Why are you still at that spa chain?


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This month I decided to tackle a subject I have tackled once before on this blog: the difference between being a client at a spa chain (like Massage Envy or Hand and Stone--just to name a few), or being a client at a smaller locally owned spa that has one or two locations, and is not franchised.

In my last post on the subject, my focus was on the fact that both the spa chain and the deep discount sites that sell massage deals (think Groupon or Living Social) tend to center around cost savings as opposed to the quality of experience that you receive. Everyone loves a good deal, especially during financial hardship, but do the spa chains really deliver the value for cost that they claim?

Big vs. Small–the problem of scale
The internet is bursting with complaints about spa chain customer service, policy and pricing tactics–they even have a whole website devoted to complaints about spa chain heavy Massage Envy.  And just last week, a woman came forward with a tale of sexual misconduct by a Miami Massage Envy employee. The client is suing them for their alleged lack of policy that would prosecute sexual misconduct through proper law enforcement and legal channels.

Problems of the aforementioned can arise in all massage business environments and aren’t limited to spa chains, but the difference between problems at a spa chain vs. problems at the smaller local massage business level seems to be based on scale and policy, which trickle down to customer service issues. In a larger franchised spa chain, your business policies and procedures are dictated by the larger entity which govern all of the spas within that franchise with the same rules. Conversely, in a smaller local spa business, a business owner is not beholding to the rules and policies set by a larger corporate entity and things like employee wages, pricing and promotions, policy and customer service can often reflect a more regional focus and have more freedom to measure the needs of the clients they serve.

Freedom to offer more and better to clients
Smaller, localized spas often offer amenities, pricing, and customer service that beat the spa chains, simply because of the freedom they have to develop a deeper relationship with the clients they serve and respond to customer requests and preferences. For example, booking an appointment with a specific therapist may be feasible at a spa chain, but very often you have to take the therapist that happens to be working at the time. Spa chains traditionally have high employee turnover because of low wages and overwork. The therapist you got this week wont necessarily be the same one you will get next week. Once you do get an appointment, how is the customer service and atmosphere? Many clients report feeling rushed through the experience, lacking atmosphere or personalization. The therapists massage skills and experience may have been less than desired (again, think low wages), with little follow up or charting to help regular clients meet their wellness and pain reduction goals.

Pricing and Promotions–are the chains really the value they say they are?
This is where the spa chains would seem to shine, but let’s take a closer look at the Massage Envy subscription model as an example. Massage Envy sells an introductory 60 minute massage for $49, and then does the hard sell for a membership for the cost of $59 per month. That $59 monthly fee entitles you to one 60 minute massage, and other “amenities” that might include a facial or discounts on additional massage.  $59 per month for a massage seems like a pretty good deal, and it is. But when you compare the pricing and amenities of the spa chain to that which you get at a smaller spa like Catalyst Massage studio and spa in Portland, you will notice that you actually get better amenities, environment, monthly specials, and better pricing on multiple massage packages, without the hard sell and commitment of a subscription.

Let’s look at this info graphic that spells out the differences. So why are you still at that spa chain?