Revised and updated January 5, 2021.
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that the modern world is stressful. To counter that stress, a growing number of people have turned to regular massage therapy in recent years. Others have been going to massage therapists to tackle muscle aches caused by posture, sports injuries, or spending all day at a desk. That means that there are plenty of customers lining up for massage appointments – roughly 48 million Americans had a massage at least once between July 2018 and July 2019. That’s 21% of the population going for a massage.
The health benefits of massage aren’t limited to tackling strained knees and tension headaches. The massage industry has been working hard to spread the good news of the many health benefits people can reap from getting a regular massage. The growing list of issues for which many find relief through massage includes stress-related insomnia, digestive disorders, headaches, sports injuries, soft tissue strains or injuries, anxiety, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, and temporomandibular joint pain.
In many other industries, this would look like professionals creating a need, but for massage, the need already exists, and these businesses are drawing attention to one of the most effective solutions.
The American massage industry saw good growth from 2014 to 2019, increasing an average of 4.7%, faster than the overall consumer goods and services sector. This created an industry worth $15.5 billion, with 367,502 people employed by 245,230 businesses. As the high ratio of businesses to employees shows, this is a highly fragmented industry, dominated by small businesses and lone operators.
While customers receive massages in a variety of venues including hotels and spas, specialist locations are the most popular. According to a survey, 38% of massage consumers went to a massage therapist’s office, and 19% had been to a franchise or chain.
The massage industry is largely driven by discretionary spending. Despite massage’s health benefits, it is seldom covered by health services, and so clients are instead paying for their own treatment, whether for an ailment or simply to relax. This is starting to change, as health providers take a growing interest in alternative and preventative treatments. By making connections in the healthcare sector, and particularly with insurance carriers, massage therapists have an opportunity to tap into a large and underserved market for their services.
The arrival of COVID-19 created a chaotic and uncertain period for massage therapists. The industry was often overlooked or misunderstood by state and local authorities as they hurried to bring in regulations. The close contact involved in massage meant that the spread of infection was highly likely, but healthcare links meant that businesses were allowed to stay open in some areas. Ultimately, safety concerns led to the widespread shutdown of the industry.
By June, most states allowed massage businesses to reopen, with specific guidelines and restrictions to support businesses while combating the spread of the disease. This allowed the industry to start its recovery and gave clients back the healthcare support they needed. Professional bodies have maintained lists of local regulations and restrictions, so that therapists can easily assess the situation where they are based.
In returning safely to work, massage businesses have to incorporate extensive new measures, such as client testing, greater cleaning, use of PPE, strict management of appointments, and better ventilation of massage spaces. Such measures don’t just reduce the spread of COVID, they will also help in attracting customers.
Research within the wellness industry shows that, for 90% of customers, rigorous sanitization processes will be an important factor in deciding where they go for a massage. Providing home services is also likely to provide a boost, as it saves clients from having to enter an environment filled with other people – 52% showed an interest in having massage therapists come to them.
Once COVID has been eradicated, the fortunes of massage services will depend upon how quickly the economy recovers. Because so much massage is paid for out of discretionary spending rather than from healthcare sources, these services are vulnerable to changes in disposable income. A massage isn’t a cheap treat that people can easily justify to themselves for comfort in tough times.
On the other hand, massage can provide a boost to both physical and mental health. This will make it appealing to people as they emerge from the strains of the pandemic and look to rebuild better off the back of vaccination. With many small businesses and sole operators having shut because of the pandemic, there may be an opportunity for franchises to expand into the gap, restoring an industry that benefits the health of millions.
The Top Massage Service Franchises of 2021
1. Massage Envy
Massage Envy offers a basic membership that includes one monthly 1-hour massage or facial, special pricing on other services, discounts for family members, free massages when friends are referred, and automatic carryover of unused sessions (or sharing). Additional services offered include Streto customized stretching sessions and skincare services such as facials, chemical peels, and microderm infusion treatments.
Founded by John Leonesio in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2002 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations steadily expanded from 656 in 2010 to a high of 1,189 in 2017 but has since dropped to the current total of 1,154 (down from the previously reported total of 1,161), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
2. Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa
Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa offers a monthly membership that saves customers more than a third of what non-members would pay for the same services. It includes one hour-long massage per month (or a facial), along with discounts on other services and gift cards. In addition to massages and facials, locations also offer hot towel treatments, hair removal, scalp massages, cold stone face massages, and an array of add-ons such as aromatherapy. The company recently adopted Zenoti Software for its point-of-sale, digital marketing, and analytics needs.
