Why I Sold My Soul to Massage Envy. ~ Tara DeAngelis

Via on Sep 14, 2011
Photo: toastforbrekkie

With over 900 locations nationwide, Massage Envy has been called the Wal-Mart of the massage industry. Soon there will be at least one in every city of every state. It seems that they are trying to monopolize the profession by putting every private practice out of business. We are living in a time where most of us are making less and less while those at the top of these corporations and franchises are making more and more. How ethical of us is it to give money to an establishment like this? 

It was one year after the housing bubble burst in 2007. Every fourth house in my California suburban neighborhood had a brown lawn, a “Foreclosed” sign in the window, and a plastic blue lock-box over the doorknob.

Foreclosed
Photo: Cartographer

I couldn’t help but feel like an over-privileged, spoiled-brat because while everyone was feeling the burn of the recession—I was driving to the day-spa because I was feeling like a massage.

Since I had lost my cell-phone, I decided to do a walk-in at my favorite place with the cheapest prices and best therapists in my opinion: Bodycare.

On my way there, I noticed that a large purple “Massage Envy” sign had been erected in a new strip mall. I was intrigued: “What a catchy name for a business.”  So my tires screeched and I veered into that parking lot.

Upon entering, I immediately felt like I was walking into a hotel lobby. The sleek, black, elongated counter-top reflected the gleam of seven pendant lights hanging in a row above. There were purple couches, beige walls and a trickling stone fountain to the left.

“How much are your massages” I asked the young man at the front desk.

He went on to explain that the first massage was a discounted price of $45 (the special introductory rate) for an hour. After the first massage you could decide if you wanted to sign up for a one-year contract.

Contract
Photo: Frank3.0

A one-year contract? This was a foreign idea to me. The thought gave me a queasy belly.

The one year contract would let me have one massage a month for $59.00 month, and any additional massages per month would only be $39 each.

“What if I just want to buy one massage after my introductory massage” I asked.

“It would be $79 per hour after that” he said.

That was the most expensive massage I had ever heard of! It seemed like a scam. I wanted nothing to do with it. The average rate in the United States for a one-hour massage was $60—only one dollar more than the monthly dues for Massage Envy. I thanked the young man for the information, walked out, and headed down to my regular rubbery and wondered what was really going on behind the scenes at Massage Envy. This is what I discovered:

There are five main factors that are contributing to the success of the franchises:

1. Convenience: They are everywhere.

2. Cost: It is slightly cheaper.

3. National Brand: Each location is nearly identical, except for square footage. People know who they are and what to expect.

4. The One-Year Contract: You will sign up for it because they are right—Being on a consistent (at least once a month) rub down schedule will be more effective in maintaining your health than waiting until you are stiff as road kill with rigamortis.

5. The average hourly rate: of a LMT at Massage Envy:  $15.49 per hour. It has been reported that the average tip is about eight dollars. Some say, “This is slave labor.”

At the time, I was making the same hourly wage as an assistant manager in a corporate retail store. I worked hard, I worked a lot—but I didn’t consider it slave labor. It must be taken into account that Massage Envy employees are employed as independent contractors (when I was an independent contractor, I owed much more in taxes at the end of the year and didn’t get anything back), and they only get ten minutes of down-time between clients. It is said that therapists have flexibility in choosing how many hours they want to work. Because the employees are only making $15 per massage (plus tip), many are forced to work many more hours than what is healthy for the body just to make enough money to survive.

About a year later a few more “Massage Envy” signs had popped up. There were now three within a thirty mile radius. I was on my way to Bodycare. When I pulled to open the door I noticed the lights were off. The door was locked. The inside was gutted. I was shocked! A little scrap of paper was taped to outside of the door: We thank you for your business, but Bodycare has decided to close its doors. I couldn’t believe it. I was devastated because I was so attached to this place. Now where was I supposed to go? Every other place (that hadn’t shut down) was booked. If I couldn’t get a massage that night, I was going to die.

I thought about Massage Envy—they were probably the reason all my favorite mom-and-pop massage places were going out of business! But I really, really wanted/needed a massage. I had been forced to shop at Wal-Mart, now I felt as if I had no choice but to go to Massage Envy.

So I drove over, walked in and booked my forty-five dollar introductory massage. I didn’t feel good about it. The massage was okay. I didn’t feel like the therapist’s heart was into it. I was going to leave without signing the contract—but I was pre-menstrual, vulnerable and feeling like I “owed it to myself” to get at least one massage a month—so I signed the contract.

