If you’re thinking about expanding your service offerings outside of nails but aren’t sure what to add, consider this: According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), consumers spend between $4 billion and $6 billion annually on visits to massage therapists. In all AMTA says 22% of the adults U.S. population reports having had massages in the past five years – 13% in the past 12 months. Even with more than114 million consumer visits to massage therapists each year, industry watchers say massage therapy is still in its infancy.

In other words, massage services are about to boom. With the salon industry’s movement toward spa and wellness services, massage may look very appealing to nail salon owners hoping to expand their service offerings and broaden their appeal. Indeed, salons like Amour Nail Salon & Spa in Pembroke Pines, Fla., have enjoyed success with massage. After adding massage in 1996, owner Karen Van Der Eems says massage service sales totaled $10,600 in just seven months. In 1999, she hopes to exceed $20,000, all with a minimal investment and overhead.

“Massage has been a nice complement to our services,” Van Der Eems says. “When you’re trying to enter the spa concept and invite people to come and relax, massage is one service that sends the message. It also feeds clients into other parts of the salon.”

Darlene Johnston, owner of Pampered & Polished You in Haggersville, Ontario, agrees: “Massage is the best thing we’ve ever done,” she exclaims. “It brings a lot of new business into the salon; that’s why I have two new nail technicians starting. People like a one-stop shop.”

Not a Feel-Good Feeling for Everyone

Massage therapy can add a new dimension to your salon, but salon owners caution that the service is not for every client – or every salon.

“We’ve offered massage for a year, and it’s not very profitable for us,” says Kim Monaco-Crevar, co-owner and manager of Club Monaco in Northfield Center, Ohio. “It’s nice to be able to offer clients these extra services, but we have very little profit from it.”

“It’s a hard service to build because it’s expensive for clients,” adds Debbie Walsh, owner of Just for Me Hair, Nail & Body Salon in Slate Hill, N.Y. “For the average person, it’s hard to afford once a month.” (Still, Walsh notes that while it’s not a service her salon could survive on, she appreciates the added income it provides.)

Price isn’t the only reason consumers balk at massage, either. At the salons we polled, an hour-long service costs anywhere from $42-$65 – approximately 2-2.5 times more than a fill – which is a reason enough for some to say no. But Karen Van Derburgh, a massage therapist who added nails and esthetics to her salon business, thinks the root of refusal is buried even deeper.

“Women, especially working women, will miss any appointment in the world before their nail appointment, but massage therapy is still looked at more as a treat than as a necessity,” she says. “My regular massage clientele is made up of people needing injury and stress therapy. I have been building a professional/working clientele, but it’s taken time.”

“I agree with what nail salon owners are finding,” adds Jaimie’s Sullivan-Brown, owner of Jaimie’s European Day Spa in Londonderry, N.H., a full-service spa with three busy massage therapists. “I find that it takes 5-7 years for a therapist to build a steady clientele. What helps in the salon environment are multi-service packages.”

While admittedly not always a “sells itself” service, massage does hold a lot of potential in the right settings with strong promotions. The way we see it, massage therapy now is about where the nail industry was 15 years ago: A developing, thriving service industry that’s gaining consumer acceptance. Already, stand-along massage storefronts like Chicago’s Minute Massage and the nationwide chain American Backrub have demonstrated that the demand is there, just as the first nails-only salons did so many years ago. The question for you is whether massage rubs right with your salon environment, clientele, and over-all business objectives. If you answer yes to all, it’s worth the energy it will take to add it and build it in your salon.

Is it Good for You?

The most important – and the hardest – question to answer is whether massage is right for your salon. Too often, salon owners decide to add massage because of inquiries from massage therapists about available space or because a few clients express an interest in massage.

In the case of interest from a massage therapist, you have to acknowledge her motivation. The number of massage therapist, you have to acknowledge her motivation. The number of massage therapists has grown much more rapidly than the number of full-time positions available. Additionally, massage therapy is available through a number of service channels: wellness centers, chiropractic offices, beauty salons, day spas, and independent storefronts, to name a few. For the widest exposure to potential clients, massage therapists often divide their time between a number of locations. Several of the salon owners we interviewed got started in massage at the urging of massage therapists.

Your salons’ service expansion, though, should be driven by you and your clients’ needs. Even if you already have an unused room, you have to view that space as a potential revenue generator. Once you’ve committed it to massage, you have eliminated it from generating revenue though potentially more profitable services.

You first step in evaluating massage services would be to evaluate your local demographics. According to AMTA, massage is most popular with college graduates and those with some college education. Additionally, people who earn more than $50,000 a year are the most frequent users of massage services. Logic dictates salons that are most likely to be successful with massage are those in areas with similar demographics.

Vam Der Eems, for example, says she chose to open a nail salon and spa in her area precisely because hers is a rapidly developing middle- to high income area that at the time had no high-end nail salon or spa. “I felt the area needed a nice environment for nails that offered a variety of services,” she explains. “We focused on the middle-income nail angle and then researched what services would complement that.”

