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How to Start a Massage Therapy Business | Featuring Mantis Massage

by Pablo Fuentes | Last Updated March 8, 2017
How to Start a Massage Business

There's a growing demand for massage therapy as more and more of the general public have accepted that massages help improve overall health.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the growth rate of massage therapist will be 19% through 2018.

Although a tremendous amount of both classroom and real world training goes into become a licensed massage therapist, there is not a lot of training about how to start your own massage business and how to make it a success. 

Being a great therapist does not necessarily translate directly to being a great business owner.

To help us dissect the ins and outs of starting a massage business, on today's episode of Small Business War Stories we talk with Kyra Gerhard of Mantis Massage.

Listen to the podcast:

Show Notes

A summary of our interview with Kyra Gerhard of Mantis Massage is below.

You can use the links below to jump to your interests.


Where did the name Mantis Massage come from?

Kyra Matos: Yeah. I named it Mantis Massage because massage sort of has the connotation that it's very relaxing and that's all about stress relief. You see praying mantises in yoga and in kung fu, and it’s a very common meditative image. At the same time, a praying mantis will also just grab a butterfly out of the air and eat it in one gulp.

It's very intense.

At Mantis Massage, we're like that. We're not the spa scene. We're not just here to relax you. We're going to kick your butt.

Tell me a little more about the history of the business. You have two locations now, right, here in Austin? One in North Austin and one in South Austin.

Kyra Matos: I never set out to start a business, actually. I was just working in one little room by myself in East Austin. One day, Contigo called me. They are a local restaurant, and I am forever indebted to them.

They asked if they could buy gift certificates to see me for all of their staff. I quit my other job, and Mantis Massage was born.

Did you open one location first and then the second one? How was that progression?

Kyra Matos: The first location was just me. When my son started kindergarten, I couldn't work in the evenings anymore, so I hired one person to take my evening appointments, and it really just grew organically from there. There wasn't really a place in Austin doing the kind of straight deep tissue clinical work that we do.

What's something that most people don't know about the massage business?

Kyra Matos: To be a massage therapist, you go through a lot of training. You do a lot of kinesiology, physiology, biology courses. We really are very highly trained to work the muscles. I think a lot of people think about massage and they think more of the spa side of things, but we work with anatomy.

How long were you thinking about setting out on your own as a business and what are some of the pros and cons of working for another person's massage company versus opening your own?

Kyra Matos: Well, I think working for someone else is nice because you spend a lot of time in the massage room, which is what I really, really enjoy. I think the biggest challenge of working for myself has been how much more time I spend in front of the computer than working on people's bodies, so that's a challenge.

Working for someone else, they're the ones expected to bring in your clients and find work for you. You just have to show up, but I do feel like this is a lot more rewarding and fruitful and we have to get out there in the community and meet people and bring them in to see us. That's a really nice part of owning a business.

You do a great job of getting out to a lot of arts and crafts meetups and a lot of different community events. How do you see that act of engaging with the community and what are some of the things you've learned in that process?

Kyra Matos: Engaging with people in the community is one of our favorite things to do. It's nice to meet so many different people, and it's nice to give them a little bit of a taste of what we do.

When we go out to an event, we bring a massage table and we get people on the table and we give out free massages, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and people get a taste of our work. A lot of those people have either never had a massage before or they've never had a clinical massage before, so it's nice to show them.

Do other therapists in your business also engage in that or is it mostly you out there in these events?

Kyra Matos: We all try to engage. I'll set up an event, and then look for a therapist to work at the event. If it doesn't work out with their schedule, then I'm the one there, but I really like everyone to participate in those events, and people from the community get to meet us all.

What's been one of the biggest challenges of starting the business?

Kyra Matos: When I opened the Mantis on Airport, it was just me in one room and then it was one other therapist in one room, and it grew so slowly and so organically. We kept meeting more people and just fulfilling the needs of the community as they came up.

