Responsible Retailing

By Rebecca Jones
[Ten for Today]

Massage therapists looking to increase their earnings have three options: either charge more, bring in more clients and give more massages, or keep the same number of clients, but offer them additional services or products.

In the spirit of  “working smarter, not harder,” many therapists are finding the latter option the more attractive. One good way to open that door is to introduce a retail element to your massage practice.

Clients who have just enjoyed a massage—including aromatherapy, lush robes or towels, oils or lotions, relaxing music, supportive pillows—may be primed and ready to buy some of these same products. The massage therapist who is also business savvy will have a nice selection of goods.

“Some statistics show that up to 25 percent of a massage therapist’s revenue can come from sale of products,” says Mike McGillicuddy, director of the Central Florida School of Massage Therapy in Winter Park, Florida. “I wouldn’t guarantee you could make that much, but anyone who’s not selling good products is missing a huge opportunity.”

If you’re ready to take the leap and begin selling for the first time, or simply want to expand the existing retail portion of your practice, following are 10 things to consider.


1. Choose only products you use and trust

“You need to do some thorough product research and talk to others you trust before you offer them for resale,” says Lynda Solien-Wolfe, a licensed massage therapist in Merritt Island, Florida, and president of Solwolfe Resources Group. She works as a consultant to massage therapists and other healthcare professionals to help them grow their businesses, and she’s dedicated to the topic of selling good products to clients.

Solien-Wolfe promotes the BUS approach to retailing:

B = Believe in the products you sell.

U = Use the products you sell

S = Sample the products you sell.

2. Be knowledgeable about the products you sell

“Say a client is experiencing leg soreness,” Solien-Wolfe says. “I may know of a particular product that may help. I can make recommendations. That’s where the consultation part of massage therapy comes in. If you’re a consultant, you need to know what you’re recommending.”

Massage therapists should not only educate themselves about the appropriate uses and contraindications for products they use and sell, they should attempt to educate clients as well. “Therapists may be using an oil or a cream they were taught to use in school, but they miss out on the possibility of giving their clients something that will continue helping them after the massage treatment has ended,” McGillicuddy says. “If you can offer them relief in between treatments, that’s to the client’s advantage. I think it shows the skill of the therapist not just to rely on massage techniques learned in school.”

Indeed, chances are greatest that a product will be used properly if the massage therapist who recommends it can explain to clients exactly how to apply it, Solien-Wolfe says.

3. Sell exclusive products

“Don’t compete with Walmart,” Solien-Wolfe warns. There’s no point in selling products clients can obtain elsewhere for less. Rather, provide your clients the ease and convenience of obtaining products directly from you that they would have difficulty locating on their own.

The exception: products that clients might want to use immediately. “We’ll keep Epsom salts on hand to sell because after a massage, someone may want to immediately go home and take a bath and won’t want to stop by the drug store on the way home,” Solien-Wolfe says.


4. Offer relevant items

It’s entirely appropriate to sell oils, analgesic creams, even massage tables, and pillows, but think twice before offering restaurant coupon books or boutique items.

“I’ve had massage therapists ask me if they have to sell only products that are a direct extension of their practice,” Solien-Wolfe says. “Well, no, they don’t have to, but that’s what’s going to be most natural.”


5. Price your items appropriately

“The products you purchase for resale are sold to you at professional, wholesale prices and are meant to be marked up for resale,” Solien-Wolfe says. Adding a 100 percent markup is common practice for many items.

“It really depends on what the product is,” she says. “If I’m getting a product for $6, I can usually sell it for $12. But if I’m getting it for $10, I may not be as successful selling it for $20. And for really big items, like massage tables, you’d only want to go with a 20 to 40 percent markup. It all depends on what the market will bear.”

6. Partner with your distributor

Make sure you know up front what the distributing company’s policies are on returns, product guarantees, and delivery timetables. But beyond that, see if the distributor can offer you any assistance in marketing and selling the product.

“We try to make it very easy for massage therapists to retail our product and grow their business,” says Bob Poirier, vice president of commercial operations for Performance Health, a Pittsburgh-based distributor of Biofreeze, the popular topical analgesic, and Thera-Bands. “We don’t want healthcare professionals to have to be hard sellers. We’ll provide them with free samples to give their clients, and we’ll provide countertop displays, window displays, posters they can put up in their waiting room or massage room to educate clients. And other companies will probably offer something similar.”

7. Attractively display your products

Shoppers love to touch their options. “Look at a grocery store,” Solien-Wolfe says. “The No. 1 selling products are all at eye level. Remember that. There’s no really wrong way of merchandising products, but if you’re hoping to sell a lot, you’ll have a much more difficult time if you keep everything behind the counter.” Solien-Wolfe suggests stocking products three deep.

Presentation of products is important whether you work in a fancy spa, which may have a dedicated boutique, or you work out of your home. Claudette Laroche, a massage therapist for the past 19 years, does massage in her home in Hookset, New Hampshire. During working hours, her dining room table becomes her product display table.

“I’m not pushy on the products,” Laroche says. “And it’s not like I have a big inventory and staff people to handle the sales. But I’ve always sold products, starting with essential oils when I first started out. As years have gone by and new products have come out, I’ve gone with them.”

8. Offer samples

This is the best way to encourage clients to buy more. “In most cases, if the client loves the product, they’ll want to buy it,” Poirier says. Laroche has found that to be true even in her small, in-home practice. “People try it, and then they’ll ask you for it,” she says. “And if you can get samples from the manufacturer to hand out, then you don’t have to spend a lot of money to keep a lot of stock on hand.”

9. Sell with integrity

Many therapists shy away from aggressive sales spiels, but you can still encourage clients to make a purchase without them feeling like they’re being pressured.

“I went to one place where the massage therapist came out with a silver tray and put it at the checkout where you write your check to pay for the massage,” Solien-Wolfe says. The therapist told her, “These are all the products I used in your treatment, and we have them all available, if you’d like to take any home. It was a very soft sell, and very effective.”

Conversely, she once went for a massage on a cruise ship, and afterward was presented with a list of products. “Which of these products will you buy today?” she was asked.

“I bought something because I felt uncomfortable and obligated to buy,” she says. “That’s where we don’t want to put our clients. We don’t want them to feel obligated.”

10. keep up with paperwork

Introducing a retail element to your massage practice means increased paperwork. You’ll have to track your inventory and make sure you don’t run out. You’ll have an initial cash investment as you stock your shelves. Depending on where you live, you may have to charge sales tax and report that money to the state. And if you’re in a spa or work in a multi-therapist setting, you may have to educate the rest of the staff that it’s in their best interests to become salespeople, as well as care providers. You may even want to set up an incentive plan to help fuel sales.

It’s almost never a bad idea to invest the extra time and money in building your practice.

“Unless you’re willing to make an investment, you’ll never make any more money,” Poirier says. “In order to grow your business, you really do need to diversify and do more than just treat clients. You need to provide products that will bring in enough revenue to help you build your practice for the future.”

Adds McGillicuddy: “Some people go to massage school thinking that it’s not their job to sell products. But if you know there are things you can do for your clients, products you can sell them that will improve their health and their comfort, why wouldn’t you want to do that? It’s really giving you the ability to help your clients more.”

 Rebecca Jones is a Denver-based freelance writer. Contact her at