Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why I'm not participating in Spa Week

This week is Spa Week in DC. For those of you who don’t know, Spa Week is a chance for spa’s to take their really expensive spa treatments and knock them down to $50 so that people who don’t really want to pay normal price can snap up this amazing deal and likely not come back again until the next Spa Week, which is probably just in a few months anyway. Spa Week Media Group even gets the participating spas to pay for the privilege of taking a huge discount because the buzz around Spa Week helps pack their appointment books.

I have no idea if this actually results in good client retention. It doesn't really matter because the reason I don’t participate in Spa Week is that Lunar Massage is not a spa.

I started this business because I saw the rapid expansion of spa franchises inspired by Massage Envy and because I think spas are cheesy and overpriced. Also, only 32% of Americans have had a professional massage and only 13% of those people do it for the luxury or the pampering aspect. This struck me as bizarre, because most of the delivery mechanisms for massage are firmly behind the wall of luxury and pampering, not to mention many have been infected with the embarrassing Americanization of eastern philosophy.

Look up an area spa and skim through the menu – you may be promised Zen states or even the achievement of nirvana. If you’re spared the Buddha-based branding you still have to wade through a list of techniques with paragraph-long descriptions that mean little to non-practitioners (i.e. the actual consumer). And given the decor of these places it's obvious that much of the industry is focused on baby boomer women in the suburbs (no offense, Mom).

My hunch has been that so few people experience massage because the industry has inexplicably made it so hard for people. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and cheesy. The last accusation may be my own particular grudge, but I would bet men have stayed away from massage more than necessary because of the feminine implications of the spa and the shudder-inducing whiffs of words like “aromatherapy.”

Stock photography doesn’t help much either. Almost all photos we see of massage are attractive women naked on a table with petals or shells or black stones lining their pretty little spines, hovered over by another attractive woman with her hands laid protectively on her as if in a church service. Worse still are the ones with attractive woman #1 smiling blissfully while attractive woman #2 again, lays benign hands on the shoulders or back. Do a quick Google image search and you’ll see what I mean. These images have almost no relation to the tough, physical work involved in massage, but attempts to capture it realistically result in chunks of flesh being grasped between hands at the scruff of the neck or under the scapula in a way that makes a viewer cringe.

But the funny thing about going against people’s preconceptions of a service, flawed though they may be, is that it’s harder to explain what you do. It has been more difficult for me to overcome the attractive-naked-lady-with-stones-or-petals expectation than I anticipated. But when people do understand our product – whether or not they are “spa people” – they really love it. And I love it when someone calls and says “can I come in RIGHT NOW because I’m in pain” and I can say “yes.”

My attempt to divorce massage from the spa environment is concurrent with trends of clothed massage places in malls and airports. Gradually we are bringing massage out from dim, hushed rooms and letting people feel the power of good bodywork without having to jump over all the aforementioned hurdles. The word “bodywork” itself may be an attempt to broaden the mental image beyond “massage” but it is not quite descriptive enough. I don’t mind correcting people who assume we are a spa; don’t get me started about getting people to adopt “massage studio” instead of “massage parlor.” All these linguistic mishaps are signals of an industry in the process of maturing.

No, Lunar Massage is not participating in Spa Week, but we are here any time you want an affordable, easy massage that doesn’t leave you oily, disoriented, and wincing at bright lights.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Survey results!

I can't believe Lunar Massage just passed its three month anniversary. It feels like we've been open much longer than that! But at least I finally have enough data to start seeing some trends and getting some important numbers from which I can improve what we do.

But in addition to gathering internal metrics, I sent out a quick survey in my latest newsletter and asked some basic questions of my clients on how we're doing. I got a 31% response rate which is higher than I expected!

Here are some highlights:

Rate your Lunar Massage experience:

1. Customer Service - 100% terrific or life-changing
2. Massage quality - 63% terrific or life-changing, 37% meh

Would you return to Lunar Massage next time you want or need a massage?
66% yes, 31% maybe

Reason you haven't gotten a massage more often - 80% PRICE

Would you tell your friends about Lunar Massage? 91% YES

Primary reason for getting a massage - 53% STRESS, 44% PAIN, 26% relaxation
I expected that price would be the reason people usually don't get massages more often. Next time I will ask if you consider Lunar's prices more affordable so that you to experience massage more often. That's what I'm trying to achieve!

