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Ep 251 - The Hidden Modality with Felicia Brown

A woman using her phone and tablet for marketing her business.

Massage therapists practice with more than 350 methods and modalities. Is marketing yourself and your practice one of them? In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak author and massage therapist Felicia Brown about how cooperative competition helped her succeed, why demand influenced her decision to grow, what every touch marketing means, and how being a successful massage therapist is 10% technique and 90% confidence.

Author Images
Darren Buford, editor-in-chief of Massage & Bodywork magazine.
Kristin Coverly, director of professional education at ABMP.
Author Bio

Felicia Brown, LMBT is the president of Spalutions, a firm which provides business and marketing coaching and consulting for massage, spa and wellness professionals. Felicia is a Certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach and NCBTMB/FL/GA Approved Continuing Education Provider. She also serves as an Industry Expert for legal cases related to the massage and spa industries. Felicia has owned and operated several spas, most recently the award-winning A to Zen Massage, in Greensboro, NC. As one who loves to inspire, educate and empower others, Felicia hosts Opening the Gate podcast. She previously produced and hosted the Pre-Conference Broadcast Series on One Concept Radio, interviewing massage, chiropractic and wellness educators. The practice of “cooperative competition” and helping others in the industry succeed has been a cornerstone of Felicia’s career since she became a massage therapist in 1994. She continues to apply this way of thinking in her coaching, writing and teaching.


Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at

Kristin Coverly, LMT, is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at



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Full Transcript

0:00:00.4 Kristin Coverly: Fascia Research Society invites ABMP podcast listeners to attend the Sixth International Fascia Research Congress, September 10th through 14th, 2022 in Montreal. The event includes eight keynote speakers over 60 parallel session talks and posters, seven full and eight half day workshops, and a two-day fascia-focused dissection workshop. The lineup of keynote speakers and workshops is already available on the Fascia Research Society website, and the full Congress schedule will be out June 3rd. Register for the Sixth International Fascia Research Congress today at

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0:01:51.1 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.

0:01:51.9 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:01:53.2 DB: And welcome to The ABMP Podcast. A podcast where we speak with a massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Felicia Brown. Felicia is the president of Spalutions, a firm that provides business and marketing coaching and consulting for massage, spa and wellness professionals. Felicia is a certified gorilla marketing coach and NCBTMB, Florida, and Georgia Approved Continuing Education Provider. Felicia has owned and operated several spas, most recently the award-winning A to Zen Massage, in Greensboro, North Carolina. The practice of cooperative competition and helping others in the profession succeed has been a cornerstone of Felicia's career since she became a massage therapist in 1994. She continues to apply this way of thinking in her coaching, writing, and teaching. Hello, Felicia and hello, Kristin.

0:02:40.8 Felicia Brown: Hello. It's great to be here with both of you today.

0:02:44.1 KC: We're so excited to have you here. We have so much we wanna talk to you about. But let's start with one of the overarching themes of your story is that you really love helping others succeed in their own practices and businesses. What's the origin of that? So how did that life mission start for you?

0:03:01.2 FB: Gosh, that's a great question, and I can't say there was a watershed moment. I think I've always been that kind of person, but saying that, a thought did just pop into my head and I remember the first practice that I worked in. I won't name names 'cause the people know who they are, but the first practice I worked in out of massage therapy school, well let's just say I was met with a little animosity as a new therapist. The therapist that worked there maybe were a little threatened by me that perhaps they thought I was gonna take their clients, but there was a scarcity of people and that there wasn't really room for me in the practice, and that experience did hurt. I was expecting a group practice to be like massage therapy school, where everyone's really supportive and excited to help one another and it just wasn't that way. And so when that happened, I made it a vow that I was always going to help, especially new graduates and students, but that I wanted to give everybody my help, whatever that might be, so that we could all be a success. And that's really kind of how it started, I believe.

