Barney attended Roanoke College and received his BBA degree. He then began his career in high tech sales and worldwide sales management including 17 years with Intel Corporation. He also helped developed Intel’s e-business capabilities. Barney was introduced to the Massage Envy franchise opportunity via a broker in 2003 and then signed on with the Massage Envy franchise  in 2004. He is now the regional developer for the State of Washington and oversees 17 franchisees that own 28 locations. .

Interview:

Jeremy:   I’m interested in your perspective on the franchise model in this industry. But before we get into that, what made you interested in buying a massage franchise? 

Barney:  Well,  franchising was of interest to me because statistically franchises tend to do much better and last longer and they tend to be more successful as opposed to a “do it yourself” start-up type of company. With franchising you have people backing you up, you have proven systems, training, there’s a safety net of support in place, and that along with the brand equity that has been built up really helps franchising  be a much less risky proposition. History has proven this out. The less risk and support appealed to me at that point in my life.

Massage was something that also appealed to me because I’ve always liked getting massages. But then part of it was also realizing that it’s actually a 3,000 year old industry, traced back to China, that had never really been organized. It has also been a highly fragmented , multi-billion dollar industry. Around 7 billion dollars per year in 2004, and it is very rare to find a multi billion dollar industry that is also so fragmented.. At that time, most of the providers were small “Mom and Pop” shops, and that presented a unique opportunity. 

And then also the fact that I saw massage as a for sure growth industry as time goes on. There’s a big baby-boomer demographic out there and I’m one of those people, and we’re getting more aches and pains as we get older. The demand for massage has continued to grow as a result of that. The main stream acceptance of massage therapy continues to grow in the US, and it will never be replaced by technology, nor can it be outsourced to some other country. So all of those foundational things kind of came together and convinced me rapidly that this would be a heck of an opportunity to be involved in. 

Jeremy:  I take it you have been successful with it? 

Barney:  Yeah, it’s been very successful. It was the right concept at the right time. The whole idea of combining a membership dues type of model with massage therapy, and then going nationwide, was revolutionary. And there are three main words that capture what we are trying to do at Massage Envy: professional, convenient, and affordable. We are very convenient; we’re open 7 days a week, roughly 90 hours a week. And we are now in 49 of 50 states and your membership benefits can be utilized at whatever Massage Envy you go to providing a high level of convenience, which was one of the founding characteristics of this company that is really important. 

Jeremy:  Did you start with just one location? 

Barney:  No, the first franchisee I sold licenses to opened the first two locations in the Seattle area within one week of each other. Later in 2004 I opened my own location. And so by the end of 2004 we had opened up three locations in the State of Washington. That was very fast and exceeded our expectations. 

Barney:  And from there it just continued to grow. Once we got the first one open people could see for themselves the beauty of the model and the potential. They could look around, they could get a massage, and that really clicked and resonated with a number of people. So I sold a number of franchises pretty rapidly and we brought them all on and now we’re at 28 open locations. 

Jeremy:  How did you become the regional developer? Was that a title that you had early on or did that just title grow as the locations grew? 

Barney:  Well,  a regional developer can also be called a master franchiser in some examples. I bought the license for the State of Washington making me the regional developer, and that license gave me the opportunity to sell the franchises, bring franchisees in, and then get paid based on royalties, and commissions for selling franchise licenses. I’m not really selling new franchises very much now because we have so many locations open there’s not a lot of room for more growth. So that’s kind of how that came together. 

Jeremy:   Can you talk about the Massage Envy as a brand and why you feel it’s been so successful? 

Barney:  First of all you’re in a growth industry. It’s the rising tide lifts all boats type of thing, and that is huge. The mainstream acceptance of massage therapy just continues to grow, more and more people are seeing it as a viable element of  their wellness routine, and we very much are a value oriented type of play by making massage available to more people by making it more affordable. 

The original founder of the company went around and talked to a lot of people prior to founding the company regarding what they liked and didn’t like about massage therapy. And they all said that … every single person said ……they would get more massage if it was more affordable. So we make it more affordable and in turn the volume then goes up. People who are getting one, two, or maybe three massages a year are now getting a massage a month and sometimes even more than that. 

So we kind of came in and enabled that and we’ve grown the industry a lot as a result. And we’ve hired a lot of therapists, we have over 600 massage therapists working for us in the State of Washington, so we by far, we are the largest provider of massage therapy in the State of Washington and in the entire country and we’ve done over 80 million massages in the history of the company. 

Barney:  So I think it was the right concept at the right time. 

Jeremy:   I noticed from the website that Massage Envy is now branching out into facials, offering facials. 

Barney:  Right.

Jeremy:  And I also know that there are different types of massage services available, so given that ,and given the fact that you are now branching out and offering facials, what do you see as the most popular service that’s being offered right now? 

Barney:   Massage continues to be our most popular thing that we do and the Lion’s share of the services that we provide are massages in various modalities. Swedish massage, deep tissue massage are two of the bigger ones, treatment work. We have people coming into us that have migraine headaches for example and they get a massage every week, and as a result of that they no longer are having migraine headaches. 

Our facial business though is about the fact that we are actually a wellness oriented company. We have a total wellness type of package that we provide to our customers, and that’s where the facials come in. We focus on the elements of facials that are really more about skin care and we don’t currently provide beauty related services. It’s not a cosmetic type of thing, it’s more about wellness. And we have an exclusive arrangement with Murad to use their products, which are very fine products, that we sell and utilize when treating our customers. So that’s why we have also expanded into the facial and skin care industry.

Jeremy:  What do you think really makes Massage Envy stand out from the competition? 

