Summer 2008
Massaging Profits in a Down Economy

Massage Stat At-a-Glance

As more than 76 million Baby Boomers start to reach retirement age, the massage market is well-positioned for growth. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, recent research has shown how massage can:

  • Reduce fatigue
  • Lessen chronic pain
  • Reduce post-operative pain after surgery
  • Boost the body's immune system
  • Decrease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure
  • Reduce headache frequency

Big Business

Massages are big business. Whether for medical reasons such as injury rehab or pain relief, or for relaxation or simple health and wellness, more consumers are getting massages than ever before, according to the American Massage Therapy Association in Evanston, IL.

Approximately 47 million American adults received a massage between mid-2004 and mid-2005 (the latest figures available), according to the AMTA. The organization estimates the massage market brought in between $6 and $11 million in 2005-billions more than just a decade prior.

“Massage has exploded in the last 10 years,” says Steven Malkin, marketing director for Relaxus Products based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Relaxus wholesales products such as head massagers and body massagers to more than 75 cart or kiosk operators in the US and Canada. Thanks in part to consumers’ increasing interest in stress-reduction and general well-being, “More and more people are recognizing and enjoying the benefits of massage,” Malkin says.

Not only that, but their doctors are writing prescriptions for or talking up the benefits of massages every day. Almost twice as many doctors (59 percent) recommended massage to their patients in 2005 than did so five years prior, according to the AMTA. (Imagine tens of thousands of doctors telling their patients to seek out your products year after year-what impact would that have on your sales?)

No surprise: Baby Boomers get more massages than any other demographic, an average of seven in 12 months, compared to five for those in the 18 to 44 age bracket. That number is set to increase significantly as the 76 million Boomers inch toward retirement and experience the typical effects of aging.

But even Boomers are not immune to the vagaries of a slowing economy, and they, along with millions of other Americans are reigning in their discretionary spending, seeking out inexpensive ways to still get their massage on. “Consumers may be feeling squeezed by a slowing economy, but they still need and want stress-reduction, relaxation and relief from their aches and pains-now more than ever,” Malkin says. “Spas are great… and their business is also growing, but people can’t always get to the spa and some simply can’t afford the time or cost of going to the spa as often as they would like.”

imageHe adds that “mall and airport massage retailers are not offering a replacement for the spa experience, but they are right there just when we need them most-during our hectic daily lives shopping at the mall or traveling through an airport, when people welcome an inexpensive ‘quickie’ escape and feel-good pick-me-up” in the form of a massage. “Or they’ll purchase an inexpensive little piece of feeling better: a massage tool to use for their coveted ‘me time’ over and over again at home.”

Opportunities for specialty retailers today “are definitely increasing,” Malkin says. “People are seeking out how to feel better and specialty retailers can meet this need by being easily accessible, convenient and by taking advantage of the ultimate impulse purchase: ‘I want to feel better now.'”

Recognizing the category’s potential, enterprising specialty retailers have launched a variety of massage-related retail concepts that have captured significant sales in the common area. Some retailers provide on-site massages; others sell massage and spa products but skip the laying-on of hands. A few are un-staffed common-area concepts such as massage chairs that customers operate themselves.

Knead a massage?

imageLia Bar Didonne, co-owner of Massage Mania, a freestanding kiosk in Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, NY, offers her customers massages in Aqua Massage capsules (two sit side-by-side) and sells a variety of head massagers, vibrating massagers, aromatherapy heat packs and other products for at-home use.

The idea for her kiosk was based on her personal experience, she says. “I needed relaxation, so I decided to sell relaxation. I saw regular kiosks with just pillows or head massagers and I decided to combine [products and services]-bring them together.” So far, the strategy has worked.

For the on-site massage, Bar Didonne has two Aqua Massage capsules that get the most attention from shoppers. The capsules allow customers to receive a water massage without getting wet. Dow Cote, sales manager for Aqua Massage International, based in Groton, CT, explains that customers remain fully clothed (shoes are removed), lie down in the capsule and relax while a spray bar travels forward and back, massaging the full length of the body. A thin water barrier/liner keeps a customer dry while allowing the water pulses to be felt. Aqua Massage capsules can be found in 160 locations in the US and 250 locations worldwide (in 60 countries), about one-third of which are in venues like shopping centers and airports, where customers spend about $10 for a five-minute massage ($20 for 15 minutes). “People do the Aqua Massage mostly for relaxation,” Bar Didonne says. But “they’re not able to take the Aqua Massage capsule with them-so they buy something else. We offer 25 different massage products at our kiosk.” She adds: “Once they trysomething, they want to take it with them.”