Founded by John Marco in 2004 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has grown rapidly from only 10 in 2008 to the current total of 473 (up from the previously reported total of 434), of which two are company-owned and 31 are located outside the US.
3. Elements Massage
Elements Massage offers customers one main service: Personalized therapeutic massage to address the specific needs of each client. Its Elements Wellness Program is a month-to-month subscription (cancellation requires 30-day notice) with automatic carryover of unused sessions. The chain also now offers its AromaRitual aromatherapy add-on with four different treatments (Sweet Orange, Energize, Refresh, and Calm).
Founded by Michele Merhib in Aurora, Colorado in 2000 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 76 in 2010 to the current total of 247, of which two are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
4. Massage Heights
Massage Heights offers what it calls Lifestyle Programs, which are customized memberships based on the services each customer desires. Any plan includes free aromatherapy, 50% off non-member pricing for other services, automatic rollover of unused sessions, and loyalty program points. The company recently rolled out dynamic cupping therapy in all locations.
Founded by Wayne and Shayne Evans in San Antonio, Texas in 2004 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a high of 152 in 2016 to the current total of 125 (down from the previously reported total of 142), of which four are company-owned and 10 are located outside the US.
MassageLuXe has three different membership levels for customers to enjoy no-contract services such as massages and facials in a relaxing, luxurious setting. One of its unique membership offerings is unlimited 15-minute daily HydroLuXe dry water massage sessions. Unused sessions automatically rollover as long as the membership is active and in good standing.
Founded by Todd Beckman in Fenton, Missouri in 2008 and franchising since then, there are now 68 locations (up from the previously reported total of 64), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
6. The Woodhouse Day Spa
The Woodhouse Day Spa goes the extra mile to pamper its customers with a comfy robe, reflexology sandals, and some time in the Quiet Room for a cup of tea before they experience one or more of its many services. The offerings include massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing, body treatments, sleep treatments, and more. It even spells out 99 Elements of The Woodhouse Experience so customers know they’re getting the same experience at any location.
Founded by Jeni Garrett in Victoria, Texas in 2001 and franchising since 2003, there are now 64 locations (no change from the previously reported total), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
7. LaVida Massage
LaVida Massage offers holistic health and wellness services for the whole family, including massage and skincare solutions such as ultrasonic facials and designer peels, making use of the Dermalogica line of products. Its membership program saves customers 25% on all services and products.
Founded in Brighton, Michigan in 2007 and franchising since then, the number of locations reached a high of 59 in 2015 but has since declined to the last known reported total of 54 in 2018, of which one was company-owned and all were located in the US.
Spavia is dedicated to providing a spa experience using only eco-friendly products that are organic, paraben-free, and all-natural while also conserving energy in its operations. The chain offers a range of services that include massages, body treatments, facials, eyelash extensions, waxing, mineral makeup application and lessons, and sunless tanning. Three different membership levels are available.
Founded by Allison and Marty Langenderfer in Denver, Colorado in 2005 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from three in 2012 to the current total of 48 (up from the previously reported total of 42), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
9. Massage Green Spa
Massage Green Spa offers a variety of massage services, infrared sauna sessions, and facials in environmentally-friendly facilities using eco-friendly products. Monthly memberships can include any or all of its different services, with cost depending on the mix of services each customer desires. Like most massage chains, gift cards are available in various amounts.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations expanded rapidly from six in 2011 to 82 in 2016, but the company website now only lists 47 locations, down from the 54 that were previously listed.
10. Massage Retreat and Spa
Massage Retreat and Spa employs only licensed professional therapists to provide a range of spa services such as massages (with add-ons like cold stone therapy, aromatherapy, foot scrubs, hot towel therapy, and so on), waxing, facials, and eyebrow/eyelash tinting. Customers can sign up for a month-to-month membership program (30-day notice for cancellation) including either a one-hour massage or a custom facial along with discounts on other services.
Founded by Lee Oberg in 2007, there are currently seven locations. One is franchised and the other six are company-owned locations recently acquired by another company Oberg started called Life Time Fitness. All locations are around Minneapolis, Minnesota.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.