When we opened South Congress ... We were always full at Airport and we were turning away so many people. I just thought we could collect them all and give them the services they were looking for on South Congress, but there were two barriers.

One is that people do not want to cross the river; we weren't finding that the same clientele would come to South Austin.

Second, we weren't in the community yet. We hadn't gone out to meet the people. We weren't connected with the different athletic clubs and health groups. We really just tried to start what we already had from scratch.

It continues to be a challenge. We really have to get out there and meet people and show them what we're about and let them know that we're here.

Sounds like with this more spread-out geography, it's almost like running two separate businesses as opposed to one. What are there different personalities of the places?

Kyra Matos: Well, it's like when you have a second child and you realize that child is going to be so different from the first. You think, "I've got this. I can do this all again," and that's not the case. Our clientele is different here. People have different schedules here. We are using the same schedule from Airport and I think we have to make that work, but we've also thought about changing it just to fit the culture in South Austin.

What's something that you look at differently today than when you first started the business?

Kyra Matos: I think getting out there. That happened so organically at Airport. It was just that we met people. It wasn't part of the business plan and really ramping up our events and really ramping up, going out to different businesses around town and meeting people. It just seemed like, "Yeah, we'll do that when it makes sense, but that really has to be a very big part of our day-to-day operations."

What's been one of the more rewarding aspects of having a business? What are the things that keep you going on the tough days when things get difficult?

Kyra Matos: I think my staff. My staff are great. We were limited in the number of people that we could have at the Airport location, but we've been able to bring more people on and more personalities. I just work with this amazing group of supportive women, and I love them all. Every time we bring someone new on, it's a new personality and just so much more love.

There may be some of our audience or some of our listeners who are thinking about, "Should I go out on my own?" maybe. There are lots of different types of businesses that are similar. Stylists come to mind. Personal trainers come to mind, where you could either go and do something on your own versus continue to work. Is there a specific type of person that maybe shouldn't go start a company or a certain type of lifestyle that maybe wouldn't fit with that?

Kyra Matos: I don't think so. We're in Austin. I don't know where it would be like in other places, but I think everything comes in all shapes and sizes in Austin. Even if you're not a person who likes to get out there, I think you can work for yourself and just make it whatever you want it to be.

I would say that you need to have patience and grow things slowly. I think it's really important to fulfill a need, and assuming a need is not going to be fruitful.

What do you mean by assuming a need?

Kyra Matos: Well, I thought that the second clinic we would open would be a walk-in clinic. I wanted Mantis Massage to be the place that people know to go when their body hurts. They wake up with a pain in their neck or they have a running injury. Your body hurts and you think of Mantis Massage, "I'm going to go there," and so I thought, "Let's open a walk-in clinic, so that anyone can come in and within an hour, be seen for a massage." I thought this because we were having a hard time fitting those people in at Airport Boulevard because we were always so booked. Our very loyal clients and friends knew they could get that work from us, but couldn't get it in time.

Now that we've opened South Congress and we have lots of availability all the time, so I know that a walk-in clinic is not a business model that's going to work in Austin.

Is it a business model that works elsewhere? Do those exist somewhere?

Kyra Matos: Not in the United States. Where they do exist, it's not really like we want to do it. We want it to be sort of akin to urgent care for your muscles. I thought it was a great idea.

What part of the idea didn't work?

Kyra Matos: Well, I think I was basing that on how busy we were at our Airport Boulevard clinic, but we were just busy there because we had a very solid clientele, and that's not the case at South Congress.

What do you think would need to change? Do you think that there's a possibility for that business model to work at some point?

Kyra Matos: Well, I think that what I found with that is that we're not going to try to do it because people like building a relationship with their therapist. If it were just a walk-in clinic, we wouldn't be able to provide that client-therapist relationship that we're able to provide now. I don't think it would be very sustainable.

You could come in when your neck hurts, but even if you leave with your body feeling better, it's not the whole experience that we want to provide.

