Making Massage Mainstream

As the Covid-19 pandemic is leaving a lot of people with physical stress from the long terms effects of being sick, emotional stress from lack of social contact and generally less energy, massages are more and more in demand and no longer need to be for the wealthy. Massages are known to be proven to help with stress, aid relaxation, raise alertness and assist in recovery from treatment and surgery.  In the past 10 years, membership-based model of massage centres has become extremely popular and we have seen more than 2.000 openings, it is a very strong growing business model. 

I had a chance to speak with Elliot Walker, the co-founder of The Massage Company about his journey to entrepreneurship and about the development of his franchise business.

What is The Massage Company (TMC)?

TMC combines the best of care and gym franchises.  Our goal is to make it easier for people to benefit from massage and to make it a routine in fantastic facilities that are located in highly convenient locations.  We want each centre to have an impact on thousands of people’s well-being and to make massage mainstream.  There is more demand than we can keep up with as our service is new to markets across Europe.

When was TMC created?

In 2014 after my business was bought over by Unilever.  During that time, I was going to the US all the time and was always looking for a place where I could get a good massage and I literally was able to find it everywhere.  I loved the experience and wanted to bring the concept where a customer could get a great massage under a branded environment over to the UK.   

What was your aha moment that made you decide it was time to venture into your own business?

I had previously owned a joint venture for Ireland & UK for Murad, a revolutionary skin care brand.  With my first business, I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and be responsible for the success and growth of a business. Building it from the start is exciting and it’s not easy but reaching your goals and moving through the growth stages and achieving success is very rewarding.  After selling my first business, I was naturally ready to continue my entrepreneurship journey.

How did you meet your business partner Charlie Thompson?

Charlie was running Virgin Active Spas and we were a supplier to his business with Murad.  We both wanted to launch a membership-based massage business as we saw a need for it.  We had worked together for years and were a natural fit to grow this new brand together.

When did you think it was time to franchise your business?

The franchise business model was in mind from the start even before opening our first corporate centre.  We wanted suppliers to be able to grow with us.  The business operation had to be simple and be replicable, so it was set-up as a franchise from the first unit. We had observed the rapid expansion of gyms & care facilities so thought this was the right business model.  

Why did you decide to franchise vs. opening more corporate locations?

Quicker roll out, the recruitment of high-quality franchisees with business experience and wanting to go through the entrepreneurial journey with other people.  

How did you come up with the name for your company?

After many attempts by Charlie and myself this was the work of a London based branding agency who came up with name that described what we do, was easy to remember and had a distinctive and memorable brand look.    

How did you raise funding for your venture?

TMC is self-funded by both Charlie & myself.  We want to keep it this way as long as possible.

How did you build a successful customer base?

We always knew that we needed repeat customer that came back.  We build trust with our customers through:
1. Great quality massage with accredited massage therapist that we train in the TMC Academy
2. Creating a great experience when customers come in the building (cleanliness, temperature, colours, surroundings and our welcome) 
3. Facility is easily accessible 
4. Customer is paying a price that means they can return every month

How have you included sustainability in your company?

We practice what we preach. When we first opened, we had key members of the team who were so passionate and knowledgeable about sustainability that it made it easy for us to ensure we chose suppliers who also believe in sustainability. Everything we use in our facilities from till rolls, massage oils, our towels, to washing liquid in staff room is sustainable, recyclable & as environmentally friendly as we can be.   

How do you market your business, and which tactics have been most successful? 

We use many different marketing channels to ensure we reach the right target market including:
– Social media advertising and building a community of customers
– Digital advertising & traditional media
– Local grassroots marketing that allows us to talk face to face with customers and also attracts those who just don’t use computers especially our older customers
– First visit is paid at a discounted price so the customer can experience our incredible massages
– The most successful campaigns for us are through grassroot marketing and word of mouth

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur? 

The stages of business growth that you go through lets you know you are going in the right growth pattern.  These are what people are strong at.  How to invest your money, getting customers in, growth stage procedures and processes.  You know you are getting the full potential out of your business when you start making money.  The goal is to be able to grow your business right through the different stages with the least number of roadblocks.  