Massage Table
Photo: lintmachine

The next day I was pissed. I had sold-out.

I called Massage Envy and told them I was moving to Boulder  so I would have to cancel my contract in a few months.  At the time, I didn’t realize there were 900 locations in nearly every city and that I would need to give proof that I was living at least 25 miles away from a Massage Envy to cancel my contract. Darn, I was just going to have to get a massage every month.

Massage Envy gets a bad rapping online. But I have met many people who say they enjoy working there despite the lower wages. They enjoy the steady employment and benefits. Even though the first massage I had there was mediocre, two of the best massages I have ever had in my life were from therapists at the Boulder, Colorado location.

Would you sell your soul to Massage Envy?

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Tara DeAngelis used to teach yoga. She has learned, and continues to learn from wonderful teachers but doesn’t feel like name-dropping. For now, she is focusing on other things like trying not to make plans and throwing paint on canvas. While she is not editing your submissions for elephant journal, you might find her writing in a Boulder cafe or working or exercising or satiating herself in silly shenanigans. You might even see her leading a skipping parade. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and/or the Examiner.

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25 Responses to “Why I Sold My Soul to Massage Envy. ~ Tara DeAngelis”

  1. Jill Berkana says:

    My name is Jill Kristin Berkana and boy oh boy do I have an opinion!

    I am the Owner/Founder/Academic Dean of the Costa Rica School of Massage Therapy, as well as the originator of the bodywork modality known as Mindful Expressionism. I am currently in the process of opening massage therapy schools in the U.S. starting in Denver, and in Austin. I have been a massage therapy industry professional for over 22 years and have authored a 560 hour basic curriculum.

    I'm sick over this Massage Envy situation and to me this is a very clear consequence of some tragic trends in Massage Therapy Education.

    Here’s my opinion:

    At one point in time, there were a bunch of great little heart centered massage therapy schools across the U.S. They were doing really well and Corporate America noticed. Then the corporations (non-bodywork artists) saw the potential and bought up a bunch of those cute little massage schools, standardized it all so that the U.S. Government would provide financial aid and in the process of standardization, killed the artistic heartfelt approach for the most part. Corporations are about MONEY…and so the schools owned by the big Corps. pay their instructors about $15 per hour max. Consequently, they are only able to hire Massage Therapy Instructors who have not been successful massage therapists. If you are a successful massage therapist, and qualified to teach, you should be earning $100 per hour doing bodywork. You will not work for $15 per hour…right? So…the result is you have unsuccessful Massage Therapists teaching people how to be unsuccessful massage therapists and none of them have esteem for their work or for the industry.

    Another problem is with the Western Medical Insurance climate, which has put the pressure on Massage Therapists to look and feel more sterilized in order to qualify for claims, again squashing the art of bodywork. Massage is an art. It should be approached from a knowledgeable, creative, and fluid place honoring the therapist’s and the client’s needs simultaneously. Massage Therapists should be compensated appropriately. There are TONS of medical, emotional, spiritual and mental benefits if it is approached this way.
    When massage therapists become technicians, doing the same thing over and over….the same recipe hour after hour…it sucks for them and the client. When massage therapists do more than 25 massages a week, they burn out….and this sucks for the massage therapists and for the client. When you get a massage from a therapist, the connection that is made is powerful. The massage therapist by virtue of touching you is touching your whole life. The body holds all mental, emotional, physical, spiritual memory. This can be accessed through the tissues of the body and you need to be with someone who is well educated, present, does not have an agenda and is paying attention to YOUR needs and adapting around those. If your massage therapist is burnt out, or even worse…resentful…you could get hurt…and I'm not just speaking of your physical body. Massage therapists need to paid at least $60 per hour and depending on the economic area they are in..probably MORE…but not less. Massage Therapists give A LOT and they need to feel appreciated and well compensated in order to serve you. Massage Therapists deserve to be able to carry a mortgage and pay their bills for what they provide. Outside of those 25 massages they (should) max out at, they have to keep the room hygienic for your safety, market themselves, manage their business, pay taxes, and rest. The only time an MT should make less than $60 per hour is if the establishment they are working with (not for) is providing the client, the space, and all materials. Then…..they should earn no less than $35 per hour. Massage Therapists should never be employees…but Independent Contractors.

    These massage chains are pimps, feeding off insecure massage therapists, and burning them out. This will change the face of massage therapy and it is very sad.

