People ask me all the time if I’m a massage therapist. I’m not, but I’ve recognized the benefits of regular massage for years. It helped me with chronic back pain; it relieves disease and depression and boosts immunity. When I first started, I didn’t get massages very often because I couldn’t afford it, and it was hard to find a place I trusted. There was a need for affordable, convenient, professional massage therapy services in an upscale environment, which is how we came up with the idea of membership-based massage retreats.
Wayne and I founded the company in 2004 with our 401(k). I was in medical sales and he was with a health and wellness chain for 14 years. We started with one 1,000-square-foot location and did not anticipate franchising. We thought we’d just have a few locations in San Antonio, but right from the get-go people asked, “When are you going to build another one? When will you open one on my side of town?” Now we have over 100 Massage Heights retreats in the United States and Canada, some [larger than] 3,000 square feet with 20 rooms.
We are a true family business. My brother came on board with us a year after we started, worked in different capacities, and now serves as our president and CEO. We keep that family culture alive at our corporate headquarters and try to permeate it throughout the rest of the system through regular conference calls, meetings, and consultations. We keep it professional, but family-oriented. We want to know about people’s personal lives, what’s going on with their families, and we make sure that employees and franchisees know that we are there for them.
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We will award 75 franchises this year with 40 in the pipeline, and we should reach 140 units by the end of 2014 and 300 by 2015. Our mission is to elevate the everyday for everyone: our franchisees, employees, guests, and members. We can only do this through growth and visibility, by awarding franchises and hiring passionate, diligent, and authentic people. Our franchisees hire people who share our values and who spend the most time impacting the lives they touch through the therapeutic services they provide to our members and guests. Ultimately, if we take care of guests, we will have a higher retention rate and more membership conversions.
In December 2013, I appeared on CBS’s hit reality show Undercover Boss, and it was a humbling experience. What I was reminded of is that everyone struggles with work-life balance, and we want our employees to be happy and enjoy their jobs, not just for the success of our business but because people must love their jobs to have a truly happy and healthy life. That experience was about discovering if employees in the field, who are touching guests every day, are happy with the brand. It’s about identifying what we can do to improve their lives and elevate their work environment. As a result of my experience on Undercover Boss, we started a nonprofit foundation, the Massage Heights Family Fund, to help employees in crisis. Employees don’t have to contribute to receive assistance and anyone can make a donation. We have filed for 501(c)(3) status, and a business plan has been completed. When everything is finalized, we will make an official announcement to launch the foundation.
At the end of the day, the more people we can educate about the many health benefits of regular therapeutic massage, the more people’s lives we can impact. We will accomplish this through keeping our services affordable and our employees happy. That’s the key. Happy employees equal happy guests. Our real focus this year, and always, is to be a better employer for our employees. That’s our mission.