0:04:15.9 DB: That is beautiful. I love that, 'cause I did not go to massage school, but I can only imagine that comforting, welcoming environment and then like the harsh real world strikes when you start your career. That's so sad to think about out there and I hope that doesn't happen to other practitioners. Felicia, you ran a very large and successful spa with 50 employees. How did you go from a solo practitioner to running such a large operation?

0:04:42.8 FB: Well, like any business success, it was one step at a time, one day at a time. But I think part of it was that I was just really excited about massage therapy and really embraced the idea of entrepreneurship early on. I know that when I was first in practice, I encountered a few individuals that kind of laughed at me. They said I was a small business owner. Now it was a solo practitioner working as really as an independent contractor in a number of venues, and these older, wiser business people didn't take me seriously. I think I took that a little bit as a challenge that I'll show them, I'll show them that massage therapy is a real business and that I am a real business owner. And so, before, long before I ever thought about having my own practice or spa, I would go to networking events and go and do chair massage or go on television to promote massage therapy and I always wore a business suit.

0:05:48.1 FB: And my goal in doing that was not so that I would be comfortable or because I thought I was all that, but I wanted to prove to people that massage therapy was legit and that massage therapists were real business people. So around our area, I became known as the most professional massage therapist people had ever met. And as a result of that, in part, anyway, my standing as a resource for clients and therapists alike, grew exponentially. So when I went out to open my first practice, I had quite a few people approach me and say, "I want to work with you." And that's kind of where it started. And if we go back to that idea of the cooperative competition, that's in my bio, and my vow to always help other therapists, I think that, in tandem with my level of ambition, is what allowed me to grow my first spa and my most recent spa and all the other business endeavors that I've taken part in.

0:06:58.2 KC: I've gotta jump in with a couple questions because, listeners, in case you didn't hear it as Darren breeze passed it, when he was asking the question, he mentioned 50 employees, Felicia, that's huge. That's tremendous. Let's talk a little bit about that. How many practice rooms were there? Were people doing multiple modalities? Or tell us a little bit about just the structure of that incredible practice, that incredible spa.

0:07:22.4 FB: Sure. Well, I wanna preface that explanation with this. I did not have a goal to have a spa with 50 employees. I had a goal to open a business, number one, where I could create something that was my own and that I could maybe build an umbrella where other therapists could work without taking on the stress of ownership. I wanted to give them autonomy and a great place to practice. So my initial plan was to just have renters and I did. I opened a spa, I had four or five people that rented rooms from me and it was great. But we were so successful and so busy that we weren't able to handle our clients by ourselves. So we started bringing in independent contractors and that's kind of where we started growing towards the spa world. Outgrew our first space, moved to another space, added an aesthetician or two, a nail tech or two, and then we had a little mini spa.

0:08:23.7 FB: I think in that location we had, oh, probably six treatment rooms and a couple of manicure rooms. I don't remember exactly, but the first one was four or five, the next one was six or seven, a little bit bigger. And we spent a few years there growing. I think after three years we had a staff of around 23 and we had to move. So we moved again and that's where the real growth happened. We moved into a retail location with incredible visibility, and the business just exploded. And before I knew it, we were going from a 2000-square-foot space to a 6000-square-foot space. We had 15 treatment rooms, three or four of those were manicure, pedicure and the rest were massage rooms, locker rooms, all that good stuff. And the staff of 50 is what it took to fill those rooms with clients and to meet the demand. So it was a progression. It started out with just me in 1996 and then in 2005, at the time that I sold that business, we had approximately 50 people on the team and I'd say at least half of those were massage therapists.

0:09:35.4 KC: That's great. And it sounds like you grew in such a smart way too. You grew as demand allowed you to grow without overstepping, and then having this situation where you've got way more supply than demand. Like you let demand sort of drive that growth, which sounds like such a smart way to do it. Would you do it again that way?

