Special Touches

Keep Clients Coming Back

By Diane M. Marty

Pillows, luxurious sheets, and welcoming rooms are essential to the massage experience, just as communication and trust are essential to the therapeutic relationship. But in today’s competitive market, the extra touches distinguish one bodywork experience from another. Amenities—whether associated with actions, atmosphere, or attitude—brand your services as extraordinary or ordinary.


Room With a View

The opportunity to set the massage experience apart begins when the client enters your space. Clean, clutter-free spaces attract, just as dirty, disorganized areas repel. Make your space appealing by adopting a feng shui approach to décor. The understated elegance embedded in this Eastern philosophy harmonizes well with the spirit of bodywork. With its minimalist theme, feng shui generates clear consciences along with clear countertops.

Your therapy room dictates the client’s experience and impressions. Examine it with a critical eye. If it comes up short, there are some simple fixes you can explore. Thaw a sterile room with light and color. Table lamps soften the harshness of florescent lighting for a less clinical, more welcoming air, says Sherry Groff, a massage therapist in Tampa, Florida.

“I wanted the treatment room to be open and warm,” says Keith Emmons, a massage therapist in Dallas, Texas. “So, I sidestepped the typical spa colors and designed my rooms with grounding browns and tans.” In addition, Emmons has four adjustable light fixtures focusing on wall art. Dimmers adjust the lights to each client’s comfort level. His clients’ responses confirm that Emmons achieved his original intention. “You can see the tension leave their bodies,” he says. “Their shoulders relax, and they begin to breathe deeply.”

A crowded room should be stripped down to the bare necessities as a starting point. Tucking away nonessential items calms the frenzy of clutter. The tools of your trade should be easily accessible, yet hidden until needed.

“I don’t typically keep equipment in the room unless I’m using it for that particular treatment,” Emmons says. He believes that treatment space should be a place of healing and an advertising-free zone, so he doesn’t sell products within those four walls.

After you’ve taken away the nonessentials and found discreet places for the must-haves, search for a focal centerpiece. Cascading water fountains or freshly cut flowers exude dramatic simplicity and promote peaceful personalities. Overstuffed chairs with high backs for resting weary heads and soft throws for nestling produce a backdrop perfect for power naps or deep thoughts. Pre- and post-appointment times can become indulgent interludes with chilled eye masks, headsets, and heating pads ready and waiting. Even your chronically tardy clients may begin to arrive early.

Spa consultant Terry Herman suggests you give your harried clients an opportunity to refresh themselves as soon as they come in the door. Filtered water in a glass pitcher with slices of citrus or cucumbers will impress new arrivals and start setting the stage for their sessions. A selection of teas may be appreciated by those who want some time to gather their thoughts before returning to their busy day. Loose leaf organic teas—more flavorful and more reasonably priced than their bagged counterparts—can be purchased in bulk.

A small desk stocked with recipe cards, shopping list notepads, and stationery will capture the attention of Type A clients. After they clear their minds of daily tasks, you’ll find them more receptive to your bodywork.

Time and Attention

One of your most extravagant commodities—time—is invisible. Lavish this on your clients and they will feel like millionaires. In turn, you’ll also create time for yourself.

The initial intake interview opens or closes communication pathways. Thorough and unrushed assessments fulfill clients’ needs and rights to be heard. Emmons examines all responses on the intake form line by line. Then, he talks to new clients about their daily habits. What kind of exercise do they enjoy? How many hours a day are they on a computer? Responses give him an idea of the physical demands they face. Together, they discuss what areas need focus. Returning clients receive a similar, but shorter interview.

“I refer to my notes before each appointment,” Emmons says. “I ask [clients] if they noticed any improvement regarding particular conditions. If so, where? What would they like to address next?” Listening to clients’ specific responses about the residual effects of their last visits leads to insights into how to modify subsequent treatments.

Generous scheduling also helps underscore a stress-free environment for both you and your clients, Emmons says. “I arrange massages 30 minutes apart, so every client receives a full hour on the table,” he says. “And the clock starts only when I do.” By inserting flexibility into his days, Emmons can give clients leisurely beginnings and conclusions to their treatments—a true extravagance.

“Ask clients about music preference, including the option of complete silence, before beginning bodywork,” Herman says. Invite them to bring their own CDs if they wish.

Immerse your client in subtle, natural scents and creams, but be aware of allergic sensitivities, too. Spritzing scent on linens and spraying it in the area above the table extends the treatment experience, Herman says. “Splash lavender on your hands before beginning the bodywork. During the session, apply peppermint foot balm as a special treat.”

To give her clients a deluxe experience, Groff uses warm towels during the treatment. “I wrap each foot in its own towel before beginning the massage. I drape another towel across the eyes to drain the sinuses. With the fourth towel, I wipe backs and feet at the end of the session.”

Groff also has two giveaways (water and bath salts) that reinforce the importance of hydration and self-care after massage, even as they serve as marketing tools. The bottles of purified water bear computer-generated labels with her bodywork menu and contact information. The handcrafted bath salts encourage rejuvenating soaks to help ease any muscle soreness after the bodywork (see Complimentary Bath Salts, page 99).

“Present clients with wholesome snacks wrapped in colorful cellophane,” Herman says. Attach cards with the recipe and decorate them with inspirational words to motivate clients. Or place wrapped, healthy treats on a table near the exit, with a note inviting clients to help themselves. Offer sample-sized treatment products with your phone number attached to ensure recipients can request encore performances.

