis.
The openness and ease with which massage can be provided via a chair is an effective way of promoting a table practice, Wheeler said.
“Chair massage is a great way to find new table massage clients, and I especially recommend it to new massage therapists starting up their own practices,” he said. “Chair massage is usually provided in a neutral or familiar and comfortable setting for a potential client—in a store they shop at, or at their office.”
Asking a potential client to book a table session before she feels comfortable with massage or the therapist might not be effective, Wheeler added.
“Will the potential table client feel comfortable with [the therapist’s] quality of touch, personality, trustworthiness, or other decision-influencing factors?” he noted. “Chair massage quickly breaks down those potential concerns.”
Wheeler says a soft sell to chair clients results in conversions to his table practice.
“I greet every chair massage client warmly, ask about their day, ask if they have any areas for me to focus on or avoid, and check in to make sure my pressure is appropriate,” he said. “I don’t hard-sell my table massage to them, but often suggest that they might consider table massage for further work on their problem areas or to reduce their stress.”
He also keeps a stack of business cards—and his appointment book—at the ready.
Table to Chair
For many years, Wheeler kept a sign up at his massage office that read, “Ask Me About Chair Massage In Your Workplace.” He also kept a massage chair set up in his lobby, as a way of reminding table clients he offered chair massage.
“These were easy ways to generate questions and make connections,” Wheeler recalled. “Almost all of my clients and their family-and-friends network worked somewhere, and these visual reminders about chair massage generated a good number of leads through them.”
Communicating with his table clients about the chair massage component of his practice has led to corporate chair massage accounts for Wheeler. Additionally, Wheeler said, his table clients would often make an introduction or recommendation for him directly to their human resources manager, supervisor or wellness coordinator—what he called a warm lead.
“A warm lead gives me a much better opportunity than cold-calling on a company,” Wheeler explained.
One example of how marketing chair massage to table clients helped Wheeler’s practice occurred when a regular, monthly client he had seen since 2001 connected Wheeler to the coordinator of an annual picnic and wellness event held by the local water department.
“For several years, I and three other massage therapists that I contracted provided chair massage for their [annual] event,” Wheeler said. “And from that contact, the water department also had me provide chair massage at their customer service center periodically.”
Training & Technique
Chair massage can be mastered with continuing education and practice, Wheeler said.
“There are some special skills to learn for chair massage that will save your body and provide a superior massage for your clients,” he said. “Just because you have good skills with table massage doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have good skills for chair massage.”
With education and frequent use, a massage chair can help build a multifaceted practice.
“Currently with my massage business, I’m seeking more clients for chair massage than I am for table,” Wheeler said. “It’s just my preference.”
Wheeler said he enjoys meeting lots of people at various locations throughout his city, and that he “starts to feel a bit bored, or stale, if I do too many table massages within the four walls of my office.”
Chair massage accounts also offer a more predictable income, he added.
Choose the Best
Specific massage chair elements to look for include a seat that can be adjusted for height, an easily adjustable face cradle, and a weight that makes transporting the chair effortless, Wheeler said. What matters most, he added, is choosing high-quality equipment that will support the chair massage aspect of a practice for years to come.
“You really do get what you pay for,” Wheeler said. “With economy-priced chairs, I’ve had welded seams break, face rests fail, stability issues—clients shouldn’t feel like they’re onboard a creaking, swaying ship while receiving a massage—adjustment screws strip out, not enough adjustment capacity for large or small clients, et cetera.”
Thousands of massage therapists practice chair massage, either as a stand-alone business or, like Wheeler, as one component of a practice. When a therapist adds chair massage to a career, the results can include more variety, freedom, clients and income.
Dale Wheeler, N.C.T.M.B., is a massage therapist and licensed provider of continuing education. Wheeler combined his love of teaching with a passion for travel and started Education Destinations in 2006. He utilizes his combination of business knowledge and massage skills to teach and mentor massage therapists seeking business success. Wheeler teaches a variety of courses for therapists, spa owners and non-professionals. He maintains his skills through his private practice, The Massage Professionals Inc., located in Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas. He has blogged for Custom Craftworks and has recently begun leading European spa tours for massage therapists.
Originally founded in 1986, Custom Craftworks supports the vital work of professional manual therapists and educators in the massage, therapy and holistic health fields by designing, building and sourcing the best quality massage tables, chairs, equipment and accessories available. Custom Craftworks offers the Melody massage chair, which has a functional design that adjusts at every point to ensure your client’s maximum comfort. Weighing in at only 18 pounds, it sets up in seconds and folds for portability. The model includes the carry case, removable sternum pillow plus bonus eyeglass/jewelry pouch. To learn more about chair massage, click here for a FREE how-to guide and chair massage 101 DVD; and click here to download a FREE e-book on chair massage.