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Massage Today
August, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 08

Don't Be Afraid of Retail Sales

By Angie Patrick

I am not sure who started it or how it ever took root and I am absolutely baffled as to why it is still prevalent.

While not everyone subscribes to it, many still do and my goal is to help put an end to it. What is it, you ask?

It is the notion that massage therapists should never retail or work to make an above average living because in some crazy unwritten understanding, some feel that earning money is bad. And if earning some money is bad, then earning more money than other therapists must be horrific. At some point in time, this pervading notion came along that some therapists have bought into hook, line and sinker: you should feel guilty for charging a fair price for your services and making money while helping people is a bad thing. While working to help a client alleviate stress, manage pain, or make strides towards greater levels of wellness is a good thing, certainly supplying them with appropriate professional goods better suited for their needs rather than those found at a drug store such as those big box private label goods is evil and wrong.

I'm not sure exactly where this perception originated, but it is toxic, and it should be removed from the minds of therapists across the planet. My goal is to share with you the reasons why you owe it to your client to be the best therapist you can be, and provide as many solutions as possible within your scope of practice, as well as respect your ethical boundaries.

It Starts With Education

Retail Sales - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark You have made the active choice to practice massage therapy. You began by choosing a school and paying money for that education. This is money you had to find, earn and shell out for this education. Then, there is your time. Your time going to school varies from state to state, but you did spend time in a classroom and at home or in the library studying. You have learned the required curriculum to become a therapist and you passed your exam. Now, you are a therapist and your education continues. Continuing education classes cost money as well, not to mention your time, too. Staying abreast of new techniques, new developments and new research discoveries for your chosen field also require time and money. Your insurance costs you money. Your marketing and phones cost you money. Your equipment and product, as well as the tools and space to practice or means to get there all cost you money. Then there is the care and upkeep of you as a human being to consider. You need a bed, a home, three meals a day, electricity, water, internet, license and every other thing you can think of in your life that you need to survive costs money and time. Gas costs money. Food costs money. Your own health and wellness requirements likely cost something. Doctor's do not see you for free.

Which brings me to my point: if all these expenses were to be factored in and you looked at your chosen profession and actively believe in the viability of the notion that you should provide your services at less than standard rates, or that you should somehow feel badly when you see a client reaching for their wallet vexes me. Do not misinterpret my meaning here. I am not saying never to do charity work. What I am saying is you are not a charity. You are a Professional Massage Therapist, a Health Care Provider in every sense of the word. You are an educated professional who has chosen massage therapy as a respected and well utilized alternative healthcare provision as the your own core competency. Believe in yourself, your knowledge and your abilities enough to call yourself what you are: a Professional. Doctors certainly have no problem letting you know how much their time is valued. Neither do physical trainers, surgeons, veterinarians, psychologists, chiropractors, or anyone else in the universe for that matter. Why on earth would you see yourself and the value of your time as anything less?

Your client has CHOSEN YOU

Out of all the potential practitioners in your area, your client has chosen you and your skill set to help them with an issue important to them. They look to you to help improve their health and provide smart solutions that you as a professional may well be aware of that main stream consumers may not. Your role in this relationship is that of a trusted health care professional, prepared to suggest and try anything within your scope of practice that could assist with achieving the client's wellness goals. This is a two-fold requirement on your part. From a treatment perspective, education and technique are key. It is important you are up to date with developments and treatments than can have a positive impact on your client. Your knowledge and skills should be based on current findings and you should always look to learn more. But secondarily, another important part is sharing your knowledge of professional products or tools that you feel may enhance the benefit the client receives from your treatment, and can assist them in managing and caring for their own health between visits with you.

These can be made available very easily in your office, massage room or practice. Availability of these professionally recommended goods within your practice is a time saver and no doubt a cost saver for your clients. This is especially true if your client has spent money for everything on the analgesics aisle and can still find no relief. It just makes no sense that you would choose to not augment your treatment regime with any product or tool you feel can help achieve the desired positive outcomes simply because you are reticent or feel guilty for people paying you a fair price for your goods, services and professional recommendations. You are qualified to make recommendations. You are qualified to share information about a product that can help. What you are NOT is a snake oil salesman trying to make a fast buck. When you are responsible and careful about the recommendations you make and you and make them with the best interest of your client first and foremost, then you are being a responsible healthcare provider. There is nothing wrong with making a living helping others find products to help them feel better and providing them an opportunity to buy them within the parameters of your practice.

