Mark Volkmann has contributed much to the massage industry, first running his own massage practice, then with the founding of Massage Warehouse in the 1990s and now as founder and CEO of MassageBook.
MassageBook provides small-business assistance to massage therapists and bodyworkers in the form of scheduling software, SOAP notes and marketing support.
Volkmann is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star, one of a group of body therapy masters and teachers who are educating MASSAGE Magazine’s community of therapists in print, on social media channels and on massagemag.com.
Karen Menehan: Let’s begin this interview with you telling our audience what made you want to get into massage therapy.
Mark Volkmann: The first time I had a massage was in Italy. An older Italian gentleman who had worked on cyclists [massaged me]. I was over there cycling, racing my bike, and this was when I was 19 or 20 years old. He was actually working on me with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, believe it or not.
KM: Oh, no!
MV: Yeah. He just really put me through the wringer. I was really impressed with what the massage did for me and so that stuck to me. Afterwards, I worked in a corporate job and it just wasn’t for me at that time. I kind of got burned out and just really wanted to do something that I felt was just more consistent with who I am, something more meaningful, that felt good at the end of the day.
I left that job and got back to what I knew I really enjoyed, which was training and competing. And then the thought was to pay the bills by doing something that I also enjoyed that was consistent with what I wanted to do then, and massage just immediately came to my mind like, “Wow, this could be a perfect balance.” I love working with athletes, helping them feel better, and I was already doing some coaching on the side.
That combined with the flexibility that having my own practice seemed like a really good idea.
KM: And you founded Massage Warehouse in the late 1990s. What was that like for you?
MV: It was the worst of times, and it was the best of times. I was 29 years old. I was going to turn pro as a triathlete the following year. And I was involved in a pretty bad bike crash. It broke my hip and I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t train. It was a pretty cathartic moment in my life, like all the visions I had for what my future held were suddenly in question.
If it hadn’t been for that, I may never have started Massage Warehouse. I was like, “Well, now what?” And so I had the massage practice going and the internet was just kind of in its beginning stages, and I had been selling some disposable face cradle covers just locally and I wondered if anybody’s selling kind of a collection of products. It was expensive and it was challenging to get everything together. And there wasn’t that much available locally.
So the aha moment was, why don’t I try selling all this stuff in one place? That was the idea—and, of course, ideas are easy. It’s the execution that’s bloody challenging. So “How hard can it be?” is usually how I start off with a project. And this was no different.
KM: And then what, after you sold Massage Warehouse?
MV: MassageBook was born from my strong sense of obligation to massage therapists and massage community.
The idea behind MassageBook was very simple: Let’s create one piece of software that is a single business solution that solves all the problems that you as a practice owner have, both from a standpoint of attracting and retaining clients as well as managing all the administrative tasks small-practice owners need to handle.
KM: There’s still a lot of massage therapists who do things old school, or maybe don’t even have a website, don’t use software. What you can tell us about scheduling software, for example, as a support for small businesses?
MV: Scheduling is really the heartbeat of a practice, isn’t it?
There are so many disparate ways that people get on a schedule—via email communication, via phone communication, it can be text, it can be in person—and a business needs to be able to handle all those elegantly.
The most elegant way to do it and the most efficient way is to let clients do it themselves.
I would say, getting customers to adopt an online booking solution is really easy. Getting businesses to adopt an online booking solution is a much more difficult challenge.
KM: Why do you think that is?
MV: I think it’s intimidating for a lot of people that have been functioning, you know, on a paper-based solution. And if I were to ask you, what would you guess would be the percentage of folks that you feel are still using [a] paper-based solution?
KM: They’re waiting for a phone call and then they write the massage appointment down in their paper calendar, that kind of thing? I would say 65%.
MV: Right. You know that because you’re in the industry.
KM: I will say, as a client, for anything that I do, for hairstyling, for doctor’s appointments, for massage therapy, I want to be able to go online and just do it on my phone. You know, it’s so much easier. I don’t have to worry about reaching someone.
MV: If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking about that, you know, as you’re brushing your teeth, getting ready to go to bed, you’re like, “Oh, you know, I need to do that.” But am I going to send myself a reminder to call somebody at 11:00 tomorrow morning? Probably not. So, again, [from] a customer standpoint, it’s sold. This is what they want.
KM: Why have massage therapists been reticent to get off of paper?
MV: I think they’re just intimidated by what it would take, and many feel like they would lose some control by moving from paper to a software solution. They are just concerned about complexity, the learning curve that it would take.
That’s one thing that we spend an inordinate amount of time on— keeping things super simple, because it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be extremely intuitive. And I think most people would be surprisingly, pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to manage a schedule online, and have it be perfectly controlled and give customers ultimately what they want and make their lives simpler too.
KM: The scheduling seems like a pretty obvious point. One of the other things I noticed that MassageBook offers is a marketing component.
MV: From an inbound marketing standpoint—meaning what’s coming toward you or how are you out there, how are people finding you—we then convert that interest into an actual appointment on your schedule.
We have the MassageBook directory, which is a national directory. We send over 3,000 new clients to practices every week through that directory.
We also are a partner with Google on something called Reserve with Google. By having this Reserve with Google feature, you’ll be in what’s called the Map Pack, which is kind of those top three or four businesses you see at the top for local businesses. And there’s actually a button that lets people book right from Google.
We have Facebook integration too, and we have more conventional marketing features of email campaigns and email automation. If it’s your client’s birthday, for example, you don’t have to look anything up. We’ll automatically send them a happy birthday email from your practice.
KM: Massage therapists believe it’s important that they connect with a brand-new client to ask a few questions, you know, just to make sure the client is booking an appointment for the right reasons, perhaps asking if they’ve had massage therapy before, that kind of thing. Does MassageBook offer any sort of screening of new clients?
MV: Yes. People that are uncomfortable with actually accepting a booking online directly can flip a switch and rather than have those appear on your schedule right away, they can request an appointment. And then you can choose to approve or not approve, or contact the client if you like.
The other thing we do is send out intake forms, digital intake forms that are sent automatically to a client. The questions [on] those are customizable, so you can ask your client, “What’s your purpose for coming in? Have you received a massage before?” And so on. So you have some context before they come in for the first time as well.
KM: Anything else at all that you’d like to say about the marketing component?
MV: We will build a custom promotion for you, and we automatically create a landing page that you can then share with whoever you want to. And memberships, which are just like a gym membership.
KM: As vaccines are increasingly available and we start to come out of the pandemic, should massage therapists have faith in their career?
MV: Don’t get the feeling that massage therapists and practices are all really struggling. Because here’s a more than a silver lining—a silver cloud—is that we have seen sales— number of bookings as well as the money that [massage therapists are] earning—are above a-year-ago levels. If you’re in a position where that’s not the case, recognize that the demand is really pent-up. A lot of people want massage.
KM: This has been the MASSAGE Magazine interview with Mark Volkmann. Learn more about MassageBook at massagebook.com.
Mark Volkmann is participating in the All-Star Video Series of business tips.
About the Author:
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief-print and digital.