Should you use a Massage Spa Chain or a Deep Discount Site for Massage?

The dawning of the age of “Wellness” in our collective conscious, paired with the sluggish economy has resulted in the proliferation of the “daily deal” for massage and spa services in deep discount sites, while at the same time, the proliferation of massage spa franchises have exploded over the last 5 years that sell massage and spa services for a fraction of their original value.

So should the public continue to use these discounted options with a clear conscience, knowing they are getting a good deal, while ethically supporting a business? And should a massage therapy business invest time, effort and money into marketing to deep discount sites? Surprisingly, arguments for and against both of these new discount sources come from the same camps, and for some of the same reasons.

Let’s start with the Massage Franchise Model:
The arguments for the franchise model come from those who say that massage is an under-represented health care option–one that has been largely ignored and minimized by the health care system in America, so that any business model that can promote massage to the mainstream is a good thing, despite other drawbacks. The second argument for a franchise model, is that it keeps costs low for consumers, allowing younger people and people with limited incomes to start making massage a regular part of their wellness routines, which is good for the massage industry in the long run.

The arguments against using a franchise chain come mostly from those who believe (or have personally experienced either as consumers or employees) that the franchise model can in many cases overwork and drastically under pay it’s therapists–sometimes with the resulting massage work being provided to the public by inexperienced or below-average therapists. This can set low expectations of massage at a time when Complementary Alternative Medicine is struggling to prove itself within the larger medical community. The other argument is that the low pricing structures of these chains drags the whole valuation of the price of massage down, which is bad for small businesses trying to compete with a larger chain who can afford the loss due to high volume.

And then there is the deep discount site:
The arguments for
using a deep discount site could be pretty obvious. For the consumer the lure is a cheaper price than you will find at most spas and private practices–usually by half or more. Most of the deep discount sites offer more than one deal at more than one location for a massage or spa treatment in a general location, so a consumer could presumably book these deals over a period of months or years with different businesses and never pay full price. The businesses who offer these deals are often small operations that are trying to gain clients, so barring bad planning, you can often expect good service and value far above the discounted price. The consumer gets introduced to a new service and business at a great low price, and the massage therapy business gets exposed to a new potential client base.

The arguments against come mostly from massage therapy businesses and customers who have tried the deep discount site route and come out burned on the other end. Stories from massage businesses tell of bad behavior from clients, missed appointments, expectations of continued discounts, and a feeling of exhaustion and “drinking from the firehose”, with little income or return clients to show for the experience. Reports from clients can range from delight to dissapointment when redeeming a discount coupon–simply because the businesses who decide to use the service underestimate their ability to fulfill the requirements, and the sheer volume of appointments it generates exhausted their resources and planning. This dissapointment can in turn reflect badly on the businesses in the form of negative reviews, and hassles with refunds or credits. What started out as a hope for future revenue for a business can end up in decreased revenue for time spent, and a decreased expectation of what massage should deliver on the part of the consumer.

So what’s the answer?
For both the cost-conscious consumer and the massage therapy business owner the answer may just lie in the willingness of both to walk in each others steps, and to be willing to acknowledge that there is some merit to both sides of the argument.

For the the massage industry as a whole and especially the smaller massage therapy business, there is no doubt that the proliferation of deep discount sites and massage franchise chains have taken their toll on profits and expectations. And although these options continue to change consumer perceptions of what is “fair” to pay for massage, one thing is clear: in order to stay competitive and to attract a mainstream audience as a whole, you must be willing to look at your current pricing structure and reevaluate. There of course are some massage practices who market to a specific niche and have no need to expand their client base to the newly initiated wellness client, but for the majority of wellness businesses, a new way of thinking may be in order. Offering monthly special deals, a new client discount, providing a senior discount, offering massage package discounts, or organizing joint discounts with other wellness businesses can go a long way in leveling the playing field in the consumers minds. And once you can show the cost-conscious consumer that a small, local massage practice can not only compete with the franchise chain and deep discount site in price, but can exceed their expectations with individual quality and service, you will earn a returning long term client.

For the consumer, it is important to remember that although you may be getting a killer deal at the beginning, it may be a deal killer in the end. When it comes to deep discount sites or badly run franchises, you may be paying for an underwhelming massage from an exhausted massage therapist, or you may experience booking difficulties and feel like “one of the herd” and miss that individual service that we all love in a massage. Look for a small local massage business that will keep your money invested in your neighborhood and that really deliver value. Those that offer first time client discounts (most offer a very generous discount), massage discount packages, and monthly specials can be a great way to get a great deal without sacrificing quality or customer service, and you can feel good knowing that you are supporting a small business who really appreciates your patronage!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!