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Massage Today
July, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 07

Turning a Daily Deal Into a Long Term Relationship

By Jenn Sommermann, LCMT

There is no doubt about it. Social media is today's hottest thing and clearly here to stay. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are three of more than 100 social media sites that have revolutionized almost everything we do.

The younger generation can't even recall what life was like pre-social media. From sharing photos to shopping for a restaurant, this new platform of communication has bridged political, social, religious and geographic gaps. Billed as a form of "social discovery," this computer mediated interaction is a way to share interests, activities, events and ideas. Furthermore, this relationship management tool has become the newest and most creative way to market products and services. Even Fortune 500 companies are on board with this medium, tweeting their ideas, posting links and creating a relationship with customers.

Enter sites like Groupon and Living Social. These are only two among dozens of similar "Daily Deal" companies. These deal-of-the-day companies feature deep discounts and have revolutionized online shopping. The trend is clearly contagious and membership is growing exponentially. So impressed by this medium, Yahoo and Google both attempted to buy Groupon and were turned down. To add to Groupon's credibility, it is being considered for an initial public offering, making it a publicly traded company on the U.S. stock exchange. But is Groupon a good way for a massage therapist to sell services? There are pros and cons on both sides of the coin so it's important to understand exactly what you are getting into and the follow-up required to make this daily deal turn into something that brings repeat business.

The Facts

social media - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark A daily-deal company offers one discount coupon per day in each of the geographic markets it serves. This is after the consumer registers with the specific website and designates geographic area. If a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the deal becomes available to all (sometimes called a tipping point); if the predetermined minimum is not met, no one gets the deal that day. These companies make money by keeping approximately half the money the customer pays for the coupon, although this is negotiable. So, for example, an $80 massage could be purchased by the consumer for $40 and the daily-deal company and the massage therapist would split the $40. That is, the massage therapist gives a massage valued at $80 and gets approximately $20 for it. The consumer gets the massage, in this example, from the massage therapist for which they have paid $40 to the daily-deal company. Note that you are not lowering your fees. You are offering a deep discount to get clients in the door. Your actual retail price is listed on the advertisement so potential clients are fully aware what your going rate is.

At this point, I am sure many massage therapists are up in arms over the price issue and are saying, "I never discount my services." But is that really true? If you spend any money on marketing and advertising, you must include that in what it costs to secure a client or get a client in your door. This is called "Acquisition Cost per Client," and it is a calculation based on a simple formula. Divide your advertising and marketing dollars for the month by the number of clients seen. If you saw 40 clients this month and your advertising expense was $500, each client cost $12.50 to secure. If you regularly charge $100 per hour, your "discounted" rate is $87.50. Call it advertising budget or discount; it is basically the same thing: the cost to attract business. It is surely something to think about.

What You Should Know

There is no start up fee or up front costs to join. In other words, the acquisition cost is zero. You pay for actual sales, not advertising. But feeding off the example I gave, the cost to you is the discount you are planning to offer.

You set the expiration date, usually between 6 to 12 months from the purchase. You can also control and limit the hours you chose to accept these coupons. For example, "Coupons not accepted on Fridays" or decide to only see three daily-deal clients per week. Although you set the expiration date, this is in violation of the Gift Certificate Expiration Laws set in 2009 by President Obama. This law prohibits retailers from setting expiration dates less than five years after a gift card/coupon/certificate is purchased. There is a law suit pending with Groupon with this issue. Be aware that even if you set a one year expiration date, the law says you must honor the offer for five years.

You set the deal and the split between you and the daily-deal company. You will feel pressure when negotiating. The daily-deal company is in the business of making money so be firm. Make sure you are comfortable with all aspects of the agreement, especially the finances. If the deal feels too good to be true, it is. If it does not sound good or gives you a pit in your stomach, be willing to walk away from it. Many massage therapists have been wildly successful for a long time without the use of daily-deal companies. You've been warned! Ideally, I would not like to see any "deal" under $50, meaning you would get $25.

You set the number of coupons to be sold. Make sure you are realistic with this number. There is tremendous potential to sell A LOT of massages (often referred to as a "tsunami of bookings") and although this sounds like a good thing, be careful and realistic and set a quantity you can handle physically, emotionally and financially. For example, if you sell 200 coupons for a six-month period, you can expect to add approximately eight sessions per week.

Not all coupons will be redeemed so there will be some income for no work. This defeats the point of gaining clients but it is not always a bad thing.

