"I Had to Stop"

How one MT hopes to save her business by shutting it down

By Karrie Osborn

March 16 was the day a joyful Beryl Simpson opened her massage clinic doors to the public for the first time; it was also the same day she made the tough decision to close them. Just months earlier, Simpson decided to follow her dream and open a massage therapy clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She did her homework, put in the sweat equity, and invested her life savings into making this professional dream come true.

“In January 2020, I made the decision to actively start the process: I found the perfect location; signed a lease; and spent a month purchasing equipment, furniture, supplies, and decorations,” she says. “I painted, cleaned, prepped, paid for all the startup costs of utilities, licensing, insurance, and carefully pieced together my dream business. I even built my own website, coordinated a mass marketing announcement to my clientele, and was ready for opening day.” Sage Bodywork Therapeutic Massage Clinic opened for the first time on March 16 to a fully booked schedule of clients.

“It was a fantastic first day,” Simpson recalls. “I was very pleased to have a rather fully booked schedule for the first week of business, and through the end of March. I was on track to not only pay the bills but make a profit in my first month.” Massage clients who had followed Simpson during her 10-year career of working at spas and small clinics were eager to follow her yet again. Simpson’s hard work had paid off, and the dream she had been building was coming to fruition. But then a virus changed everything.

Doing What Was Right for Clients

“Although I was aware of the coronavirus in the news, it really wasn’t at the forefront of my mind from January to March,” Simpson explains. “I was focused on all the details of getting the business open, continuing to work full time at the other clinic where I was still employed, and being a single mom. I was excited about my new venture.” But as she watched the news about COVID-19 taking off in her community, Simpson began to do her own research, even reaching out to her state massage board to get their recommendation on whether it was safe to continue to operate. “I received a prompt ‘no comment’ response,” she says. Simpson sought out the advice of other therapists, but each were looking for their own answers on what to do next, just like her. Then, on the evening of the first day of her new business being open, the concerned clinic owner went to the ABMP website. “That’s when I read the article by Ruth Werner titled ‘Shut it Down: Recommendation for Massage Therapists,’” she says. That was March 16. 

“I decided that evening. I had to stop the business to save the business. That may sound crazy, but I really do believe that doing what is right for the client is what is best for my business,” Simpson says. “My clientele trusts me to put their best interests first, and I always will. And this time, it means making a really tough sacrifice in the short term. When this crisis is over, I will pick up the pieces and get back to doing what I love. And I will have retained their trust. That is worth more to me and my business than any marketing or sale or income made in an unethical manner.”

No Other Logical Choice

Using her 10 years of experience with client care and best practices, Simpson said her decision was easy. “Clients come first. Safety above all else. It’s easy to avoid working when you are showing symptoms of being ill. It’s easy to turn away clients with similar symptoms. Those are standard practice and have been throughout my career. I would never perform a massage technique that is contraindicated on a client, so how could I choose to perform services when there is a pandemic in our community that makes it impossible to know for certain if you are a carrier of the potentially deadly virus. In my mind, there was no other decision to be made.”

Clients were notified, appointments were canceled or rescheduled for the distant future, and some of her long timers asked if they could buy gift certificates to help her out. Having lovingly painted the clinic walls, planned her strategies, and watched her dreams come to life, making those calls to now put that dream on hold was understandably disappointing for Simpson. But even more so, it was courageous. Sadly, she notes, some of her colleagues are still struggling with this.

We Will Get Through This

So, while she “learns the joys of homeschooling” her first-grade son, Simpson continues to work on her one-day-old business. “I spend a little time each day devoted to my business in some way—brainstorming marketing ideas, working on the website, reviewing and researching massage therapy and related topics like anti-viral essential oils that can go in my diffuser.”

Reopening is a fluid plan at this point, Simpson says, with the shutdown orders in her state continuing to be extended out—April 30 is the latest timeline. And she is prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure a safe space for everyone when the time is right. “Among the things I will be doing differently will be following whatever guidelines are set in place once this pandemic has passed. If that means having a digital thermometer on hand to check temperatures of myself and clients, asking some additional questions about contact with known COVID-19 cases, or any other recommended procedures for safety, I’m on board.”

And what would she like to tell those colleagues who are still putting hands on clients? “I believe everyone in our profession has an innate caring personality. We love our clients and want the best for them. It’s just who we are. It’s terrible what’s happening, but we are not alone. This is happening everywhere. If we all follow increased safety guidelines and social distancing, we will get through this. Your clients will be so ready for you when you re-open and business will be booming before you know it.”


The Techniques I Love to Practice

“I’m a passionate proponent of techniques that offer maximum results with minimum discomfort to the client and therapist. Very popular with my clientele is a style I call ‘gentle deep tissue,’ which is an eclectic blend of massage techniques, variations in pressure, gentle movement, and even some shiatsu point work. Don’t let the name fool you, though—gentle refers to the relaxing feel of the blend of techniques, but it does not necessarily mean only light pressure is used. Basically, I love modifying and mixing modalities to their most relaxing application while still retaining the therapeutic quality.” 


What Inspired You to Be a Massage Therapist?

“I spent years working in commercial real estate, climbing up through the ranks, working 60-plus hours a week, making great money, and yet, I was miserable at the end of every day. It was a thankless job and the corporate environment was hostile and often, to my view, less than ethical. So, when I was laid off with a decent severance package, I seized the opportunity to reflect on my career path and make a change for the better. 

“I took personality tests, aptitude tests, did self-reflection exercises, and even prepared a spreadsheet organizing my ideal job must-haves, must-not haves, preferences, goals, etc. After months of introspection, I realized massage therapy offered everything I wanted in a career: service to others, focus on health and wellness, positive human interaction, task completion, setting and attaining goals, and so many other great aspects of our work. And to top it all off, I love to read and learn new things—and continuing education in our field is not only encouraged, it’s mandatory. I enrolled in a local massage therapy school and the more I learned, the more I was certain I’d made the right choice.”