Reach Your Target Audience

ABMP’s National Consumer Survey Data Can Help

By Les Sweeney, NCTM, and Kristin Coverly, RMT
[Business Side]

Each issue, ABMP President Les Sweeney and ABMP BizFit Expert and Education Facilitator Kristin Coverly explore a topic relating to success in practice development. This issue, they tackle ABMP’s recent consumer survey.

Les Sweeney: We recently wrapped up the fifth edition of ABMP’s National Consumer Survey, and I think there are some really interesting insights our readers will appreciate.

Kristin Coverly: Absolutely! It’s a wonderful opportunity to check in on how we’re doing in terms of getting more members of the American public to become consumers of massage therapy and to better understand why they do or don’t receive massage. 

LS: I reviewed the results and am going to throw out a few statistics we learned and ask for your interpretation of them, as well as your advice to our readers on how to take action in their own practice. In addition, I will intersperse some trivia questions.

KC: Sounds good (I think).

LS: Where were the 1968 Winter Olympics held?

KC: Maybe we should share some survey results before we sidetrack into trivia.

LS: No, this was an actual question on the survey. Just kidding. OK, for starters, 16 percent of American adults (aged 21 and older) received massage in 2012, which is the same percentage reported in 2010. How do you interpret this?

KC: Overall, I’d rate that statistic as fairly good, considering the ongoing unsteady feelings about the US economy and the cautious way consumers are spending their discretionary income, but I think all of us would like to see that number move upward. And in 1968, the Winter Olympics were held in Grenoble, France (thank you, Google).

LS: OK, would you think that the frequency of visits by those people increased or decreased from 2010 to 2012?

KC: Unfortunately, I’m going to guess the frequency decreased.

LS: Frequency declined slightly, from a median number of three visits a year in 2010 to two a year in 2012. 

KC: As disappointing as that statistic is, it’s a great reminder of something all therapists can work on—getting clients to come back more often. How do we do that? We need to focus on increasing the frequency of our current clients’ visits just as much as we focus on getting new clients. Here’s how:


The absolute best way to get clients to rebook is asking them to—immediately following their session when they’re smack-dab in the midst of the glow of everything massage and bodywork does for them. This seems really simple and straightforward, but time after time therapists tell us they’re not doing it. Why? They’re nervous and need to work on building their confidence in this area. My suggestions: 

• Practice language that feels comfortable to you so you’re able to say everything you want in the moment, even if you’re nervous. 

• Gain strength from the fact that your clients probably want you to ask them to rebook.

• Remember that the success of your practice depends on you stepping up and being a proactive business owner.

• Get a next step on the books. If your client isn’t willing to commit to a new date, pin down a time frame and method for you to follow up. Would it be better for you to text or email your upcoming openings? Can you call in two weeks? 


People need to know why they should receive another session within a certain amount of time. What are the benefits of frequent and consistent massage? How will it help their particular needs? Any time we’re asking people to spend money, we need to give them solid and compelling information to make that decision easier. 


Create a marketing plan for retaining existing clients just like you have one (hopefully) for obtaining new clients. How can you connect with your clients between sessions, show them you appreciate their business, and remind them of the importance of massage and bodywork? Brainstorm ways that are a fit for you and your clients: newsletters, birthday discounts or upgrades, a Facebook page, etc.

LS: Good stuff. What’s interesting is that in addition to the 16 percent of adults who received massage in 2012, another 21 percent have received massage in the past, just not last year. And further, of those who have never received a massage, one-third stated they were either “very” or “fairly” open to receiving a massage. That equates to another 21 percent of all adults.

KC: Let’s combine those percentages and say that 58 percent of people have had bodywork in the past or are open to receiving it in the future.

LS: You got it! Which means, sadly, that 42 percent aren’t interested in massage.

KC: Sure, that’s frustrating, but it doesn’t mean we can’t shift some of that 42 percent with education and smart marketing. There’s also a lot we can focus on with the 58 percent who are either massage consumers already or are willing to be.

LS: You’re right. That means that there probably are about 130 million potential clients in the country. The challenge for therapists is to determine out of every five people you meet, which three are the ones interested in getting massage? 

KC: Therapists are often discouraged and think it’s impossible to find new clients. If three out of five people are interested in massage and only one of five received a session in 2012, the potential clients are out there! We just need to reach them with focused marketing strategies.

LS: One thing that’s helpful in the consumer survey is understanding the behaviors of current massage consumers. Here’s a neat stat—60 percent of respondents prefer to pay for their session by either debit card (44 percent) or credit card (16 percent).

KC: That sounds right to me; I’m surprised it’s not higher! I don’t pay for much with cash or check anymore unless I have to. I think this is an important one, though, because we need to continue to evolve the way we use technology to meet our clients’ needs. It’s so easy to use a credit card reader with a smartphone these days. If the majority of clients prefer to pay with plastic, we need to give them that option.