We want our customers to leave with a treatment plan, and they know when they're coming back and they know who their therapist is, and their therapist is going to do this specific work. That's what people are looking for, and that's what we're good at providing.

What are the other things that you're experimenting with in your business?

Kyra Matos: We give a lot of homework. We tell people very often to get a specific foam roller to roll out their IT bands. We love Thera Canes. They're great for congestion in the shoulders. We send people away to Academy or Dick's to buy those things, so we're thinking about maybe offering those things here.

But I've always disliked doing retail and the pressure it puts on the therapist to sell, the client to buy. We're experimenting with how to give people what they need in a genuine and in an organic way.

What are some of the oddest or wackiest thing that you see in your business?

Kyra Matos: It's a massage industry, so it has a history. What's really funny is how many calls we get around Christmas. You get people calling and feeling out what it is that we provide. We have a script for when people ask, "Hi, do you provide full body massage?"

We say that, "We're a clinical deep tissue practice, and so we deal with a lot of pain and injuries. What is it that you're looking to get worked on today?"

They'll either hang up or tell you what's hurting them.

We know what they're after, and we have a script for what we're going to tell them, but it's funny how many women call for their husbands around Christmas looking for that service. That is just the wackiest thing that I haven't been able to figure out.

When men call looking for it, they're going to use these code words, "Do you have anything special?" Things like that, but women are much more forward, like, "I'm looking for this for my husband. I just had a baby. I just really want him to get what he needs. Is that something you guys do?" They're very open like that. 

How do you want your brand to grow in the next 10 years? What do you want people to think when they think of Mantis Massage?

Kyra Matos: One thing I really want the public to know is that massage is not just for stress relief and it's not just hot stone scrubs and what you think of a spa massage, even though those things are wonderful and have their own purpose. I want people to know that we fix muscles and we're very highly trained to do so. I want people to think of us when their body hurts. I want to be the place that people think of.

Let's talk a little bit about Austin. Where you see the city going?

Kyra Matos: Well, I think there is a difference between where Austin was going before the election and where it is going now. I think we have so many questions about where the world is going. I think there's a large group of people who live in Austin who are feeling threatened right now, which isn't good for sustainability. It's not good for the economy. It's not good for anyone's understanding of their own stability. I don't know where that's going to go. I have a lot of questions about that.

How do you think Austin can grow while also keeping the soulful art part of it?

Kyra Matos: Yeah. Well, I would love to see a little bit more protection for the old homes and the older architecture in Austin. I think we're a little bit too quick to knock things down and pave the way for something else. That we haven't really defined. There are all of these condos being built, and I wonder if they're just blueprints that are being used somewhere else, if you don't have any Austin flavor at all. We need to be able to grow our population, while still allowing our culture to grow with it.

Is there anything else that you want our audience to know about you or your business or anything that you're involved in?

Kyra Matos: We're going to be doing a lot of the Austin Flea. It's a really cool local flea market that highlights a lot of the Austin businesses and makers. Their website is AustinFlea.net. We're going to be at a lot of their events, along with a lot of other really awesome local businesses. Our website is www.MantisMassage.com, and all of our handles are @MantisMassage. We're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Plus.

Final Thoughts

Starting a massage business takes a fundamental shift from considering yourself as an employee to becoming an employer. You will now be responsible for much more than just massage therapy and the care of your clients.

Being an entrepreneur has many rewards, but there is also a lot of sacrifice.

Kyra had to accept that she must spend a lot of her day in front of a computer and not actually doing the things she loves, like helping clients. However, running her own business gives her the freedom to make it anything she wants.

Further, she believes anyone with patience that is filling a need should be able to start their own business even outside of massage therapy. But, it's important to grow things slowly.

If you have any question or comments about starting a massage business, please leave a comment below.

Topics: small business war stories, podcast

Pablo Fuentes

Written by Pablo Fuentes

Pablo Fuentes is the CEO of Proven. He is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and UCLA. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a blues guitar player and builder.

 

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