What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

  • Conceiving an idea then bringing that vision to light. The end result of seeing customers using, enjoying and benefiting from the services that you envisaged many years before is a very rewarding.  
  • Being a master of your own destiny.  You are responsible for the good and the bad, and there are definitely both.  There are great times which need to be celebrated but there are also often problems when you grow a business. When you can resolve these issues and protect your team and customers, it’s very satisfying. Together you have all overcome these issues and made the business better and stronger in the process. I love franchising because we’ve been through these issues. We’ve spent time and money investing in solutions to these issues so others opening TMC Centres will not have to go through these, open quicker, stronger and ultimately making more profit.  

What has been your most satisfying moments in business?

  1. Being able to make such a difference in our customers’ lives. Speaking to the first customer who said that we’ve “changed their lives for the better” was very moving. I know so many customers now who we have helped either physically and mentally and I am proud of what Charlie and I have created.   
  2. When I handed Charlie the keys to our first finished corporate centre was very memorable as I was there every day until it was finished.
  3. The first day of opening and the first membership sold on the first day was the affirmation that customers recognised what we were bringing and wanted to be a part of it. 
  4. A new franchisee will invest their savings into opening a centre so its fabulous to see their doors opening and then hearing franchisees talking about their business; speaking to their customers and the step change they have gone through when they see for themselves, in their centre the potential for the business. 

What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?

March 2020 – everyone agreed to close their franchise business because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we wanted our staff and customers to be safe and healthy.  An hour later, our government announced that the UK was on lockdown.

What piece of advice would you give to people who want to become entrepreneurs?

Same advise as given by my grandmother “turn wishing into working, then you can achieve everything you want”.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

  1. Resilience
  2. Positivity
  3. Belief

What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?

  1. Lists especially if your mind is very creative.
  2. Organisation
  3. Planning
  4. Create space for thought

What habits helped make you successful?

  1. Structure 
  2. Split the day-to-day business responsibilities between Charlie (operational) & me (sales, finance, franchise development, marketing)
  3. Use the first corporate store (flagship) as a franchise unit. All new ideas, systems and processes are tested here so only the best of the best make it through to the franchise network. 

How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

There is no direct competition in the UK or Europe as we are building this market without taking business away from spas and beauty salons.

What was your biggest mistake?

Not appreciating how hard the property market was in the UK when we started.  It took 18 months to open the first unit. This will be a lot quicker now as worldwide shoppers change what they are looking for on the High Street and experiential businesses I believe will boom.  

What did you learn from failure?

From this, we went to the largest property broker in the UK to speed up the property search and invested money in creating a beautifully branded landlord pack to give our brand credibility and also detailed how much footfall we could create for them.  We will come out of the pandemic with one of the most in demand service and we already have access to better premises at lower rents.  

What business-related book / podcast has inspired you the most?

  1. Playing the Game: The History of Adidas
  2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
  3. Shoemaker: The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand (Reebok)

When I read these books, it made me realise that as entrepreneurs we all go through the same stages. These three did it with shoes. Our industry is Mainsteam Massage but still in the Health & Wellness world. 

If you could rule the world, what are the three things you would change?

  1. We can change people’s mental & physical health.  This will have a dramatic change in people’s lives, PTSD or other physical stress.  We would love to be the company that changed people’s lives for the better so they sleep better, so they have more energy to achieve more, accomplish more and have a better quality of life.
  2. We want to be the company who made franchisees financially successful.  They should know that their investment was safe and that their hard work brought a good return on their investment by doing something they are passionate about.
  3. Create career structure for massage therapists around the world.  Consistent training with financial reward.  Lead the industry in a better position than where it is today and be the driving force in changing this.  

Do you go for your weekly massage?

Yes, in different centres, I really enjoy massage!

What is your favourite massage?

I play rugby so deep tissue massage with an upgrade of the fantastic foot treatment is heaven. 

What types of massages are available?

Deep tissue, sports, Swedish and maternity massages.  On top of regular membership, every customer can choose from a range of upgrades: Hot Stones; Scalp Massage; Aromatherapy or the Fantastic Foot Treatment.  

Pure and Simple.

Are you looking to own a franchise?

Do you want to own your own The Massage Company franchiseeClick here

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