Begin Here

If you have never retailed and are stuck about what to offer and how to price it, I think I can provide a little help here. Let's just suppose you would like to begin to supplement your income by adding just a few items available for purchase in your waiting room. Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be a huge showroom of goods. I know your fear of buying and then having that money tied up in products that just waste away on your shelves because you really have no idea how to sell them is gnawing at your gut as you go back and forth about it. How do you choose the right products?

Well, let's make it simple. What do you use? What would you, as a professional massage therapist, reach for when you have pain? Would you bolt to the drugstore for some generic topical analgesic? Or would you pick up a catalog or go online to find the best product you can buy as a professional? I am betting you would ask your other therapist colleagues what they would recommend and then call a professional products dealer and place your order. Why not save your clients time, and have a small selection of the product you would use on hand. After you use this product in your practice and they feel better as a result, selling it is easy. All they will need to know is that you used it on them during the treatment and you would use it on yourself. This kind of recommendation is exactly what I am referring to when I say you owe it to your client to provide answers that can help them feel better.

Let's consider the therapist who does spa treatments. Let's say you are thinking of breaking into retailing and the same fears plague you. What do you offer? I would ask you the same question. What do you use? When you are performing an exfoliation using a sugar or salt scrub, which do you use? Do they come in scents? Does you client prefer specific scents? Perhaps you begin with just a few small containers of scrub, and while you are at it, maybe the client might enjoy a bit of a home spa experience and look at the matching body butter or massage oil to match. Consider how excited your client might be if they learned they can take home a bit of the spa so they can pamper themselves at home, too. You have provided a service and a product that enables the client to feel confident about their purchase because they found this product with the help and advice of their therapist. Do you see how this works? All you need to do is think about what you already do, and then think about what products would go with that.

Keeping consistent with your treatment offerings and carrying accompanying products can be a very easy way to enter into retailing without a huge investment and without having to really learn how to sell. Just price your product competitively and make sure the price is on the product or shelf. Clients will ask you about the products and all you need to do is speak about them from your heart. "I like this because it________." "I would recommend this because it has _____ in it and I would use it on myself."


Let's talk about competitive pricing. There is a name for a pricing methodology in retail that seems to be the basic rule most follow. It is called "Keystone." The idea is you double your money. If you buy a widget at a $5 cost to you, then you would turn around and sell the widget at $10. When you are buying your retail items from a professional product provider, you are typically getting "professional" pricing. This means it is a safe bet your client will not be buying this product in any store, and they surely will not be buying it for the same prices you are because they are not a therapist. Retailing goods that cannot really be purchased anywhere else except through professional product outlets means you should have "unique to the customer" goods that will intrigue their interest and have added value as it is recommended by a professional.

So now that you have taken the firsts steps and things have gone well, you have made a small profit and you did not compromise your ethics to do it. Now what do you do? Well, if something is working, then my advice is stick with it. Maybe you could consider expanding your product lines a little bit. Maybe you add some exercise bands for stretching, or some candles. Think about other items your client may be interested in and then venture out and try it. You might try a number of things that work like a charm, and then you may try a few that flop. Don't worry, sales come and go in cycles sometimes. It is a moving target. Recognizing a trend, or preparing for a season is always a great idea in retailing. Holidays, seasons, vacations, all are great starting points for choosing retail goods for your practice. Always believe in whatever product you are selling. Know it inside and out, and be able to answer questions about it. Between the advice and instruction, as well as your honest endorsement, you can continue your "sales without really selling" program and continue to help your bottom line.

At no point in your education did you accept a vow of poverty. A career as a massage therapist didn't turn into a charity. I am pretty confident there is no set curriculum for this, and I would also bet that you did not set out in your career as a massage therapist with the thought that you did not want to make money. What was it about becoming a massage therapist that made you think you should never work to provide yourself a stable income, an above average income or even a prosperous and thriving practice based on compassion and caring along with strong business and profitability principles? I hope hearing a bit about the positive side of retailing has perhaps alleviated some of your fears about providing goods for your clients to purchase. As you can see, it is absolutely natural, and actually rather expected. Serve your client. Act always in their best interest. Suggest only items they need, and do not be pushy. Have a supply of goods you recommend on hand. Offer the item you recommend to them at a fair and competitive price. In doing this, you are truly looking after the client while in your care, as well as at home between office visits. The beautiful natural progression is an income you need not feel guilty about earning, and a client base that appreciates your professionalism and expertise. This is a sound win on both fronts!

Click here for previous articles by Angie Patrick.


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