    I am personally on a crusade to educated awesome massage bodywork artist who are Mindful, Loving, Love their work, are artistic, and highly knowledgeable and skilled. World Class Massage Therapists who know not only how to take care of you… but to take care of themselves.

    You decide….who do you want to touch your whole life?

    • Guest says:

      Great story
      As I am having major second thoughts about working at Massage Envy.
      It seems as if your trained and educated profession isnt enough as they want you to do sales & marketing, cleaning and laundry.
      Thats three jobs at once divied by 15 hr is 5 bucks an hour

  2. AnonymousTherapist says:

    I have an opinion, It is almost like selling your soul to the devil! haha I was a therapist at ME from April of 2011 until July 14th 2011, the day I hurt my back during a massage. When you are injured at any place of employment, the owner/manage on duty is supposed to have you fill out paperwork and send you to an urgent care facility. This did not happen at the location I was at because the owners son (a 24 year old with no experience managing anything), did not know what to do in this situation. He is also a therapist and I had to ask him about 3 times to work on my back (may low back went into spasm), thinking this immediate therapy would prevent worse pain/injury. Unfortunately it did not and about 1-2 weeks without work and not feeling better, I asked the owner about filing workers comp. He told me he was out of town and was not sure how it worked either and that he would be back in town in four days and to discuss it than. About a week later, I finally got the info from him to call and file a claim. It took the insurance company about a week to get back to me, actually no, I had to follow up with them a couple of times. The agent told me she called me the day prior and left a message which was complete B*llsh*t! She told me they denied my claim because of a pre-existing injury and that a DOM I went to said I never told him I injured it at work, which again was B*llsh*t! I called him and he said he never spoke to her or faxed her any information regarding the matter. I decided to get an attorney to handle this and after about two weeks or so, I finally got a call from him saying they wanted to settle. All along since I was hurt, the owner of the ME would contact me saying, "Hey, we could really use you in the clinic today, we are slammed!" He did this about 4-5 times. I told him, "Listen, if I was able to work I would. My back injury is not just a simple back ache, it is much more serious and because your insurance company won't cover me I am not getting better." He finally stopped asking me after that and hope I felt better soon. Now that I will be getting a settlement I will no longer work for them, because what happens if I am injured again? I am basically screwed! And this location did not offer ONE benefit to the therapists, although the sales associates at the front got one free massage a month with a different therapist so that they can recommend therapists to clients. But than if a therapist wants a massage, we have to pay $25 plus a tip. They are making $10 off of the therapists to get a massage when we are the ones that need it, but free massages to the associates?!?!? Does this make sense? I even gave my opinion to them about incentive programs for the therapists, to either earn more money or earn free massages, they said they liked the ideas…did it ever happen? NO! I could go on and on even more about this ME and the owners, but I am just getting frustrated thinking about it. I hope this gives perspective on ME and just remember that if your therapist appears not into the massage or seems tired, you know why.

    • NMT Jedi says:

      I broke my foot working on a client one day and I was told to tape it and finish my day at that hell hole.

  3. Monica Hanlin - MT says:

    "But I have met many people who say they enjoy working there despite the lower wages. They enjoy the steady employment and benefits. " My reply is: If there are "many" therapists (although you say people so that could mean the associates/sales people) why are they not speaking up as to how much they enjoy working there? Are they able to financially support themselves on these lower wages? How great are these benefits? What exactly are the benefits? 401K? Medical/Dental insurance?

    • amery says:

      because stupid, they more than likely have student loans and bills to pay, if I had not lucked out and work in a medical setting with a 25 year established business I, I myself would probably had to work at ne of those S***holes.

    • ajspencer0918 says:

      I do enjoy working at Massage Envy.

  4. Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I’m hoping to give one thing back and aid others like you aided me.

  5. Gizmoe says:

    It seems pretty difficult to find ANYTHING good about Massage Envy. We've recently been burned by them and doing everything possible to bring light to their deceptive ways.We would greatly appreciate all of you coming to share your negative experiences about ME here at http://www.massageenvyblows.com.

  6. ArmsInPain says:

    It is like a sweat shop. I have worked in one for awhile outside of sacramento. The “10 minute breaks” are not breaks, during that time you are helping the last client out, changing sheets, and bringing in the next.
    I knew I wasn t being paid much… but didn’t realize normally a worker would be paid both hourly and commission, We are paid one, whichever is greater, so the hourly wage is subtracted by commission. I love doing massage, and worked at two diffeerent business that opperate like this, I didn’t realize how unfairly it is. All that extra money goes to the owners, enjoying all the caring and hard work of the employees.