LS: Right. You can’t expect clients to change their behavior or lifestyle just for their massage. We live in a plugged-in, on-the-go, eat-in-the-car society. Not all of this is good, and massage can be an antidote to this “never off” lifestyle. We also need to recognize that for our clients, their massage might be an oasis, but it lives right next to soccer practice, dry cleaning, music lessons, rush-hour traffic, and the office. Clients plug you in just like they do email, calls to parents, exercising, etc. Being accessible and convenient are important elements to developing regular client visits. 

KC: My turn. Did you know that two-thirds of 2012 massage clients suggested massage to a friend or family member?

LS: My take? Disappointing. I want 100 percent! Shouldn’t everyone feel good enough about massage to suggest it to a loved one, or even a coworker? This is an area where our colleagues need to step up and take some initiative. You’ve probably seen the sign in a restaurant or other service business that goes like this:


If you like our service, tell others. If you don’t, tell us.


Massage therapists need to live this with every client, every session, every day. Time to put on our big-girl and big-boy pants.

KC: If I could wave a magic wand right now, I would give each massage therapist a stack of personalized thank-you cards to hand out to their clients—cards that the client could give a friend for $5 off a massage or an extra 10 minutes in a session, or some other small benefit. Then, I would track those cards and reward the clients that did the best selling for me. It goes back to the statistic about who is open to massage—will I know as a therapist who in a 20-mile radius from my office is open to massage? Probably not. So how do I find out? Run an ad in the Yellow Pages? Sure—and let ’em borrow your eight-track while you’re at it! Practice building is about building relationships—with your clients, who then use the power of relationship to develop more clients. 

LS: I’ll add another thought regarding building the client base. Therapists need to do sales analysis. This may not sound like much fun—unless you consider having money to pay rent or a mortgage or a car payment or for teeth whitening “fun.” Hopefully, our members have a log of the clients they’ve seen in the last 12 months (or six months, or some other reasonable list of clients). Look back and see how many first-time clients you had and how many have come back. I’ll give you a few minutes to do this …

OK, do you have the numbers? How many never returned? Now, look at who hasn’t, and put them in two piles: Surprised and Not Surprised. If you’re not surprised they didn’t return, forget them. If they made it into this pile, your intuition told you they were a one-timer, and you shouldn’t worry about them. But look at your Surprised pile. These are the people you need to be calling. You thought something was there, they seemed to “get” massage, but they didn’t come back. Massage isn’t their priority, yet. It’s your job to make it so.

KC: Absolutely! Even if clients are really interested in coming back for another session, it’s so easy for rebooking to get lost in the shuffle of everything else on their to-do list. Are there any appointments you’ve been meaning to make but haven’t? Same goes for your clients. Give them repeated opportunities to rebook and remind them of the importance of bodywork. Don’t assume they’re not interested; they’re probably just busy.

LS: Here’s a question. What percentage of 2012 massage clients book a session using an electronic method (online, email, text, etc.)?

KC: I’m going with 10 percent.

LS: Bingo! Nice work. What does that statistic say to you?

KC: I think this reflects a lack of availability of electronic booking options. Do you offer online scheduling through your website? Do you encourage clients to email or text you to schedule an appointment? These tools give clients the opportunity to schedule on the spot, at whatever time of day or night they start thinking about making a booking.

LS: I think you’re on the right path here—when asked what would be the most convenient way to book a session, 28 percent preferred an electronic method (online, email, or text).

Building on the online thing, when asked how much they would trust an online referral to a therapist, 52 percent indicated they would “completely or mostly” trust a massage referral from a Facebook friend. Would you trust a referral from a Facebook friend?

KC: Sure; it’s really turning into the new word-of-mouth resource. To make it easier to generate those referrals, though, therapists need to create a Facebook page for their business (which is not as hard or scary as it sounds).

LS: OK, last one. How did Led Zeppelin get its name?

KC: Some musicians were joking that the band was going to go down like a lead balloon (thanks, IMDb), which our readers won’t do if they use this consumer survey information to enhance the way they run their practices.

LS: Impressive. Until next time. 

  Les Sweeney, NCMT, is ABMP’s
president and resident blogger. Contact him
at and read his blog on Kristin Coverly, RMT,, is an ABMP education facilitator who teaches workshops for therapists and instructors across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice. Want more? Check out their ABMP BizFit video tips on 


The 2013 ABMP National Consumer Survey includes feedback from 610 adults about their habits and opinions regarding massage therapy.

Here’s a summary of the survey results mentioned in this column:

16% received massage in 2012

21% received massage in the past, but not in 2012

21% are open to receiving massage, but haven’t yet

42% are not interested in receiving massage

60% prefer to pay for their session with a debit/credit card

67% of those who received massage in 2012 suggested massage to a friend or family member

10% book using an electronic method

28% prefer to book using an electronic method

52% trust a Facebook friend’s referral
Statistics courtesy of Harstad Strategic Research, January 2013