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The rub

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:00 a.m. April 24, 2015
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Admitted massage junkie Shane Evans co-founded a massage business off the remnants of a bad customer experience she had while in an Arizona resort.

That firm, San Antonio, Texas-based Massage Heights, is now one of the fastest-growing massage chains in the country, with about 120 locations nationwide. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Massage Envy is the industry leader, with more than 1,200 locations.

Florida is key to the growth plans at Massage Heights, executives say, mostly because of the diverse demographics and the amount of people who care about holistic living.

The company, which opened its first store nationally in 2005, recently awarded franchise agreements to entrepreneurs in Naples and Fort Meyers, in addition to Fort Lauderdale.
The firm also seeks candidates to open stores in Tampa and Sarasota, among other Florida markets. Massage Heights currently has six Florida locations, including Brandon, east Manatee County and Sarasota.

“We are in a space that's not diluted by a lot of competition,” says Evans. “There's not one on every corner. There's only one big player and few of us behind vying for that next position.”

Evans spent time with prospective franchisees at an event in March at the east Manatee County location. She sat down with the Business Observer to talk about leadership and the company.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

What were some early challenges you faced with Massage Heights?
As we started to grow a little bit there was the negative connotation of a massage. Back then people didn't really see it as a therapeutic necessity. They either saw it as a luxury or they didn't think it was legit. That's kind of how it was for many, many years. Working with the landlords to allow us into some of those first locations was a struggle. We showed them our existing locations to show it was a professional establishment. We would get the Texas Department of Health regulations and show them it was a regulated industry. It was tough in the beginning.

What mistakes have you learned from the most while growing the company?
The biggest thing would be the way we brought franchisees into our system. I always tell emerging franchisors that the biggest (mistake) was not really knowing who would be a good fit for your brand. Somebody could be a great business owner for one concept but not for another. It's not always experience, it's often just about culture. That was not something we realized until probably four or five years ago.

What have you learned about marketing in a competitive industry like health and wellness?
We've used everything from direct mail to magazines to Facebook and LinkedIn ads to pay-per-click campaigns. We do all of it; the combination of things is really important.
But we've also learned to focus on our database of members and reward them for being a member. Just because you get them in the door and they've become a member doesn't mean you stop marketing to them. A lot of marketing really just means taking care of them, and thanking them for being a member.

What companies do you want Massage Heights to emulate?
We want to be the Starbucks of our field. That's what I aspire us to be from a customer service experience, that consistency and execution. You know what to expect, doesn't matter where you go.

How have you imported that mindset to Massage Heights?
One of the early things was we brought on a trainer who came from the Nordstrom corporate office. That's how we framed our customer service expectations. With Nordstrom, they always make it right. That retail bag, they don't hand it to you over the counter, they walk around and hand it to you. These are the little things we've adapted early in our business. I always knew anytime I walked into Nordstrom's I felt really special. And I wanted our guests to feel that.

What are the characteristics of a great leader in the franchise industry?
Someone who listens to others. Franchisees have valuable knowledge because they are in the field. I believe the people who are most successful in life listen, ask questions, learn about other people, and ask more questions.


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