Carrying the Massage

Massage Envy created the industry of accessible, large-scale massage. Now they’re making waves by redefining its place in a regular wellness routine

Every franchiser wants to be a bright red sailboat floating above the sea of sameness, but it’s rare to find one that rises to the surface and successfully goes against the flow. So when a company does break through with a truly innovative idea or honest-to-goodness emerging market, it’s impossible to ignore.

Such was the case for the massage therapist and his friend in the health-club industry who recognized that massage was an important component of a complete wellness routine. Inspiration struck and they combined the concept of club membership with regular massage, developed a business model based on convenience and affordability, and eventually founded Massage Envy in 2002.

Two years later, the company began franchising, always with the goal of making massage as convenient and accessible as possible. All locations had highly visible real estate and easy parking, and the company quickly penetrated the market with more than 1,000 profitable units within the first ten years of operation. Today, Massage Envy partners with hundreds of franchisees who operate nearly 1,200 units in forty-nine states, employ more than 25,000 staff, and complete more than 50,000 services every day.

“We help you take care of you so you can take better care of loved ones.”

Not long ago, massage was largely considered an indulgent experience that only the wealthy could afford on a regular basis. Then Massage Envy made it available to the masses. “When I came on board in 2013, everybody in the franchising industry knew the name ‘Massage Envy,’” says Melanie Hansen, general counsel. “They were trailblazers and created an industry of professional, convenient, and affordable massage.” As with all good ideas, however bright red sailboats are never alone for long.

Other companies started imitating the business concept and the industry grew. As it did, Massage Envy began to reinvent itself, further refining its mission and vision, and distinguishing itself from the competition in a way that recently culminated in the launch of a full-blown rebranding initiative.

Massage Envy’s claim to fame started as accessibility and has grown into regularity. The company’s wellness message encourages clients to prioritize “total body care” as an integral part of daily life, and to include massage as part of that care in the same way as they would regular exercise and nutritious eating. “It’s not just about affordable massage,” Hansen says. “It’s about what can happen when you make massage or facials a regular part of your routine.”

Hansen firmly believes in the importance of taking time to refresh, revive, and recover in the midst of busy American society, but she recognizes that finding time for that caliber of care can be difficult. “So we offer world-class total body care that fits your schedule,” she says. Combining high-quality massage with a regular total body care routine is the core of Massage Envy’s new brand. “We help you take care of you so you can take better care of loved ones,” Hansen says.

Much of the imagery included in the rebranding tells a new massage story in a relatable way. The “because everything” marketing campaign outlines myriad “trigger moments” in an average person’s life that call for massage: “because” a couple goes for a hike; “because” a parent carries their child; “because,” as one commercial puts it, “you sleep like a pretzel.” These touching, humorous scenarios are a refreshing deviation from imagery typical of massage ads. They say, “Massage is for everyone,” and create a fresh emotional response.

Inevitably, rebranding is a major project with many moving parts, and technology has been a significant one at Massage Envy. While consumer experience is foundational to the rebrand as a whole, it completely drives the technology initiatives because, “We want to give consumers a seamless experience,” Hansen says. “From the minute they request an appointment on our website until the minute they drive out of the parking lot, our goal is to make the process as pleasant as possible.”
To accomplish this, the IT team is focused on several initiatives including reworking Massage Envy’s website, improving functionality and interplay between the POS system and digital applications, and even introducing a new POS system in 2017.

As general counsel, Hansen’s aim is to understand and stay ahead of all business goals—including technology goals—enough to remove any legal issues that might deter progress. She has found that the best way to become that familiar with so many departments is by working collaboratively throughout the business. “I’m a big proponent of creating a compliant culture—meaning that everyone understands the basic legal rules of the road,” Hansen says. “To do that requires me and my team to be very involved in the details of business, because if we don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish, we can’t teach them to be compliant while they accomplish it.” This effort promotes a team-oriented atmosphere at Massage Envy and builds trust with staff and franchisees across the country. It also allows the legal department to do what it does best.

“We consider ourselves the problem-solving department,” Hansen says. Because each franchise has its own agreement, and agreements differ from state to state, “Franchising is a legally intensive business, and we want our team to consistently understand and follow the rules.” Fortunately, Hansen and her lean team of two lawyers and two paralegals truly enjoy the unique challenges that each day brings. They work across all departments and are able to bring a big-picture perspective to every seemly small issue. This allows them to ensure company-wide alignment of goals, vision, and progress. “What I love about this job is that in many ways, we’re at the center of all the moving cogs in the wheel,” she says. “We have the opportunity to help pull everyone together and that makes it fun and exciting.”

“It’s not only about affordable massage. It’s about what can happen when you make massage or facials a regular part of your routine.”

Remodeling every Massage Envy store to match the company’s new brand is a significant example of the legal department’s aligning ability. The complexity and size of the undertaking requires collaboration between franchise development, construction, operations, marketing and design, and the franchisees and their employees—and the goal is to complete 700 locations over the next three years. The legal team’s comprehensive communication and understanding of different goals is crucial to seeing where they don’t align. “It gives us an opportunity to bring people together and collaborate,” Hansen says. “We try to behave as the liaisons that help keep projects on track and various departments on the same page.”

Externally, Hansen and her team have a vital role to play as well. Because the nature of massage creates an intimate experience between client and massage therapist, it’s imperative that the employees at Massage Envy franchised locations conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism. Any massage environment that could be perceived as inappropriate poses a threat to the company’s brand, so the legal team is dedicated to ensuring that Massage Envy has the most cutting-edge policies and procedures in the industry. This can be a challenge in itself because the massage industry, until now, has not needed to identify large-scale best practices. But because Massage Envy created the industry of high-volume massage, they also created some of the most stringent internal policies to date, including strict background checks, training, and supervision. “Our goal is to prevent the preventable,” Hansen says. “We insist on excellence and leading the way in terms of massage standards of practice.”

Massage Envy’s new brand is already generating positive buzz, and clients are responding well to the idea that total body care should be an integral part of everyone’s well-being. “All the thought and research that went into our rebrand comes down to the massage therapists and aestheticians employed by our franchisees who serve members and guests,” Hansen says. “They are the heart of our business—the people who make it tick.” By following those guiding lights and aspiring to the total body care vision, Hansen is confident that Massage Envy will grow and move forward—a bright red sailboat making waves for all to see.