By Matt M. Johnson The Bradenton Herald.
The founder of a growing national massage franchise company used one of her best-known locations last week as the springboard into a new growth push.
Making her second visit in two years to a Massage Heights retreat center at the Market at University Town Center, Shane Evans was out to sell franchises of her San Antonio, Texas, company Thursday night. Last in town in 2013 to film an episode of CBS reality-TV series "Undercover Boss," Evans is starting a campaign to open more locations in Southwest Florida and throughout the United States.
Massage Heights does business in the fast-growing massage and spa industry. Chief among its competitors is Massage Envy, another subscription-based massage chain with nearly 10 times the 120-plus storefronts Massage Heights has opened since 2004.
Evans is intent on opening 50 retreat centers in Florida and one per week nationwide through the rest of the year. Starting that expansion in University Park was a natural for the family-owned Massage Heights. "Sarasota, Tampa, Jacksonville -- we've already had great success in these markets," she said. "Even through the recession, these locations were some of the most successful locations we had."
Massage Heights is positioned in the market as an "affordable" massage provider, with one-hour massages in the $40 to $50 range.
The University Park center is one of two Massage Heights in the Bradenton-Sarasota area, with the other near Siesta Key. The centers sell massage and facial services, as well as massage oils and other retail products.
A typical Massage Heights location features about a dozen massage rooms.
Evans said she thinks there is room in the Bradenton-Sarasota market for at least one more Massage Heights location. Franchises sell for $450,000.
Thursday's event drew two sets of prospective investors. Minette Howell said she drove from Tarpon Springs with her husband, David, to hear Evans' sales pitch. Howell is a massage therapist, who has previously worked in high-end, high-priced spas. She said the product price point drew her.
"I was excited to look at it," she said of Massage Heights. "A lot of people can't afford $200 for a massage."
If she buys a franchise, Howell would be one of just a few therapists running a Massage Heights location. Evans said the bulk of her franchisees come from sales and marketing backgrounds and often have management experience. Evans was in pharmaceutical sales before starting Massage Heights.
Chuck Reiche, a defense industry executive who recently purchased a Massage Heights location in Brandon with his wife, Regina, said the business is attractive for its ability to produce repeat business and to positively affect clients' health. It's also a good investment, he said.
"You can definitely make money at it," he said.
Growth in the franchise massage sector hasn't just opened a niche for entrepreneurs with bent toward the health sciences. It's also shored up entry-level incomes for recently licensed professionals.
Joe Lubow, owner of Sarasota School of Massage Therapy in University Park, said many of the school's 80 to 100 annual graduates start their careers at franchise massage chains. Often, those jobs can provide starting pay around $30,000 a year. New practitioners also get their hands on hundreds of clients a year, which adds to their experience.
"They have become incredibly important just in the last eight years or so," Lubow said. "They now provide hundreds of jobs in Sarasota."
Evans said typical earnings for Massage Heights therapists are approximately $45,000 a year. However, while meeting with potential franchisees, she noted franchise owners set the pay for their locations.
New franchisees with the company are able to open their locations quickly. Owner training begins the day franchise buyers sign their franchise agreements at Massage Heights' headquarters. On the construction end, applying the uniform tile, trim and furnishings to a new location gets started within 48 hours of a franchisee pronouncing a storefront ready for outfitting.
Evans, who founded Massage Heights with her husband, Wayne, will travel to several other cities this year to sell franchises, including Chicago and Miami.
More information about the company is available on its website, massageheights.com.