  7. ChevyBoyMN says:

    Massage Envy is a joke both from the client and employee perspective. I work at one and am miserable as are 99% of the other therapists. The clinic manager refuses to talk to the therapist unless they are being reprimanded for some stupid little thing or being fired. Half the time she sits in the office with the door closed on FaceBook or reading her Kindle. The owners refuse to spend any money to fix things or purchase some supplies on a regular basis. Therapists are micromanaged to the point of overkill. Once you walk in the door to work, I do feel at times I am selling my soul to the devil called Massage Envy. I will never recommend anyone to work there let alone be a client.

  8. joe average says:

    most of the massage therapists are on pot or worse and have alot of extricular activites

    • amery says:

      pot? REALLY dude? My boss is way okay with the fact that I am a legal MMJ user, would you rather your therapist be stressed out when you see them, ??Grow up. Bet you've drank too much on occasion, and the Bible says being drunk is a sin. but in Genesis it says ALL the plants and animals….

  9. LMT says:

    In order for LMTs to take back their power in this situation, we need to join together to educate and fight the system. Please recognize that this is not solely about these corporations but about our schools and associations who are doing business with these franchises. Franchises like Massage Envy are paying schools off by providing student scholarships and in turn guess where these students will end up working? We need to make change happen. Please join us at http://www.facebook.com/groups/lmtsagainstthefranchise
    You can also sign and share our petition <a href="http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2 Fwww.change.org%2Fpetitions%2Fthe-massage-franchise-increase-payrates-for-massage-therapists-decrease-lowballing-of-massage&h=fAQHsMUWj&s=1″ target=”_blank”>http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2 <a …” target=”_blank”>Fwww.change.org%2Fpetitions%2Fthe-massage-franchise-increase-payrates-for-massage-therapists-decrease-lowballing-of-massage&h=fAQHsMUWj&s=1

    • Tara says:

      Wow! I did not know that! This is good info. I wish I had of known this when I wrote this article.

    • PastorLMT says:

      PastorLMT@outlook.com. I have been an ordained Minister for 33 years and licensed LMT in Florida where there are 37,000 licensed therapists. I have recently contacted the Department of Health for assistance to obtain copies of my medical records. A pre-requisite to my hire was to add them to my professional liability insurance as a rider. Page 6 of their training manual specifically states that the records (Wellness Chart) we chart and sign our names to are legal medical documents that can be subpoenad by insurance companies in a court of law. Florida's state statute of limitation lasts up to 4 years for someone to make a personal injury claim. Client records were continually lost, misplace and even tossed. Please contact me to join my efforts for unionizing/forming a guild to slap these guys up. First by contacting your state board of massage to find out how you can get copies of your medical records to protect yourself. Then file a complaint with the Department of Health if you witnessed ANY wrong-doing. PastorLMT@outlook.com

  10. Indiana LMT says:

    I work at a Massage Envy in Noblesville, IN. And I actually must say that I enjoy the experience overall. I do admit that there are things that could be different, however, what job couldn't be better in a few areas. Yeah, the commission isn't the best, but I would honestly say that I average about $30-$40 per hour given of massage. Which probably works out to $25 – $30 an hour after breaks are factored in. I also earn a quarterly bonus of around $700. On top of that, they added additional incentive and I now get a week of paid vacation as well as 5 uncovered days off per quarter and 3 sick days per quarter. Insurance could be MUCH better and I just buy it on my own, but that is supposed to be changing soon as well. Yes, I understand that even $40 per hour of massage is fairly low, but for someone coming out of school who won't be easily hired by upper echelon spas and don't have money to start their own practice right away, I think it is a more than viable option. Just my opinion!

    • Paula James says:

      That is very reassuring,for I am going to an interview at a Massage Envy in Strongsville,Ohio,and after looking at all the reviews(good vs.bad) I felt a little put off about going. They say since theses spas are independently owned,that no two places are alike.Sometimes it's just good to get your foot in the door!

  11. Michael says:

    The corporate form is anathema to quality products of any kind. The bottom line is always profit, and this is a terrible trend for the somatic arts.