Make it Your Own

Service amenities offer therapists the opportunity to explore complementary disciplines, invent proprietary combinations, and reenergize their work. But first you should do some research as to whether the market wants, or could sustain, a particular offering, says Monica Roseberry, author of Marketing Massage: From First Job to Dream Practice, and then some honest evaluations about your own abilities.

Developing a niche market will differentiate your services from others’. Side interests that blend well with massage therapy include aromatherapy, bodybuilding, breathing exercises, competitive training, healthy cooking, meditation, muscle testing, nutrition, stress management, and yoga. “The possibilities are as unique as the members of the profession,” Roseberry says.

Bodywork specialists can tailor their products as they wish, she says. Exploring personal interests can yield potential fields of expertise. For example, one therapist Roseberry knows is an avid gardener who grows her own loofahs. Clients choose one from her garden, and she instructs them how to soften their skin with it. Another gardener/therapist has clients harvest herbs from her yard and blends them into one-of-a-kind exfoliating scrubs and massage oils for their sessions. Yet another practitioner, a triathlete, expanded his practice to include fitness coaching for clients who want to prepare for contests.

“Most people I have met who offer these extra amenities are already trained, certified, or experienced in the fields they are considering integrating,” Roseberry says. “Their decision to expand into another venue usually happened organically, because they just had to share their love of the subject.”

Groff created a signature bodywork treatment by combining reiki with deep-tissue bodywork and relaxation techniques. Inventing a hybrid from her interests allows her to do the kind of work she wants to do with the type of clientele she enjoys.

This built-in flexibility in the profession is good news. Adding other services not only inspires new interest from clients, but perks up the practitioner as well, Roseberry says.

To keep pace with advances, Groff attends classes above and beyond her required CEUs and trades bodywork sessions with other massage therapists who are willing to share their techniques.

Emmons integrates new bodywork therapies with a discriminating philosophy. “If I am interested in a modality, I read as much about it as I can, have the method performed on me, and buy DVDs by respected experts before even taking a class,” he says. That way he can better decide if the modality is a worthy investment. “Prior to placing your new product on the menu, practice, practice, practice!” he says. Clients should experience only the polished result.

Communication Tools

Perhaps the best way to customize and promote your unique services involves using technology. A computer places a virtual publishing house at your disposal, and you can shower clients with tailored creations.

Even the most basic software includes templates to create materials, the capacity to merge documents, and some form of database to capture addresses. Office supply and copy stores stock cards, envelopes, and papers in all shapes and sizes, and quality printers have never been so reasonably priced. Combine these products with your therapeutic expertise and you have everything you need to make valuable resources targeted especially to your clients.

Clients love take-home fliers. Quick reference tip sheets remind readers of your commitment to good health, Herman says. Lists of checkpoints for wholesome daily living, recipes for at-home spa items, or strategies for breaking bad habits are just a few of the possible topics for customized newsletters. You may want to start by responding to concerns your clients have mentioned. If the prospect of collecting the information—as well as making it presentable—seems daunting, brainstorm potential topics with peers, and then divide the subjects among the group.

Blogs, electronic newsletters, or websites with details about recommendations, referrals, and resources solidify your place as a health partner. If you’re not ready to tackle Internet projects by yourself, search among your circle of friends for a technology-savvy acquaintance or call the local graphic arts or community college to find students eager to expand their portfolios.

Assemble a series of articles that range from novice to expert information, choosing subjects that lend themselves to increasing complexity. Make sure you stay within your scope of practice. As with any information you share professionally, make sure you show proper attribution and/or citation.

Gather brochures from various associations and nonprofits. Many groups have written materials already formatted for downloading. The American Chronic Pain Association has fact sheets on topics like nerve pain. And the National Association for Sport and Physical Education has an assortment of pamphlets, such as 101 Tips for Family Fun Fitness. Print several on quality paper, and you’ve established yourself as an information center for your clients.

Laminated, wallet-sized cards mimic flash-card convenience on topics such as tips for 10 snacks under 100 calories, increasing flexibility, or isometric exercises you can do in the car. They also serve as coach and conscience.

And, of course, every pamphlet, paper, and product should include your contact information.

Know Your Product

By retailing products, you offer shopping convenience to your clients, reinforce a lifestyle, and create an income stream. If you choose to market products as a way to cater to clients, Emmons has some advice. First, give a full measure of attention to researching the products you endorse. Low sales mean a poor return on your investment. But unhappy buyers may go elsewhere for their purchases—and their massages.

“Know what type of products you want to sell,” Emmons says. For instance, if organic products appeal to you, investigate the lines you’re considering. Confirm that all the ingredients fit within your parameters. Next, evaluate the product’s performance. Then, if you’re satisfied with the results, distribute samples to selected clients. Check back with your testers for their reviews. This approach may even lead to early sales. “We often have people clamoring for products we are testing before we even decide on a brand,” Emmons says.

It’s also important to verify that you can afford to sell the line, Emmons says. Are the minimum purchases and your initial investment requirements within reason? Or are you risking substantial sums of money? Know that small wholesale businesses usually require payment before or with delivery. And, above all, do not venture into areas you’re not comfortable handling. “I would definitely not recommend bringing in a line if you’re not a good salesperson,” Emmons says.

Above the Rest

When clients compare one bodywork session against another, it’s the details that make the difference, Herman says. The majority of these suggestions aren’t time consuming or costly, but they do distinguish one experience from another. And Roseberry reminds us of the most important bodywork components of all: “The best amenities are a listening ear, a caring heart, a knowledgeable mind, a strategic session plan, a willingness to be of better service, and loving, effective hands.”

 Diane M. Marty is a Colorado-based freelancer writer who specializes in holistic health topics.