I'm also not surprised that only 26% say they get a massage for relaxation purposes. I tell people all the time MASSAGE IS NOT JUST A LUXURY. It should be available in simpler forms that enable people to experience it without the accompanying froo-froo of a luxury experience. That's why I started Lunar Massage.

Looks like we need to work on massage quality, or do a better job of explaining the limitations of what we do, or both. I find that people experienced in massage and comfortable with traditional forms are less happy with our product, but I'm trying to reach those who are new to massage or are not as experienced - a much bigger portion of the population. Even for those experienced I want them to see this is a different product than traditional massage. Still working this out.

Thanks to everyone who participated! I'm going to share the results with my therapists and will post separately about the changes we implement.

Friday, May 22, 2009

you're not just one big hip flexor

...As Amy Reinick recently discovered. She's an avid runner and recent massage customer at a spa in Takoma Park. Her observations are similar to ones many of Lunar's clients discover as well. Insert the body part you want your therapist to focus on and be ready for the surprise that work on other areas alleviate pain or release tightness. It's all connected, and a great massage therapist walks you through the process of addressing your need but also teaching you about your body.

One Lunar client recently asked her therapist to focus on her hands because her thumb was hurting, then was surprised to note how good it felt to have her whole arm massaged and how it released the pain in her thumb as well.

Another recent blog post on the Gal's Guide has a great description of experiencing massage for the first time. No surprise here - she highly recommends it.

Both posts mention the steep prices of massage - remember here at Lunar we start at $26 for 20 minutes and even our $75 hour-long massage is more affordable than most places in DC.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hands On: Desk Job

[Every month I highlight an activity or health issue that massage addresses.]

The vast majority of clients that come to Lunar work long hours at desk jobs and suffer the resulting tension and pain in their shoulders, neck, and back. Because massage seems like a luxury bundled in the spa experience, we often don't think of experiencing it until we're in pain or someone gives us a gift card for a massage. But massage is no longer locked behind a wall of luxury.

Lunar provides a unique service for busy professionals in DC – an affordable way to experience massage to increase your quality of life and to help make those long hours at the office more bearable. We even offer the one-of-a-kind “crackberry massage” to focus just on the hands and arms to relieve carpal tunnel or so-called “crackberry thumb” symptoms that can also accompany a typical DC job.

And since that job probably has something to do with saving the world or shaping policy in the midst of this economic crisis, you deserve the personal attention! A 20 minute massage here is about the price of the dinner and drinks you grab at the end of another 12 hour day ($26). So come by and see us – your body will thank you.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

massage is counter-cyclical

..."Counter-cyclical" being a fancy way of saying that the business goes up in tough times because people buy more massages when life is really stressful.

This article talks about a booming massage business in Arlington, Texas.
"Hey, who wouldn't rather have a massage than go to the doctor?"

She says many of the new clients at her Arlington massage studio are all opting for a holistic approach to health -- one that doesn't require insurance.
I hadn't thought about the lack of insurance coverage being a positive thing for massage right now but they may have a point. Getting a regular massage is certainly better than popping a pill, or worse, doing nothing and suffering the long-term negative health consequences of stress.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

the massage buzz

I've seen quite a few articles about how people are increasing their spending on spas and pampering to deal with the stress of the downturn and also as a part of the "staycation" spending. But this one caught my eye because of this comment:
On a recent Saturday, Brownyn Fryer and Monique Sternin emerged from massages at 1 on 1 feeling light-headed, as if they had just enjoyed a glass of wine.
This is why we do the monthly happy hours! You can get a buzz from both the massage and the free glass of wine afterward. This month it's on Thursday May 21st. More on that and other events here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tension headaches

I had a client last night who's doctor recommended that he get regular massages to reduce his tension headaches. Wow! So glad there are some doctors making that recommendation. He got a 30 minute massage focused on his back, shoulders, and neck and it helped open him up. I also know of people who get regular massages to prevent migraines. Migraines will definitely be a "Hands On" focus of the month soon.