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Massage Today
May, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 05

The Truth About Import Tables

By Michael Callara


Editor's note: In the spirit of healthy debate, and in order to provide our readers a comprehensive look at all sides of an issue, the following article is offered as counterpoint to Linda Riach's article, "The Hidden Costs of Purchasing Massage Tables," in the January 2004 issue of Massage Today.

View Linda's article at www.massagetoday.com/archives/2004/02/12.html.


The massage table industry, like many others, has seen an import trend over the last several years. And with import tables now outselling domestically manufactured tables, this trend is likely to continue. To help student and professional massage therapists make a more informed decision when purchasing a portable massage table, this article will examine some facts about purchasing import tables.

After years of losing market share to import tables some leading equipment manufacturers and distributors have taken unfair aim at the import table market by making false and misleading blanket statements about product quality, safety, factory working conditions, and other issues. Many of these statements are little more than self-serving attempts to dissuade consumers from purchasing import tables altogether.

The Trend

Satisfying the need for a value-priced massage table intended for home use, import massage tables began appearing in a variety of catalogs, nearly five years ago. Enjoying explosive growth, today import tables can be found in many upscale catalogs, including SkyMall, Hammacher-Schlemmer, Sharper Image and Frontgate; and can also be found on several e-commerce Web sites, as well as "big box" retailers, such as Costco and Sam's Club. Along the way, these import tables (designed for home use) began appearing in massage schools throughout the country, purchased by students who were unable or unwilling, to spend up to $700 or more for a portable massage table package to begin their careers. This trend demonstrated a need for value-priced professional massage equipment, and in the last couple of years, some select import tables have made considerable improvements to overall product quality, further enhancing their value.

In an effort to recapture lost market share and needing to offer a better value to the massage student and professional therapist, many domestic manufacturers are incorporating more foreign-made parts and accessories into their products. These items include table hardware, components, carrying cases, bolsters, and a variety of other accessories. "Professional quality import massage tables is now our fastest growing equipment category," says Brennan LeBlanc of www.massageking.com (a massage therapy equipment distributor), "and now account for better than 50 percent of all table sales."

The Truth

It is a well-known fact that labor rates in some Asian countries are far below the labor rates of North America. Does this mean that the labor is exploited? Not necessarily. Wages are lower, yet they are in line with the cost of living and standards of living in these different economies. Numerous labor laws protect the workforce in these countries, and the employees appreciate the jobs and opportunities they now have. In addition to reduced labor expenses, the cost of materials is also lower.

With lower labor rates and the lack of government over-regulation, raw materials are lower in cost, though not necessarily lower in quality. In these emerging economies all levels of quality of raw materials are available at substantial savings. Not offering the full complement of custom options offered by leading American manufacturers, import tables are most often produced to industry standards that account for more than 80 percent of all portable table sales.

This allows import tables to be manufactured in a more streamlined, highly efficient manner, reducing manufacturing costs, and facilitating an even greater value. In nearly every industry, import products entering the market have had a long-term positive impact, from improved competition with more product choices, to improving our own economy as a result of the higher value offered by import products.

The Quality

Something that would make any domestic portable table manufacturer envious is the fact that professional quality import massage tables are manufactured in ISO-9001-certified facilities [set forth by the International Organization of Standardization]. This certification is an internationally recognized manufacturing quality standard, and serves as an assurance of quality throughout the entire manufacturing process.

As with any product, regardless of where it is manufactured, there are varying levels of quality available. This is equally true for both the domestic and import massage table markets. Import massage tables today are of higher quality, as a whole." Quality import tables not only give a better value to the buyer; they also improve the competition in the same market," says Greg Holt, a massage equipment industry consultant. You can now find import tables that are UL-listed [through Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.], and more impressively, some professional quality import tables are now backed by an industry leading lifetime warranty. These professional grade import tables are designed and tested to withstand the rigors of repeated heavy use.

Quality import tables are available if you know what to look for. Begin by looking for quality materials. Look for select grade hardwoods used on the frame and understruc-ture for superior strength and stability. Quality hardware, such as carbon steel, will also add to the strength and durability of your equipment. High-quality, furniture-grade, multi-layer foams enhance client comfort and overall durability. Another key feature to look for is a quality, 100 percent polyurethane vinyl with a thick fabric backing for outstanding performance and durability.

Perhaps the most important indication of product quality is the warranty offered. A table that is poorly constructed, or utilizes inferior materials, will not hold up to the rigors of professional use, and will have a warranty of one year (or less), and is often not recommended for professional use. Conversely, most import tables that offer lifetime warranties are skillfully crafted of high-quality materials, and are designed and tested to provide exceptional strength and durability with continued heavy use.

The Future

Research indicates that today's consumers are more value-driven than ever before. Today's quality import massage tables offer a value that better meets this need and may soon set a new standard of value for professional therapy equipment. "I'm impressed with the quality of these new-generation import tables that are designed for professional use; they bring a higher level of value to the market," says LeBlanc.

Over the past 25 years, American table companies have enjoyed robust sales growth and profits, while facing little domestic and no foreign competition. Now that the landscape has forever changed, and American table companies are forced to "hold their own" in today's global economy, things could get worse before they get better for domestic manufacturers. Industry experts believe that many domestic table manufacturers will need to focus more on value to remain competitive in this new business landscape.

An often overlooked benefit from the growth in home-use massage tables (a market that was created by the introduction of import tables) is that more people then ever are discovering the many benefits of massage, which should help fuel future growth of touch therapy. This directly benefits the massage industry on many levels, and strengthens the outlook of the industry as a whole.

 

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