(Ambrosio’s note: One of the joys of being a franchise blogger is discovering unique franchise concepts and business models, and sharing them with you, my readers. Elements Therapeutic Massage is one such discovery. Elements has been franchising since 2006 and now has over 80 locations across the US, but the franchise still has a lot of room for growth, both in the US and internationally.
Massage therapy is a very hot category right now, but what I like most about the business is the potential for recurring income through paid memberships. Clients who choose to become members of Elements’ “wellness program” pay a monthly fee (typically $55-$59 a month, which is less than regular walk-in rates) which entitles them to one 55-minute massage session each month.
I’m thrilled that I was able to interview the very first franchisee of Elements Therapeutic Massage (and one of its most successful), Stephen Stabile of Middleton, MA. There’s no better person to introduce Elements Therapeutic Massage to us. Thanks, Steve!)
1. Can you tell us about your work background prior to becoming a franchisee of Elements Therapeutic Massage?
For 15 years, I was a partner of a company involved with the publishing of Yellow Pages, called LocalTel. We published community telephone books. When I first started the company, we were distributing 20,000 books. By the time I sold my share of the company, we were distributing about two million books. I sold my share of the company in 2005, right before the industry started to change drastically with Google and the value of print ads severely declining.
From there, I jumped headfirst into franchising, and became a franchisee of Fitness Together personal training. My partner and I owned five studios including: Middleton, Medford, Reading, Topsfield, and Melrose. Currently, I own just the Middleton studio.
2. What made you decide to become a franchisee of Elements Therapeutic Massage?
I first heard about Elements Therapeutic Massage from my ownership of Fitness Together. Fitness Together Holdings, Inc. is actually the parent company of Elements, so I was already familiar with some of the management at corporate when I decided to inquire about Elements. I really liked the unique model of Elements. I saw there was a need for massage therapy, and I thought I had a good chance to capitalize on this need.
I came from a background in sales where you’re only as good as your last sale and I liked that Elements offered the membership model, which offers the opportunity for a steady income. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial mindset, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to open up my first Elements studio.
3. What is a typical day like in your life as a franchisee of Elements Therapeutic Massage?
I don’t work the front desk or with the clients too much, so most of my day is spent overseeing the administration, marketing, and accounting departments.
I’m checking in with managers, dealing with advertising and marketing vendors, and basically overseeing the entire operation, making sure all of the departments are working at the highest level. My job is to create new streams of revenue, so I’m working with all the individual departments towards that goal.
4. Can you name 3 specific things that you’ve done for your business that have produced the greatest results?
Any business — franchise or standalone — is only as good as the people running it. I have outstanding staff running my studio. It all starts with building a great team and going above and beyond the traditional job description. For example, our staff that works the front desk have excellent sales skills as well as customer service skills. You have to think out of the box with your staff.
The second component is catering to the needs and desires of our clients. We know especially in this economy that every expendable consumer dollar is so valuable and precious, we really have to earn it. One thing in particular we do is give our clients a survey immediately after their massage so we can address any problems quickly and make sure our client has an even better experience the next time they step into Elements. We make sure to reward our staff for a job well done after as well.
We’ve all heard the expression “location, location, location,” and it really holds true. Not only is it important for a business to be in an affluent, nicer area, but your location on the street is vital too. Our Elements studio happens to be in a very well-lit, highly visible place. We have tens of thousands of cars pass by everyday. It helps!
I’ve been fortunate to have a very unique experience with Elements being that I am the first franchisee of the company, so I’ve been there from the beginning. Getting to see the company grow, especially in the Boston market, is one of the highlights. From the first Elements in Middleton I opened in January 2007, there are now 14 in the market with an expected 15 more in the next year and a half. It’s exciting being a part of the growth.
On a more personal level, some high points for me have been receiving recognition for my studio’s standout work within the company. In 2007, I was named the Franchisee of the Year, and in 2007, 2008 and 2009, Elements of Middleton was named the No. 1 franchise. That recognition really makes you appreciate all the hard work you and your staff put in. We also achieved 23 percent growth in the down economy, which I’m very proud of.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the lowest points, which fortunately I haven’t experienced too many. It was difficult for me at first to abide by all the franchisor’s ways. That’s where the entrepreneur in me sometimes conflicts with being a franchisee. But at the end of the day, you just have to understand that by being part of a franchise you already have the recipe, so why change it? It hasn’t necessarily been a low point, per se, just an adjustment I’ve had to make. But it has definitely paid off.
6. What mistakes have you made as franchise owner that have taught you the biggest lessons?
In addition to what I mentioned about having to conform to the franchisor’s set and proven ways, one of the biggest mistakes I made in the past was keeping people employed for convenience rather than results. It’s hard — you build a relationship with an employee and like them on a personal level so you hate to see them go. But you have to realize sometimes he or she just does not fit in with the growth you want your business to have. Very early on, I made the mistake of keeping some people on staff who were not the best fit for the job, but eventually you realize you have to do what is best for the company’s bottom line.
7. If you were to speak with a prospective franchisee about the profit potential of an Elements Therapeutic Massage franchise, what would you say?
Just because you buy the franchise doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. Elements Therapeutic Massage has a tremendous model. From the team at corporate through the business model, franchisees are provided the tools to help them be successful. Without the hard work though, you can’t be successful. You need to put in the time and energy to drive the business.
My relationship with the home office is outstanding. They’re always there to help with whatever I need. They want each and every studio to be successful. Being there from the ground-up of franchising, I’ve gotten to know the folks from the home office very well, and we’ve learned and grown together. The proprietary systems are top notch, and I trust that their decisions will all serve our best interests as well. It was a brilliant decision to move to therapeutic massage from the traditional Swedish massages. They are forward-thinkers.
9. What do you like most about being a franchisee of Elements Therapeutic Massage?
I love being in a business that helps people. I know that our customers’ lives are better off for using our services. I could sell you a pizza, and yes, it will taste good. But it’s not going to change your life. We have clients who feel better because of the massages we offer them. It’s a good feeling knowing that.
I also like the fact that I don’t have to be so hands-on. This goes back to hiring people you trust and know will do a good job so you don’t have to tinker with every detail of the business. It also helps having an opportunity to take advantage of the residual income. The Elements’ membership model can provide income certainty and regularity. We are consistently growing. The complimentary 80-minute massage each week also isn’t too bad of a perk.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your Elements Therapeutic Massage franchise?
I would just like to add that in business, you have to be a risk-taker. You’re not going to get very far by operating so cut and dry. If you want to get into franchising, do it. Work with people and ideas you trust. Try and be forward-thinking. I bought into massage during one of the country’s worst recessions at a time when massage studios were not all that popular. Sometimes you have to take chances, and with the right attitude and drive, it will pay off.
Check out my Massage Envy franchise review.