Aqua Massage International encourages the sale of add-on massage products by its operators, but doesn’t wholesale its own line. Hand-held massagers, head massagers and skincare/massage lotions, etc. are just a few of the items that cross-sell well, says Cote.

imageHe explains that “while people are waiting in line [for an available capsule], retailers can show them the products. Some [retailers] can make $2,500 to $3,500 a month with the products.” Two capsules could bring in another $3,000 to $5,000 a week in sales, he adds.

On-site massages are also offered at The Back Rubber locations, in the form of self-service extra-comfy-looking massage chairs that stand ready to give three rubdowns-rolling, kneading and tapping-to weary mall shoppers or airport travelers. A three-minute massage goes for $1; an hour is $20. “We live in a go-go-go society” and need relief from stress wherever we can find it, says Larry Carvano, vice president of The Back Rubber. “You’re at an airport or a shopping mall, you’re stressed out, you want to relax.” Hard to miss in the middle of foot traffic, the oversized chairs “look comfortable and they are comfortable,” he says. Once a customer sits down, a sale isn’t far behind.

Cote of Aqua Massage agrees that having a location in the middle of foot traffic is a major plus when it comes to massage concepts. Shoppers “hear the water running and then they see the machine and that draws them in,” he says. Intrigued by the space-age-sleep-pod look of the Aqua Massage capsules, passers by are at first curious if nothing else. When they come closer, if a customer is already enjoying a massage in the capsule, all the better: an instant demonstration. “When the first person gets in [the capsule], people start to crowd around,” Cote says. “When they get out of the machine, people ask how they like it and they always say, ‘It was great!'”

Try it, buy it

imageMassage products for at-home use from Relaxus sell well in the common area for two main reasons, Malkin says. First, the products “are cute and draw attention to the cart.” Second, specialty retailers can use demonstration to generate sales, whereas traditional inline retailers often don’t want to get involved in demonstrations. “A store may sell these same items, but when you get a back rub [at a cart] with massager demonstration, you feel good,” Malkin says. Of course, the better the customer feels after trying your product, the better your chances of closing the sale. William Pavia, owner of Pleasure Island, in Westfield Shoppingtown (formerly Westfield Connecticut Post) in Milford, CT, is such a firm a believer in demonstration that he lets shoppers try his two Aqua Massage capsules for free any time. “We set the machine for three minutes and people can try it out,” he explains. “Of those who try it out for free, almost 100 percent of them then decide to pay for a session. Once they are in there, they do not want to get out.”

Another product that’s easy to demonstrate is the Massage Mouse, a hands-free massager that sends patterns of electronic impulses to muscles through the massage pads. The Massage Mouse is manufactured by Hi-Dow International, Inc. out of St. Louis, MO, and can run on 9V batteries, through computer’s a USB port or in some cases from an AC adapter, making demonstration easy.

Retailers “just pick a person’s arm or shoulder or hand, put the pads on and turn on the unit,” explains Tracy Carrasquillo, sales manager for Hi-Dow. “The pads adhere to the skin. If someone has a stiff neck, you place the pads on the neck and turn it on. You can even increase the level of intensity.”

Massage Mouse models range from $79 to $179 retail. The company even offers an Optical Massage Mouse, which is the combination of the regular Massage Mouse and an optical computer mouse. The Optical Massage Mouse can be connected to a computer’s USB port, which makes the unit ultra-convenient for anyone with a relatively new computer. “The Optical Massage Mouse looks like a computer mouse and you can have the mouse on a [mouse] pad for computer use and still be wired to it, to address your stiff neck,” Carrasquillo says.