The demographic for these sites tends to be women. Therefore, most of the offerings are health, beauty and fitness related. This is very much in line with our industry. However, as far as I can tell, no other medical professionals are using daily-deal companies to drum up business. If you want to ally yourself with the medical field, this may not be the best place for your advertising efforts. These sites are designed more for the beauty and wellness arena, a very lucrative and viable avenue for massage therapists but not everyone's way of practicing.

The business model offers efficient measurable marketing with online tracking. Often with paid advertising, there is no way to know if it worked. In fact, so much advertising is wasted because a client is not secured. With these sites, you are guaranteed new clients. Your business will have trendy advertising – You'll be the "talk of the town."

Dealing with the influx of calls for appointments can be daunting. Having the ability to schedule online makes this task easier to handle. Along with the influx of calls may be lots of questions. Having a Q&A on your website would be a good way to handle some of this administrative work. Remember, all the time spent answering questions and booking appointments is time spent not working.

The posting will increase your visibility and exposure. Even if someone does not purchase the coupon, your name is being advertised to a very large population. Daily-deal companies offer webinars and customer support to make the most of your experience.

There is no additional charge for the advertising and write-up that will be posted. Each buyer becomes an e-mail acquisition to add to your database. Many people pay hundreds of dollars to accumulate a database. Your list will grow based on the coupons purchased.

Purchases will be in your geographic location. If you live in a resort area, you can control this by adding a requirement of "local residents only." Purchase processing is included. You don't handle any of the sales.

Up front income (in full) is paid after sale closes. This can be very helpful during these economic times, but remember to budget that money, as you will likely not be getting more when the client actually comes in. Side note: never count on tips to pay your bills.

One of the major selling points of these companies is the average sale tends to exceed the coupon offer (according to Groupon, this figure is roughly $33 above coupon price). For example, a restaurant may sell far more than the meal that was offered in the coupon and increases income via beverages, desserts, bringing friends etc. This doesn't apply as much for massage therapists unless you sell products or can up sell services. Selling a package works well in this situation. For example, sell a 30 minute massage with aromatherapy and reflexology. The total package value may be $55 for the 30 minute massage, $15 for aromatherapy and $20 for reflexology for a total of $90. The offer is for $50. The client will know what the full value is and when they return, they are already trained to spend the $50, which is very close to your regular 30 minute price. If you sell a single item, you can suggest add-on items (such as the aromatherapy) for an additional cost to enhance their experience.

There is concern over the public's perception of massage and that daily-deal companies are not helping that image. Because the service is lumped in with beauty, it is not perceived as healthcare. Another concern is, by constantly suppressing price point and saturation of offerings (massage is one of the biggest successes with daily-deal companies), the value of our service will become lessened over time. This is yet to be seen and ultimately the responsibility of the therapist to alter people's perception of our industry, one client at a time. Of note is that I have been tracking Groupon's massage offerings since starting to research this article. In my geographic area, massage was offered less than once a week.

Money is taken out of the local economy. Especially in these tough economic times, towns are struggling with deficits. Since taxes are based on revenue, local infrastructure stands to lose by daily-deal companies taking a chunk of the profit. These companies are located out of town, sometimes out of state and can suppress the bottom line of our local economy, as well as your personal wallet.

Retaining Clients

Having spoken to several massage therapists about their experiences with daily-deal companies, there are several tips to share. Regarding the retention of the daily-deal client, offer a small discount (say $10) on their next appointment if they book one at the end of their session. This nugget proved invaluable for the therapist who said, "Often, a second appointment is a better experience than the first because the client is more familiar and at ease. If you get them to return for a second session, they are usually hooked for life." For a coupon that has expired, offer to apply it as a credit towards their session which will be paid at your regular rate. This shows good will and a willingness to accommodate. With customer service sorely lacking in today's world, this can be a memorable token. Don't book coupon clients when you regularly see your existing clients. Remember, you can control this and you are the master of your schedule. Don't run the risk of upsetting your steady clients by giving away their favorite time. Determine your up sell so you know what you are offering and can describe it to potential clients. Have a clear idea of the services and prices you offer. Educate the client about the value of your service and the therapeutic relationship from the beginning. This starts with the first phone conversation. WOW them! You've got to stand out.

Tough economic times, staggering numbers of therapists and the age of social discovery have us in an interesting marketing position. I firmly believe we need to be creative when it comes to gaining clients. One of the tried and true ways to attract business is through price point. Don't give away the farm and don't devalue the work, but I think it is okay to compete on price to gain a client. What kind of experience you offer and whether you retain them as a client is a whole other ball game.

Click here for previous articles by Jenn Sommermann, LCMT.


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