New franchise opportunity: why not bring some Massage Envy into your life?

Sarah Stowe

Massage Envy is the latest US franchised brand to hit our shoresWho doesn’t love a massage? Well, now there’s the opportunity to invest in a business that aims to bring massage to the masses.

The latest US import to the Australian franchise landscape taps into the growing trend for wellbeing.

Massage Envy comes to our shores courtesy of experienced master franchisee Justin McDonell. He is confident of the model, drawing comparisons with the US experience which has found clinics keep growing their client base for several years, and remain a stable business with between 1500 and 2000 customers.

The American story is success writ large – 1100 locations across the country (the nearest competitor has 250).

McDonell, with his sister Jacinta, brought over Anytime Fitness, the US brand of 24/7 gyms, back in 2008; today that network has reached 450 gyms across Australia.

And now under the banner of Collective Wellness (a business launched with fellow Anytime director Richard Pell) McDonell has turned his attention to a softer side of life – massage.

But there’s no easing up on the business goals. The strategy is simple – reach 150 outlets, predominantly in metro locations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, within the next five years.

“We plan to grow relatively quickly over five years to dominate the market, providing an affordable solution,” McDonell says.

Massage Envy is all about making massage mainstream.

“We want to take the people who’ve had good experiences with massage, take away the perceived luxury indulgence and provide a regular routine without the high end price,” he says.

Similar to the Anytime Fitness model, Massage Envy has adopted a membership structure.

Customers pay a monthly fee of $79 and can book either one massage or a facial – so far in the existing two stores about 90 percent of bookings are for a massage.  There are opportunities to upgrade, to receive a discount on a second booking within the month, or to transfer the session to another month.

What’s on offer to the consumer is a simple choice of massage or facial treatments.

Typically a day spa or beauty salon will have four treatment rooms; a Massage Envy site in contrast accommodates between eight and 12 rooms.

The ambience draws on the day spa philosophy with treatments conducted in individual rooms set up with well-dressed massage tables, a calming environment and neutral colourways appealing to both female and male clients.

The gender neutral stance is reflected in advertising and marketing material. Emma Harrison, operations and development for Collective Wellness, says the approach to men links to their efforts in the gym. “We tell them, if you’re working so hard, you need a massage.”

Remedial therapists are part of the team, able to fill the gap between the results-focused, no-frills remedial massage and the relaxing treatments of a day spa.

The business looks to create a comfortable work environment for the therapists, with a break room, and a desire to encourage work flexibility.

Benefits for franchisees

Unlike the DIY process at Anytime Fitness with its fixed fee and operating manuals, Massage Envy has a seven percent fee which pays for a more personalised service with business development managers looking after up to 20 stores and helping them drive profits.

For any franchisees used to the hands-off gym model epitomised by Anytime Fitness, running a large scale massage facility requires different levels of attention.

“You have to manage a bigger team in Massage Envy,” says McDonell.

He first came across the brand on trips overseas and joined as a member to evaluate the experience. “It was always consistent,” he says.

While there is no Massage Envy signature massage or standard massage techniques to follow, brand consistency comes through the draping protocols for the electric massage bed and the service, making sure the customer feels comfortable.

Constant education is the way to maintain consistency. Connecting with massage schools is just one step taken towards securing well-trained therapists.

Different training providers will maintain the educational elements but it’s important to have personalised treatments, says McDonell.

The franchisee however is not expected to be a therapist. What are required are strong business skills and an understanding of how to sell, how to get people in the door.

“We provide training that includes two weeks in clinics, and then seven days in their own store.”

A new brand that’s linked to an established business has benefits such as the capacity for shared services like franchise recruitment and finance.

For the team working at establishing this brand in Australia, the big challenge now is integrating IT. While the customer-facing online portals are all working well, getting the platforms behind the scenes to talk to each other has proved a big task.

The business is working on an online live booking system and is adopting a consolidated approach to marketing, focused on digital.

“The consumer is just buying differently. We have digital panels in-store and we can change the message from head office so we have better control.”

Looking ahead, the US franchisor is building a match-making system that will automatically align clients’ preferences with therapist availability but this is at least 12 months away, says McDonell.

For Collective Wellness, the future business plans don’t stop with the massage initiative.

“Wellness is growing globally. People are trying to be active, to live and enjoy life, we’re looking for brands in wellness and service, that’s what we understand. We think we can develop this, it’s a niche for the Australian market, no-one really owns the market. We want to dominate.”

Massage Envy essentials

1. This is a seven day a week business. Opening hours are 9am to 8pm weekdays, and 10am to 7pm at weekends.

2. The investment is $450,000 to $500,000 including a $45,000 upfront fee, and has finance options for equipment.

3. The great benefit for franchisees is the recurring income derived from a membership structure, and a database of clients to market to.