Another popular demonstration product is the patent-pending Mini Masseuse, which uses electronic stimulation to deliver “an ultra smooth deep-tissue massage sensations similar to the technology used exclusively bychiropractors, physical therapists and sports trainers around the world,” according to the company’s website. The treatment helps relieve minor muscle and joint discomfort, according to Jeff Adkisson, co-owner with Mike Furman of MJ Specialty Retail, which wholesales the Mini Masseuse from its Walnut Shade, MO headquarters.

image“We have more than 600 locations throughout the US,” says Adkisson, “and we supply many specialty vendors, spas and gift shops with our products.” Suggested retail price for the Mini Masseuse is $89.95 and a Pro Series is $129.95. Adkisson estimates retail markeup at between 500 and 600 percent. Farther west in Gardena, CA is U.S. Jaclean, which manufactures and distributes massage equipment and health products such as hand-held massagers, kneading massagers, massage chairs and vibrating massagers to specialty retailers in 100 shopping centers in the US.

What products are they selling the most of these days? “Our Reflex Roller is doing well at the malls,” says National Sales Manager Hide Yoshida. The Reflex Roller, with variable speed control, helps relieve nervous tension and improve blood circulation, Yoshida says. “It’s one machine that does two massages…. a rolling massage and a kneading massage,” a feature that shoppers appreciate.

Getting started

Most product suppliers have start-up packages created specifically for cart- and kiosk-based retailers. “Our [cart] start-up package is $1,500,” says Adkisson of Mini Masseuse. “The package includes massage units, extra supplies, signage and training. It features enough product for approximately $8,000 worth of retail sales.”

Of course, getting started with one or more Aqua Massage capsules is going to cost a bit more. “Our start-up package costs are $50,000 to $52,000 for the machine… and additional products could be $8,000 to $10,000,” says Cote, adding that leasing options are also available. For obvious reasons, Aqua Massage prefers to sign up retailers who plan to operate year-round.

Carvano at The Back Rubber says his company’s start-up package includes the chairs, warranties, technical support and freestanding signage. The cost of the package depends mainly on how many chairs the retailers wants. Four massage chairs start at $7,495; 16 chairs run $24,995. As a retailer, William Pavia of Pleasure Island has one last thought for entrepreneurs to keep in mind: the key to your success is finding the right location. “One of the first things a new [retailer] should do is go to the mall and get an idea of the traffic,” he says. “The Westfield Shopping Mall in Milford where I have my Aqua Massage capsules has 12.5 million people go through it each year. If I get a small percentage of that, I am doing fine.”

Butterfly Massager Lands in US

The success of common-area massage concepts has drawn the attention of wholesalers with unique products, some of which are totally new to the US market. Frank Ortega, vice president of Global Marketing Partners, Inc. in Atlanta, GA, believes his company’s Butterfly Massager, a mobile massager with wireless electrodes, is perfect for carts and kiosks in the US, noting that eight million Butterfly Massagers have already sold overseas, many though kiosks. Ortega and his partner, President Chris Garvey, have secured exclusive rights to distribute the Butterfly Massager in the US and are looking to the specialty retailmarket for emerging opportunities.

Suggested retail in the US is $29.95, with a markup of 300 to 400 percent. Part of what made the Butterfly Massager so successful on kiosks overseas is that retailers “can demo the product within five seconds,” Ortega says. Noting that retailers in the common area have a window of “only five or 10 seconds” to capture the shoppers’ attention and relay key features, he explains that his competitors’ massagers “have electrodes and wires attached and you have to place them at different places on the body,” which slows down the demonstration and lessens its impact on the customer.

image“Our product just sticks to the area to be massaged,” he says. “You place it on an arm and customers can feel it and see it working.” With eight million units already sold, it seems the “try it, buy it” selling strategy is working.

Article Resources

American Massage Therapy Assoc.

Aqua Massage International

Global Marketing Partners, Inc./Butterfly Massager

Hi-Dow International, Inc.

Massage Mania

MJ Specialty Retail/Mini Masseuse

Pleasure Island

Relaxus Products

The Back Rubber

U.S. Jaclean, Inc.

Additional Resources

Heaven’s Therapy

Herbal Pack Mart

Michael’s Happy Hearts

Mini Max Massager

Ozio Massage Therapy


Scents of Décor

South Beach Spa Candles

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