0:09:55.5 FB: It does sound so smart and I'm chuckling to myself because there were plenty of mistakes in there. I had for a period of time, I had two satellite offices, which were complete bombs. There was no reason for me to have either of them, it was totally ego driven. And a part of someone who can't say no, you get an offer and you're like, "Of course I have to say yes to that." Right? So there were plenty of missteps in there. I could really literally fill a book with them. But if you look at the big picture, yes, you're right, I did have something of a controlled growth. I didn't borrow money from a bank until I was into that business maybe six years. So it was all pretty much self-funded. By and large, it was a by-the-bootstraps market with the resources that you have, that's part of why I'm a gorilla marketing coach, 'cause I know what that's like to have no money and trying to get your name out there. And I'm very lucky that it turned out to be a great timing for having a spa.

0:11:03.7 KC: Felicia, that is a perfect segue to our next topic that we really wanna talk to you about. Marketing. It is one of your many specialties, but it's, I think, I don't wanna overstep, but I think you can say it's a big passion of yours and you sometimes call marketing the hidden modality. Tell us a little bit more about that.

0:11:21.8 FB: I am so happy that you are bringing this up, and using my phrase there, marketing the hidden modality because it gets missed so often. I am not sure why I latched onto marketing, perhaps it was because, oh, I don't know, I like to be able to pay my bills and eat food. And...


0:11:46.4 KC: Call you crazy.

0:11:47.4 FB: Two... Yeah, two crazy pastimes of keeping a roof over my head and being able to enjoy a meal every, you know, whenever I happen to be hungry. So I very quickly realized that my success in massage therapy was because I was not afraid to ask people for their business. But the reason that they said yes to me when I asked the question was not simply because I asked the question, but it was because I understood how to speak to them in a way that they wanted what I had. I kind of... I met them where they were, perhaps is a way to say it, but I'll give you an example. So early in my career, I was so excited when I finally got some repeat clients. You know, it took a little bit of time, when you're first starting out, those of you that are students or new therapists, you're gonna feel rejected a bit in the beginning because you'll see a client and then you will never see them again. You'll see them one time and they don't come back.

0:12:50.4 FB: And after that happens a few times, you start to wonder if there's something wrong with your work or whatever. And it's just part of the journey, I think, we all kind of go through it. It's a rare exception that a therapist doesn't have that happen. But once I started getting some repeat clients, I was pretty excited and I got into the habit of inviting them to come back. Well, there was this one client that I'd seen three or four times. And every time when he was leaving, I would ask him if he would like to rebook. And he said no, and he would walk out the door. And then the next week he'd appear on my schedule again. This was in a practice where I didn't book all of my own appointments. So after this happened several times where he didn't rebook when I asked, but then he appeared on my schedule again, I paused and I said, "You know, I wanna understand what's going on." So I asked him, and I'm gonna call him, Tom. "Tom, I noticed that after your appointment, when I ask you to come back, you always decline the opportunity to rebook, but then you're back on my schedule the following week. Why is that?" And he said simply, "Oh, well, Felicia, I don't know my schedule for the next week when I'm here. So I can't book with you then, I have to wait until the following week to see when I'm free."

0:14:10.4 FB: So this light bulb went off in my head and I said, "Well, Tom, would it be helpful to you if I called you at the beginning of the week to find, you know, when you know your schedule to see when you can come in?" And he said, "Wow, that would be great. You would do that?" And I said, "Well, sure." So I started calling Tom on Mondays. I wrote it in my appointment book back when we used paper, and I called him every Monday morning to find out when he could come in that week. And what we noticed over time was that Tom was usually free on Thursdays at 2:30. That was his preferred time. And so after a while I just said, "Tom, what would you think about putting a standing appointment on your schedule to get a massage on Thursdays? And when I call you on Monday, you can just let me know if you need to cancel or not?" That man and his wife and their referred clients probably poured in over $100,000 into my various businesses because week after week, month after month, year after year, I called him on Monday mornings. And that is just an example of marketing that made sense to me. It was just meeting him where he was and understanding his need and find way to make it easy for him to do business with me.

0:15:33.6 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

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0:16:48.1 DB: Now let's get back to the podcast. Felicia, I know you talk a lot about the art of client retention. Can I ask you, is that art of rebooking about repetition or confidence or both?

