A few years ago, I began noticing a disturbing trend; the “$49 Massage”.  To some, it was a wonderful opportunity to make massage more affordable.  However, as a therapist, it seemed more like an effort to “fast-food franchise” my industry.  Since that time, “McMassage” franchises have popped up all over the place and even formerly reputable businesses have tried to jump on the bandwagon.  However, as an industry insider, I have a slightly different perception of the phenomena and have some considerations that most consumers may not be aware of.


            The “$49 Massage” is not for everyone.  They are for the types of consumer who don’t really expect much from a massage; because that is usually what they get.  I can’t count how many people I’ve worked on who have been to those “discount houses” and left disappointed; if not angry.  Of course, that’s not exactly surprising to me.  If you order off the .99 value menu, do you REALLY expect it to taste like Filet Mignon or Porterhouse?  Come on!  You’re lucky if it even tastes like beef!


            The same goes for a $49 Massage; because it’s not REALLY a $49 Massage.  It’s actually a $10-15 (BEFORE Taxes) Massage; because that is what your therapist is usually paid.  Speaking as a Licensed Massage Therapist, I can assure you that you are NOT going to get much from someone who is only being paid $10-15 (BEFORE Taxes) per massage.   You may occasionally get someone good working there who may have been tricked into working there by bogus promises of “benefits or “advancement opportunities”.  Or, possibly a recent massage school graduate who naively believe they are going to “build their client base” there.  Regardless, they won’t be there long.  Especially after they have injured themselves from working on so many people for so little money, or, realize they could be making much more money with their skills.  You think a fast-food restaurant has high turnover?  Check out the staffing at a Massage Discount House!


            There are also some other things that consumers probably don’t understand about those “discount massages”:


            Membership – The $49 rate (sometimes $29 or $39) is usually a teaser to get you in the door with the intent of getting you to purchase a membership.  The memberships are usually different price levels and entitle you to various monthly services each month.  However, these usually involve a contract and are paid via monthly bank or credit card drafts.  Some chains (who shall remain nameless in this blog) have a reputation for charging their customers stiff penalties for breaking their contracts and continue making monthly deductions AFTER the contracts have been cancelled by the consumer. Some of those memberships are harder to get out of than a gym membership!


            Contract – The contract you sign is with the business; NOT your favorite therapist.  This means, when theyFINALLY wise up and leave, you are still under contract to the business and whoever they hire to fulfill their portion of the agreement.  The problem is, that therapist’s replacement may not be nearly as good as the one who you liked when you signed up.  The same goes for any of the other therapists working there.  But then again, remember the old saying:  “When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.  And when you’re charging low rates, it’s important to find people who are willing to work for low wages.  And when low rates are your primary hiring criteria, you get a certain caliber of employee.  Yes. . .there is a reason why that girl at the front desk is such a rude airhead. 


            Therapists - Contrary to popular belief, all MT’s are NOT the same.  Some are poorly educated, sparsely skilled, and don’t really care that their work is horrible.  You have no idea how many people only see massage as a “sideline”; not as a career or an industry to be respected.  As a result, they are not particularly interested in providing quality therapy and only in the industry to finance their dream acting/modeling/dancing/singing/rapping careers.  These MT’s are fine with working for $10-15 (BEFORE Taxes) per massage because they know they have no intention of working too hard or being in the industry long, anyway.  They are going to give a nice, soothing lotion rub; if that much.  This is VERY IMPORTANTbecause massage is NOT the type of service that can be standardized.  In other words, despite how much training a therapist has, the type of work you receive is invariably linked to the therapist.  So if that therapist is not interested in providing good work – either because they don’t feel they are being paid enough, or, they are not honestly interested in being a MT – their displeasure will show in their work.


            Hard Sells and Upgrades - Although they may not work that hard on giving massages, chances are there is one area in which they will work hard; SALES.  The reason why is because most places will FIRE a therapist for not making a certain sales quota.  These sales can take the form of selling customers on service upgrades, products, memberships, etc.  Most of these places generate weekly or monthly reports and frequently meet with therapists to remind them where they are with their sales.  Of course, this is no different from the operations of most Day Spas.  The difference is, because the profit margins are lower – due to a lower service price point – alternative sales are especially important to profitability and sustainability.  So in addition to having to perform massage for virtual minimum wage, MT’s also have the role of being sales representatives.  Sadly, the latter responsibility is considered more important than the former. 


            Any wonder why the therapist turnover rates are usually so high. . .


            If a massage off the .99 Value-Menu is OK with you, a massage discount club may be fine for you.  However, if you are more interested in higher quality therapy without a contract or post-massage hard-sell, you may want to avoid those places at all cost; because you will surely be disappointed.  If you feel you simply cannot afford a private therapist, you may want to read my next blog “5 Ways to Save Money on Massage”.  You’ll be surprised at how many ways there are to get a good quality massage from your own personal, private practice therapist.


            Thank you for your time,


            Raleigh McKeever LMT, MBA, NMT

            Founder and Managing Director           

            RPM Muscular Therapies Clinic LLC