    Michael…somatic therapist since 1982

  12. Cindy says:

    I've never worked there, but I have been a member for many years and gotten many many massages at ME, in several different states. I have always had a good experience, some therapists are better than the others, just like any place where you get a personalized service.

    i am sorry to hear that this large and rapidly growing franchise company doesn't always treat their therapists well. I have never had any therapists that wasn't as nice as could be, very professional, and extremely hard working. But, this is the typical was business operates. I worked worked for a large worldwide pharmaceutical company for many many years. We were constantly preached to on how to treat our customers, with the utmost respect, listen to them, etc., etc., etc., Yet, they did not treat their employees anywhere near that way. It was such an eye-opener to many of the employees, including me. The reason I write this is so others will know that it's not just MEnvy. A business is about nothing but the bottom line – "the money." Everything they do is for the customers, because that is where "the money" comes from. They don't have to treat their employees well, because they know they can replace most employees for less "money" than doing things to please them. They are ONLY going to do what is going to bring in "the money." This is simply the way buiness works, and anyone who doesn't know that is very naive. You can jump ship and tell them to kiss your ass, and go somewhere else to work. And at first, the new place might seem so much better. But give it time, and it will soon show itself for what it is. A business. And business translates into a way to make "the money." It's not that they don't care about their employees. They only care to a point. To the point to where it costs them "the money." It's just the reality of the real world. At all major companies and corporations. It's the same everywhere. You can get pissed and change jobs over and over, or you can see it for what it is, a business there to make "the money" and go about building your career at a company where you can stay. You are there to make "the money" for them, not for them to spend "the money" on you. So pull up your big girl/boy undies and deal with reality. Sometimes reality just bites.

    • Cindy says:

      OOPS – I apologize – that was supposed to say "But, this is the typical way business operates." Typing too fast caused a few typos in my previous post – I DO know how to spell "business" but typing too fast caused me to misspell it a few times.

  13. Thank you Jill for putting this out so clearly. I have 26 years of experience and teach methods that help CMT's use their bodies properly to avoid injury in Northern CA. ME makes me sick! New kids doing massage and expecting to live on the wages can expect to have frozen shoulder in 4-6 years. If you don't work correctly, you can expect carpel tunnel or wrist damage in less than that. New Kids, beware!!!

  14. ajspencer0918 says:

    I am a licensed massage therapist of 8 years and have been with massage envy for the last 3 years. I can tell you, I LOVE my job. I used to work for chiropractors and with the way insurance has gone in this country it wasn't working out. I came to Massage Envy because I knew I would have work. I would like to point out that in the article you say we are independent contractors but we are not, at least not within my franchise group. We are paid commission per massage but we do not receive a 1099, we receive an actual W2 and they pay our taxes, thus making us employees. It is true, we do not make a lot per session, but When you include gratuity I'm making on average $30/hr, and when you consider that the ONLY thing I have to do is show up, that is actually a pretty fair wage. I do not pay rent for the space, I do not pay for the laundry service, I do not supply my own linens or products, I do not pay for advertising, or marketing or anything else. I do not make the reminder calls or answer telephones or handle the scheduling. I do nothing but give a great massage to each and every one of my clients. People ask me all the time why I don't work for a resort spa. Well to be honest, I like to see my clients again and in Phoenix, there is not work in the summer at a resort. People also ask me why I do not work for myself. I did that for a while, doing out calls and I hated it. I absolutely hate doing out calls. So I would need to rent a space. Once in a while a room comes up for rent with a chiro that's under $500/mo but when I've looked for rental spaces or day spa suites they are priced between $800-$1000/mo in the area I live. And then you consider I am supplying the linens and lotions and all the leg work to get people there, means I will be charging a lot more per session. I saw a comment-er on here, a therapist of 22 years who said a good therapist deserves $100/hr. That's well and good, but there are a lot of people in this world who need the healing touch of massage who cannot afford to pay $100/hr. Those are the people I want to help. I am a great therapist and it breaks my heart to see people who have suffered in pain for months or years because they couldn't afford to get treatments. Working at Massage Envy allows me treat clients without charging them $100 per session. I don't care how many years of experience a therapist has, everyone deserves the benefits of massage not just the privileged. And that is what Massage Envy has done. They have made massage accessible to people who once thought massage was only a luxury and not within their reach. I can't tell you how many therapists I have met who look down on M.E. employees like we are the scum of the earth, who act like they are "too good" to work for M.E.. The truth is, as healers we are NEVER "too good" to heal. M.E. patrons are just as deserving of massage as anyone else. I love what I do, I love massage, and I love working at massage envy.

  15. Jerry C says:

    The wage is not $15.49 per hour. It is per hour of massage. A therapist may only do 4 hours of massage in an 8-10 hour shift.

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