0:17:03.2 FB: I think the simple answer is both. But I'll share a piece of advice that has stuck with me my whole career from one of my instructors in massage therapy school. And this is just a Testament to the power we all have as teachers. You never know what you're gonna say or how what you're gonna say can help someone and make an impression on them. I've thought this many, many times when I was feeling nervous, scared, or not confident. This instructor said, and her name was Dotty. Dotty Uhl. I think she's still in Raleigh, North Carolina, go Dotty. But she said in our class, that being successful as a massage therapist took about 10% technique and 90% confidence. And if you weren't confident to fake it till you make it. And I wanna explain that statement because some people hear that and they think you're supposed to act like you know what you're doing, if you don't. And that is not what it means.

0:18:01.1 FB: What it means is being willing to confidently say, "I don't know the answer to your question, but I'm gonna find out," or "Gosh, I don't know how to handle this particular condition, but let me do some research and get back to you on that." So it's about stepping into the room as the expert, even when you don't feel like it, putting on your expert persona and showing the client that you are someone they can be confident in. I don't know if that answered your question, Darren, but I think that it goes a long way when you're talking about rebooking, it's confidently saying, "Hey, I'd love for you to come back. You know, I'd love to work with you again. Would you like to reschedule?" Or how about, "When would you like to reschedule?" And letting the client decide.

0:18:50.8 KC: Felicia, one of the things you talk about and teach is Every Touch Marketing. Tell us a little bit more about that and all of the different parameters that go into creating an Every Touch Marketing strategy.

0:19:02.7 FB: The basic definition of Every Touch Marketing is that everything you do that touches a client is marketing. This is something I learned fairly early on although I didn't use that phrase, Every Touch Marketing, to describe it. But in conversations with clients that were regulars of mine, I wanted to really understand what it was that made them come back to me. And I really expected for them to say, "Oh, Felicia, your massage is the best massage I've ever had." You know, "Your technique is amazing." Something to that effect. And that is not the answer that I got from most people. There were a few, but what most people said to me was, "Oh, I came back to you because I really enjoyed talking with you," or, "I really appreciated the way you worked with my schedule," or, "You really listened." Something like that. One person told me I was a great conversationalist and they enjoyed talking to me about food and wine, nothing to do with massage, right?

0:20:13.0 FB: But what I saw there was that these little interactions and these touches or steps that I took to make working with me what that person needed, really meant something. Over time, and particularly when I began coaching other therapists, I started to see, they think that if my massage is great, my technique is great, I learn the best modalities or have a power table, or I use the certain tool, then I'm gonna do a... I'm gonna have a lot of clients that wanna come back. But the problem is they're not doing... They're not aware of their marketing at all. They think the massage is what's gonna sell it for their clients. So they ignore the broken trash can, the rip in the carpet, the fact that they were late to an appointment, they ignore the fact that their sheets are dirty and balled in the corner. Their treatment room looks like a mess, or that they don't do any follow up, that they forgot their client's birthday, all these things. Those are the touches that I'm talking about.

0:21:18.1 FB: So even when therapists say, "Oh, I don't do marketing. That's somebody else's job." Or, "I only rely on word of mouth. I don't do marketing." I have to call a little BS on because everything we do is marketing. Every one of those touches is telling a client that you are safe, that you are professional, that you are open for business, that they can trust you or not. And so if you're making all of those touches positive and you're the right fit for them, then they're gonna want to do business with you naturally. But if you're throwing up a few stop signs here and there with your broken trash can, and your rip in the carpet, those are what I call anti-marketing. You're telling them, "No, I don't want your business." So whether you spend a lot of money on advertising or you go to networking meetings, or you have a really flashy website, active on social media or whatever, if you're not taking care of these little touches then all of that might be a waste.

0:22:24.6 KC: I'm gonna jump in with the question for Darren, who is our resident client here on the podcast. Have you had an experience where one of those everyday touches that Felicia refers to wasn't quite right? That was off putting to you during a session experience?

0:22:39.4 DB: Many is the answer.


