The planned move to a downtown location will facilitate access by clients recovering from injuries. We have identified this as a lucrative target market because they usually are funded by insurance claims, and represent repeat visits for a duration of up to one year. Because this group very often needs multiple, short sessions for a series of weeks or months, a downtown location would make us convenient for mid-day appointments.
It is also quite probable that other clients who work during the day would be more likely to book a day-time massage when we are more conveniently located to their place of work. Since the number of day time slots far exceeds the number of evening slots, this is increased business we would be able to book in addition to our current clients.
Clients who come for massage fall into four basic groups:
As individual as our clients are, they seem to fall into one of five general categories: Injury Recovery, Self-Pampering/Relaxation, Alternative Care Users, Athletes, and the inevitable Other. Besides the obvious differences in the style of massage each of these prefer, they also represent separate groups for marketing and retention purposes.
The Injury recovery group is usually referred by a Chiropractor, self-referred through our listing on the American Specialty Health Network site, or referred by another client who found massage helpful during an injury recovery. So the marketing to this audience is done indirectly, through the referring parties. While car insurance will typically pay for massage for only a limited time period (less than one year), many health insurance policies now have Alternative Care coverage with a renewable annual maximum. And Cafeteria Plans will reimburse for "medically necessary" massage - which is a bit ironic since few, if any, medical doctors will proactively recommend massage, but most will be willing to sign off on a recommendation, if specifically asked by their patients. The rapid turnover of this group is offset by the fact that they will pay top dollar per session. The key is to keep getting new referrals.
Clients who have the disposable income to indulge in massage for self-pampering or relaxation are the core of our long-term repeat customers. These clients will come once a week to once a month for years, and often refer other family and friends. The difficulty working with these clients comes from the 'familiarity breeds contempt" factor - they can believe they deserve lower rates, cancellations of short or no notice, and can come to seem as friends, rather than clients. The challenge here is maintain a professional relationship, while encouraging the warmth and personal connection that is as much a part of their experience as the actual massage. This type of client can be difficult to find - an ad in the local alternative news weekly (especially with a coupon for $5 off ) or a donation to a charity auction may result in a one-time visit, or a long-term client. Another source of usually one-time visitors is the Gift Certificate - friends pampering friends for a birthday or other special occasion.
The third group are Alternative Care users. These are people who mistrust allopathic medicine, and prefer to use chiropractors, naturopaths, herbalists, acupuncturists. A local networking group of alternative care providers is a great way to get referrals, as well as placing posters on other practitioners offices, and ads in the local alternative newspaper. The problem with this group is that they can tend to have relatively small disposable incomes, so that a massage once every two months may be all they can afford. A relatively large pool of these clients will book only 20% of the available appointments in any given month.
The final group is another backbone of this business - the amateur athletes. There is a large population of runners and bicyclists in the local areas, as well as out-of-town participants who return for annual events, and book massages during those times. This business tends to be slightly seasonal - as most amateur athletes will only train, or gear-up their training during the Spring and Summer months. However, they are a very loyal group, and will readily give word-of-mouth recommendations, especially if they see massage as having given them a specific boost to their performance. This group will cross over from the Injury group, and become long-term clients after the specific initial injury has healed. They also tend to have chronic injuries or pain, especially as they age, which can help them become repeat clients.
The massage industry consists of several dozens of individual therapists working out of home or private offices, in addition to LMTs working in chiropractors' offices, gyms, beauty salons, and other venues.
Additional massage services are offered by graduates of specialty schools; Rolfers, Breath Managers, Hakomi Therapists, as well as Physical Therapists.
Fortunately, massage is a very personal service, and different clients are attracted to different techniques and personalities. Healing Touch Massage offers the unique services of Lavinia Watkins, LMT, which cannot be duplicated by any other practitioner.
This business is becoming increasingly easy to "break into," since obtaining the training necessary for licensing is not all that arduous, nor difficult to maintain. But while getting the credentials and equipment necessary to start a new massage business is easy, establishing a clientele is not, so our established practice of over 20 years duration helps us compete with the ever-available flow of LMTs graduating from local schools.
While there is a range of prices charged for massage service in the area, there is some price sensitivity among the long-term clientele. Since the variable cost of each massage is nominal, the best bet has seemed to be to charge less than the market will bear. The one exception is when billing insurance companies, where there is no penalty for charging the full Reasonable and Customary Rates for the area.
Clients rarely compare massage therapists directly, although they may try a second LMT if they are not entirely happy with their first experience. Usually they follow word-of-mouth recommendations, and return for repeat sessions as often as their budget allows.