Likewise, Johnston cornered her market in that there are no other massage therapists in her small town of 5,500 residents, which she notes is strategically located between two mid-sized cities. Van Derburgh, on the other hand, says there are 27,000 licensed massage therapists in Florida, a state known best for its retirement and seasonal populations. After more than five years spent trying to build a full-time massage clientele, she first got her nail license and then her cosmetology license. She plans to build her clientele in all three segments by cross-marketing. “I think all three fields feed each other,” she says. “I also have an electrologist who works out of my office, and her clients will come and try one of my services.”

It Never Hurts to Ask

In addition to examining your local demographics, salon owners also recommend polling your current clientele for their interest in massage. “Get a feel from clients to make sure it’s something they want,” urges Karen Lampani, co-owner of Patrick’s Salon in Lansing, Mich. “We have 16 hairstylists and 16 nail technicians, and 2,200 women who come through our doors. Massage still goes in spurts for us.”

Be very careful in how you ask clients, though. More than one salon owner has added massage in response to a perceived demand from clients, only to find that their interest level didn’t correlate to booked appointments.

“We did a big customer survey as we were planning our move and asked customers about services they wanted,” said Michelle Yaksich of the award-winning Nail Galleria in the Westin William Penn Hotel in Philadelphia, Pa., in a conversation earlier this year. “A lot of people said they wanted massage, and when we first started providing it, it was huge. We couldn’t believe that all the clients who said they wanted it were really getting it done. Then when we looked back we discovered they were hotel guests – our regular clientele wasn’t booking massage appointments.

“We took a big risk adding it, and if we weren’t in a hotel we would have fallen on our faces,” she continues. “I would follow-up with questions like, “Have you had it done in the past?” “How often?” “Where do you normally get it done?” “How likely, on a scale of 1-10, would you get it done again?” I think the more specific the questions, the better.”

Feeling is Believing

Massage is a difficult service to promote in that you have to feel it to believe it. Unlike a full set of pink and whites of a hand facial with a glycolic treatment, with massage potential clients can’t see the results. Too, the service is done behind closed doors, which makes it even harder to pique clients’ interest.

For just this reason, Sullivan-Brown promotes massage through ongoing demos in the salon. “We always have demos where our spa coordinators, school students, and salon professionals with downtime will offer a complimentary five-minute massage,” she explains. “We Suggest to a client that she try a chair massage; if she doesn’t want that, we’ll walk her over to a private part of the lounge and do a power shiatsu massage on her back. If that feels good, we’ll have her sit down so we can show her how to get the tension out of her neck.”

Often, Sullivan-Brown works with local schools to have students come in and do demonstrations, which frees her staff up while allowing students to get credit for the hours they work. “If clients like the massage service they sample, we book them with a staff member. We offer these complimentary services on our memo board, and we schedule them onto our calendar so people can book their appointments around services they want to sample,” she says.

Sullivan-Brown also advocates that salons incorporate chair massage into their massage offerings, as it is a powerful draw for other massage services. “Clients can book a chair massage for 15 minutes before their service,” she notes. “We have people who don’t have time for a full massage – perhaps they’re on their lunch or don’t want to get undressed because they’ll mess up their hair. We charge $1/minute, and often they’ll book a chair massage a few times and then move on to the full body massage.”

Club Monaco has taken the chair massage on step further, offering clients the opportunity to enjoy a chair massage with a manicure, a service Monaco-Crevar says she plans to promote more heavily to clients in the near future.

Much of the challenge in promoting massage services, though, is overcoming client reticence. “Massage is a service where you really have to gain the customer’s trust first,” Van Der Eems asserts. “People just aren’t going to walk in and take their clothes off. They want to see the room, know that it’s clean, and meet the therapist. They have to build trust.”

In the past, Van Derburgh says she’s videotaped massage sessions (with the client’s permission) and then played the tape in the reception area so that potential clients could see what happens during a massage and become comfortable with it. “Also, get literature on what massage treatments entail and its benefits,” she advises.

To help promote massage to current clients, Van Der Eems says the most effective tool is to have your massage therapist massage your staff. “When a nail technician has just had a massage, it’s all she can talk about with her clients,” she notes.

Too, massage should be an integral aspect of all your salon services. Manicures, fills, and pedicures should all include massage, and all your employees should point out to clients who enjoy it that additional time for massage can be booked with their nail service, and that other massage services can be enjoyed with the massage therapist. Hair services should include scalp treatments, facials, a neck and shoulder massage, and so on. “We promote massage, and that promotes more business,” Sullivan-Brown says.

Finally, money talks. Many salon owners say offering a $5 discount off an hour massage service often draws new clients. Johnston also encourages in her ads for people to ask about Friendly Money. “Once they call, we explain that, if someone refers three friends, they get a service of their choice for free,” she says. “If they refer one client, they get $5 in Friendly Money. That’s worked very well.”

“If you have the space I know the profit and demand is there,” Van Der Eems asserts. “You have to know if your area can support it and it needs planning and a strategy, but it’s a highly profitable service that clients love.”

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