I intercepted my husband’s December issue Entrepreneur magazine from the mailbox today on my way to work. To my surprise there was an article (“Here’s the Rub”) on the growth and popularity of massage franchises. It reminded me to post a great article my husband wrote about the impact of franchises on the massage therapy market. Enjoy!
First off, I would like to thank my wife, Ivy, for letting me hijack her blog post this week!
I recently read the Massage & Bodywork article, “Massage Franchises: The Impact on the Profession” (twice, in fact). Even though I felt the article was fairly slanted, I will withhold my feelings about massage franchises for the purposes of this discussion. As a marketer, I just feel there is so much more to say on how franchises will affect the market of massage therapy, and what individual practitioners can do to market themselves in this new environment.
The opinions I am about to lay out are heavily influenced by the works of Al Ries and Jack Trout, titans in the marketing community. In all, I will reference ideas from four books:
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin
To understand how massage franchises will impact our place in the massage market, we must first understand how the market will mature. While massage has been around for thousands of years, the massage industry is still pretty young. The Law of Duality states that “in the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race.” Coke and Pepsi is probably the most prominent example of this. In the massage industry, this will likely mean the franchise players will be sorted down to Massage Envy, and one other company.
However, this obviously does not mean other massage businesses will cease to exist. The market will be made up of a leader, Massage Envy; a primary competitor, we’ll say Elements Therapeutic Massage for this exercise; a solid # 3 company, we’ll say Hand and Stone Massage; and then everybody else. If you’re an independent practitioner, you fall into the “everybody else” category. Based on the concepts in Ries and Trout’s Marketing Warfare, each of these positions should employ a different market strategy.
A market leader should defend their position against their strongest competitor. The # 2 company should employ an offensive strategy, with the goal of taking market share from the leader. The # 3 company will not be able to compete directly with # 1 and # 2, and should therefore develop a flanking strategy; targeting a segment of the market where the leader does not hold a strong position. Everyone else should focus on a niche strategy; filling a hole in the market that is large enough to sustain survival, but small enough to not attract attention from the larger competitors. Since the majority of you will need to implement a niche strategy, we will further explore that area.
So what is a “niche strategy” anyway? A niche strategy sacrifices its appeal to the masses in favor of focusing on a very specific unfulfilled need in the market. In massage, that may mean focusing on a unique modality, or offering mobile massage services. To employ a profitable niche strategy, you will need to differentiate your business from those around you. Obviously, you will not be able to compete on price or availability, as the franchises will have more labor hours at cheaper rates than you can offer. Differentiating yourself on quality becomes the next logical assumption. If your only competitors are massage franchises, this is the obvious strategy, as you will be able to give a higher quality massage and greater individual attention to your clients. But what if you’re surrounded by other practitioners in a competitive market? How do you measure quality, and how do you communicate to potential clients that your hour long massage from an experienced practitioner is better than that of another?
Take an honest assessment of your current business and the unique talents you hold. Take an honest assessment of your market. Is there something unique you provide that is valuable to potential clients? (I repeat, must be valuable to clients!) If so, you’ve found your niche. Market yourself on that unique talent or service, and work to ensure you are the market leader for the niche you’ve chosen.
To prevent myself from writing endlessly, I will end the discussion there. If you are struggling to find your niche or struggling to market yourself, I beg of you to read Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson. It truly should be required reading for any small business owner.
If you can stomach the thought of discussing marketing, I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!
Director of Marketing
Advanced Massage Techniques, Massage Continuing Education