Is Massage Envy Bad for Therapists and Clients?

Is Massage Envy Lowering consumer expectations and labor standards for massage therapists?

Getting a massage at Massage Envy is kind of like buying something cheap at Walmart that was made in China. You basically get what you need at a low price, and for your own peace of mind it’s probably better not to think too much about why it’s so cheap. At Massage Envy you’re likely to get an acceptably good massage at a price so low that it had been virtually unheard of until the franchise came onto the scene. In the past, the average price one might expect to pay for a full one-hour massage at a basic massage clinic/establishment was at least $60.

Price expectations continue to drop as Massage Envy promotes its introductory sessions at just $39, (and then around $49 after that, give or take). If we’re going to compare apples to apples it’s important to note that Massage Envy’s “one-hour” session is actually for 50 minutes of hands-on time, which results in 16% less massage time than the full sixty-minute “hour” clients have traditionally received at an independent clinic. While not everyone can afford a $60+ massage with any regularity, it’s not as though massage therapists have been overcharging all these years and the market has finally caught up to them. It’s more like a race to the bottom, where the quality of services declines, labor standards and pay for therapists are dramatically lowered, and the industry on the whole suffers as consumer’s expectations trend downwards.

One of the most important things to understand about the kind of work massage therapists do is that there is a limit to the amount of physical labor a therapist should do each day or each week if they have any serious intention of lasting in the business and providing each and every client with the highest level of service possible. Yet many therapists who are hungry for work in an increasingly competitive field will ignore this and allow themselves to be overworked (and by most accounts, underpaid) at places like Massage Envy. Unfortunately, doing eight massages in a row day after day isn’t just bad for the therapist, it’s bad for the consumer. Can you imaging being the eight person that a therapist has sweated over on the same day? Trust me, that therapist is not going to be able to give you 100% and is not going to be full of all that good energy we want from a massage therapist either!

The ultimate result of the rising dominance of discount chains like Massage Envy is this : a: massage therapists who need the work slowly but surely burn out, both physically and mentally from being overworked and underpaid, and b: consumers gradually begin to have lower expectations about the quality and value of a typical massage, because they are getting shorter massages from depleted therapists who’s hearts are not in the work (and when it comes to massage, that really counts!). As you can see, it’s simply not a winning scenario for therapists or consumers in the end. The franchise owners who profit from this Walmart-ing of massage – I can’t say for sure but considering the massive proliferation of franchises popping up around the country, I believe they are doing quite well for themselves.

Of course there are two sides to every story. I’m sure there are exceptions and many therapists benefit from their experience at Massage Envy. New therapists fresh out of school can get some experience, and others who just can’t find the work anywhere else can find a job. One could probably offer a defense of Massage Envy’s pay policies and cite their contribution to the wellness community in terms of awareness of massage in general. For now, I’ll leave those arguments to Massage Envy’s PR people.

This is a highly controversial and passion-stirring issue within the massage industry, as you can probably tell from my (admittedly) pointed analysis. So is it simply progress and modernization, or the beginning of the end of a unique industry that has historically been fueled by individual therapist’s own passion for healing and wellness?

If you have an opinion, please share it!