This annual list of the best massage service franchises was revised and updated on January 18, 2023.
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 Americans are turning to massage therapy. 21% of women and 25% of men got a massage in 2021. With the industry serving an ever larger client base, could this be the opportunity you’re looking for?
Massage for Health and Relaxation
While many people go for a massage to relax, others go for health reasons. This could be to tackle muscle aches caused by posture, to recuperate from sports injuries, or to make up for spending all day at a desk.
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As more is learned about massage, professionals are finding more ailments it can help with. The growing list includes stress-related insomnia, digestive disorders, headaches, soft tissue strains, anxiety, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, and temporomandibular joint pain. In many other industries, this would look like professionals creating a need their services can fill, but for massage, the need already exists, and these businesses are drawing attention to one of the most effective solutions.
The Economic State of the Massage Industry
The recent economic history of the massage industry makes for gloomy reading, but the longer term view is more positive.
The impact of the Covid pandemic in 2020 was devastating for the massage industry. Revenues fell from $21.5 to $16.5 billion in a single year, and while they’ve recovered a little, they’re still only at $17.7 billion, well below pre-pandemic levels. Over the past five years, the industry has declined by an average of 2.1% per year, and projected growth for 2023 is only 0.7%.
On top of these recent difficulties, the industry faces the grim prospect of an economic downturn over the next year. While many people seek massage for the sake of their health, there are very few for whom it’s a necessity. A downturn is likely to increase unemployment and deflate wages, reducing the disposable income that people use to pay masseurs. The next year is unlikely to see big gains for the industry, and could even mark another, smaller decline.
That said, this is still a substantial industry, employing 369,000 people in 243,000 businesses, and with revenues close to $18 billion. Revenues might have been flat since 2021, but they’re still higher than they were in 2016 and earlier. The industry’s impressive growth up to 2019 proves that there is demand for much more massage. The question is, when will people have the money to pay for it?
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A massage isn’t a cheap treat that people can easily justify to themselves for comfort in tough times, so they either need the spare cash or another way to pay for the treatment. Despite massage’s health benefits, it isn’t always covered by health services, and so clients have often paid for their own treatment, whether for an ailment or simply to relax. But this is starting to change, as health providers take a growing interest in alternative and preventative treatments.
Over 70% of clients get a massage for health or wellness reasons, and 63% of these get it as part of a treatment plan from a doctor or medical provider. 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. This might be a profitable avenue for massage franchisees looking at how to survive the downturn.
The Shape of the Massage Industry
As the high ratio of businesses to employees shows, this is a highly fragmented industry, dominated by small businesses and lone operators. Larger, high-profile brands are starting to emerge, partly by filling the space made as independent businesses closed due to Covid. There’s an opportunity for strong franchises to quickly gain position in a competitive landscape, particularly once the economy starts to recover, and by beginning work on a massage outlet now, you might be in a position to benefit from that recovery.
While customers receive massages in a variety of venues including hotels and spas, specialist locations are the most popular. 34% of massage consumers go to a massage therapist’s office, 16% to a physiotherapist’s office, and 16% to a chiropractor’s office. Despite the convenience of home services, many customers prefer the reassurance a specialist setting provides. 24% of massage customers went to a franchise or chain in 2021, compared with 19% in some recent findings, showing the growing strength of brands and franchises. People know where they stand with a big brand, and in uncertain times, that can be a big benefit.
Knowing Your Massage Market
Understanding the market is vital for any business, and for massage services, this can offer some surprises. Statistics show that men are now more likely to get a massage than women, and that consumers with children are more likely to get a massage than those without. Less surprisingly, income plays a huge part. Consumers whose household income is over $100,000 are nearly twice as likely to get a massage as those earning under $50,000. Entrepreneurs looking to set up a massage franchise should be looking first at areas where the customer base includes plenty of well-off families.
Demographics can also make a difference to where customers go for their massage. Women are twice as likely as men to get their massage at a spa, perhaps reflecting attitudes toward what’s acceptable for men and women to do. A spa marks out a massage as a piece of luxurious pampering; a sports masseuse makes it seem more functional, a health treatment for someone who has strained themselves through excess exercise. These different perspectives can help shape the marketing of an outlet.
While the internet and social media play a huge part in promoting massage businesses, word of mouth makes the biggest difference. 85% of clients have found massage therapists through client-to-client referrals. Only 37% of massage therapists actively pursue this form of marketing, leaving a significant opportunity for franchises to grow their customer base through promotions that encourage personal recommendations. Discounts and rewards for making recommendations can help bring customers in and add to the loyalty of those you already have.
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. Growth in the working age population, who make up most of the industry’s clients, will also create opportunities for franchises to grow.
The massage industry isn’t one of the most economically dynamic sectors, but it’s one that many people rely on for their health and well-being. Past performance shows that there’s space for growth, once we get past current economic difficulties.
Big brands and franchises look set to expand their share of the market. Whether they can consolidate a fractured industry through brand recognition, or if customers continue to prefer small providers and word-of-mouth recommendations, remains to be seen. 77% of massage therapists are still sole practitioners – is that about to change?
The Top Massage Service Franchises of 2023
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 845 in 2012 to a high of 1,189 in 2017 but has since dropped to the current total of 1,103 (down from the previously reported total of 1,112), 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 in recent years from 79 in 2012 to the current total of 525 (up from the previously reported total of 493), of which 12 are company-owned and 33 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 122 in 2012 to the current total of 244 (down from the previously reported total of 249), 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 118 (down from the previously reported total of 125), of which three are company-owned and 10 are located outside the US.
5. 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 76 locations (up from the previously reported total of 73), of which two are company-owned and all are located in 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 71 locations (up from the previously reported total of 67), of which none are company-owned and all are 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 52 (no change from the previously reported total), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
8. 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 current total of 50 (up from the previously reported total of 49), of which three 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 41 locations, down from the 45 that were previously listed.
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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.