0:22:41.1 DB: Yeah. This is the Darren soapbox though. So if you're a listener to the podcast, this, I play the role of journalist/client. And as a client, every single thing, every touch that Felicia's talking about is totally correct. This is the website. This is your booking platform. This is the way you answer the phone. This is the voice message. How long did it take you to get back to me? And I haven't even entered yet. This is the parking lot. This is your door. It's the music. It's the vibe. It's the smell when I walk in. Now, how did you talk to me when I got into the room? What was the intake process like? What was it like as you walked me through? Did you make me feel comfortable? What was your draping like? I mean, if everything is on point, that professionalism it just oozes then I'm like, "I'm comfortable. The person is professional. They know what they're doing." I'm probably already thinking about rebooking while I'm mid session.

0:23:39.6 DB: And then the ultimate letdown, which is kind of been the motto for our pod here, it also includes possibly selling me product if you think that that's applicable, but rebooking, honestly, if you don't ask me to rebook, I actually have a... My confidence level in you professionally goes down a little bit. We talk about it in the pod a lot because I feel like hair stylists and barbers just absolutely crush this component. And I wish more practitioners had that courage/faith in their own hands, how good they are. Right? You know, I may not book because of that alone, but if something didn't go right in the session, but it's those other... You're talking, you're totally right. It's the 'Je ne sais quoi', it's the things on the outer edge beyond just the technique that I'm already thinking are setting the stage for the positive experience, Felicia.

0:24:32.8 FB: Can I just tell you, I have to share this little tidbit about my view on asking clients to rebook. So, obviously, I'm passionate about rebooking. One of my books that is the one of the two core subjects, getting new clients and getting them to rebook, you know, or the two topics. But I have come up with an analogy of rebooking as, or let me be more specific. What happens when you don't ask a client to rebook? So here's a little story. All of us have had a moment when we were at work on a Monday morning, or maybe with a gathering of friends. And we hear people talking about that party that they went to over the weekend, that we did not get invited to. And as we start listening to them talk, we realize, "Wait a minute. I know the person that held that party, how come they didn't invite me? Did I upset them somehow? Is there something I forgot to invite them to? Have I been a bad friend? Oh my God, did I put deodorant on the last time I was around them? Maybe I smell bad."

0:25:39.1 FB: They go... Start going through all these tapes or we do in our head about all the reasons why we didn't get invited to that party. And then, while we're feeling really bad about ourselves, we find out we simply weren't invited because they didn't think we would say yes. They didn't wanna be rejected with their party invitation so they withheld it. And so we didn't get to go to the party because they thought we'd say, no. I don't know about you, but I like parties. And if they'd asked me, I would've gone, at least if they were the kind of friends I wanted to be around. So when you're thinking about whether or not you should ask a client to rebook, I want you to change your mindset about it and realize what you're really doing is inviting them to attend the massage party. You know, you are a great host. I'm sure you do great massage. Why not invite your clients to be a part of that? Don't let those tapes go through their head the way they do after a party that they didn't get invited to, invite them to the massage party. They can always no, if they want to, but they're gonna be really happy that you asked.

0:26:48.8 KC: Well, we wanna absolutely thank you for joining us at our party, Felicia, because you have shared so much incredible content with our listeners already about how they can approach their practice with confidence, how they can look at every single aspect of how they touch their interactions with their clients and make sure that it is really reflecting the highest level of customer service. So many great nuggets of information that you've shared. We wanna thank you so much.

0:27:18.8 DB: This was a delightful podcast. And we really dove in a little bit today about some client retention, and I'm pretty sure we're gonna have you come back and talk about one of your other favorite topics in the future, which is bringing in new clients as well. So I want to thank you so much for joining us. ABMP listeners thank you so much for listening to the podcast today. Our guest has been Felicia Brown, and you can find out more information about Felicia online at Thank you so much, Felicia. And thanks, Kristin.

0:27:47.5 FB: It's been my absolute pleasure. I look forward to next time.

0:27:51.0 KC: Felicia, thanks again so much for joining us. We appreciate you.


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