Barney:  Well, we are the first ones to do this kind of model, the dues based model nationwide around this professional, convenient, and affordable type of mission statement words if you will. So we really had first mover advantage and continue to have that. Now, we do have some copycat/imitator type of competitors that have come on that have copied the same thing that we’re doing. But if you add all of them up together, their locations that they have opened don’t even equal 20% of the amount of locations that we have opened. We have opened over 1200 locations. So we definitely have taken advantage of first mover advantage type of idea. That has made a big difference for us. That and the quality of our massage therapists and estheticians.

Jeremy:  What is your biggest challenge  now? 

Barney:  Well, the biggest challenge is maintaining and managing the growth that we have. And from that standpoint unless we have enough massage therapists we can’t continue to grow. So we are spending a lot of time working with massage therapy schools and people in the industry cultivating relationships. We’re offering scholarships to students at the schools to help promote not only our name but also help them. So that’s been one of our bigger challenges lately with all of the tremendous growth-  continuing to find qualified, really capable massage therapists.  

Jeremy:  How often do you communicate with your clients?  What type of communication systems do you have in place… email, Facebook, social media channels, Instagram, text messaging, etc? 

Barney:  Yes, we do all of that with our customers. We do email, we have Facebook fan pages both on a national level and at the location level. We have a Twitter account, we send out tweets on a regional basis, we have a blog that we do, we also have a Facebook fan page that we started that is really not necessarily Massage Envy, it’s more for the entire massage therapy community. It’s called Massage Therapy Careers in Washington and we’ve received about 3500 likes in a very short period of time. 

So we reach out in a lot of different ways, and we have a full time local marketing agency that work for us. We’re always looking for ideas, things we can do. We have done broadcast radio in the past. We continue to do Pandora Radio, we find that to be pretty effective because it’s a little more targeted than just basic broadcast radio. We have done some TV advertising in the past. We’re not really doing it now. And we’ve kind of headed more towards digital social media types of options. 

Jeremy:   You mentioned the type of problems that clients will often have before they come in whether it’s pain or stress, and  some of the treatments that you offer to help. Is there any service now that you’re offering you wish more clients knew more about or took better advantage of? 

Barney:  Well, I think our facials and skin care are things that we’re looking to continue to grow and get the word out. That’s a newer thing that we’ve done in the last four or five years. So there’s still some room for growth there. And of course what sometimes happens is we have customers that will get a massage and a facial during the same visit, which actually works out well for them and they end up feeling quite relaxed and content. So that’s kind of a growth area for us. 

And beyond that, massage therapy is just a growth industry, as I said before.  It’s really quite interesting and amazing how much it has grown. It is now at least a 10 billion dollar industry. And again I go back to the fact that there’s a large demographic of people that are getting older and therefore more inclined to try something like massage therapy as mainstream acceptance grows. 

In some ways i believe the United States in the past kind of lagged the rest of the world, particularly Europe and Asia, in understanding the benefits of massage therapy. But I really believe that United States has mostly caught up. I honestly believe that we were one of the people that helped make that happen. 

Part of the reason why the United States kind of lagged in understanding the benefits of massage therapy, I believe, was there was nobody really at a national level to plant the flag, if you will, for massage therapy and really educate public. And that’s something that we’re doing. You’ll now see Massage Envy commercials on nationwide TV for example. That’s actually been going on for some time. 

So it still continues to grow as an industry. It’s a lot of fun to be in. It’s the kind of business where customers come in, happy to be there because they’re getting a massage or facial, and end up leaving even happier with the treatment they received. 

Jeremy:  Absolutely. What percentage of them that are walk-ins end up signing for a monthly service agreement? 

Barney:  Around 30% of our customers that are not currently members end up signing up for our Wellness Program, approximately. And then sometimes people will sign up and then decide they don’t want to continue, but then they’ll come back and re-sign up. 

Jeremy:  They miss it, of course. 

Barney:  Yeah. We typically have 25 or 30 massage therapists and estheticians at every location. And so we almost always guarantee that we can find one, two, or three of them that will probably be a good fit for your situation and that you will appreciate and like. And once that bond is in place between yourself and at least one  massage therapist or esthetician, the massage therapist and/or esthetician really gets to know your situation, knows what to work on, and what works best for you. It really kind of helps cement that whole relationship and tends to make it a very long relationships. We have many customers who have been with us for 10 years or longer. 

Jeremy:  Great to know. 

Barney:  And one of the great things about a dues based model financially, by the way, is that the dues come in each month. Most other businesses are subject to whoever walks in the door that particular day determining whether you’re going to make any money for that day. When you’re in a dues based model like a gym business for example, there are dues coming in everyday whether people come in or not. Now we always really encourage people to come in and utilize their member benefits, including reaching out to them very regularly and inviting them in, but the dues model is beneficial from a financial standpoint. 

Jeremy:  I get it. Okay, we’re about out of time. But before we end I want to give you the opportunity to explain to our readers and listeners anything else that you’d like us to know about Massage Envy. 

Barney:  Just that we are always trying to be the most customer service oriented company that we can be. And that’s really important to us as you can understand being in the business that we’re in.  So if you give us a try, we have an intro massage and/or facial at a reduced rate. Just try it and see if the therapist and/or esthetician works out for you and see if we provide for you the help you’re looking for. 

We will spend time working with you in terms of understanding what you’re trying to accomplish and what your points of pain are, what your needs are, and then we customize for you based on what you need. So when we hit that right, then we usually end up with very, very happy customers and that’s what we like. 

Jeremy:   It’s been wonderful learning more about Massage Envy and your background and your part its  success. Especially in the State of Washington. So thank you very much for your time

Barney:  Thanks, Jeremy. I really appreciate it.