How to alienate your customers: A case study, Massage Envy

There is an old saying that in business you are either growing or going. There is a lot of truth to it. Customers who love you and keep buying from you allow you to cover up a lot of your sins and mistakes you make in business. But at what point do those mistakes cross that invisible line and cause customers to lose ‘that loving feeling’ and jump ship permanently?

If your in the massage business, like Massage Envy, it would seems pretty obvious that the person you need to faithfully serve, design your programs and policies around, and show all your love to,  is the person you are giving your massages to- your customers.

As a customer, the idea of having someone skilled, educated and with credentials in the health care field caring for you and your aches and pains is certainly an appealing proposition for the customer.  Who doesn’t want a massage? As long as you hire talented masseurs, provide an environment that is appealing and soothing, and price your services correctly, it seems like a recipe for success.

And it sure has been the lure customers want to take the Massage Envy bait.

Since its launch in 2002, Massage Envy has grown at breakneck speed. In fact, it’s become the largest employer of massage therapists in the country. There are more than 1000 Massage Envy franchised locations in 49 states that cater to members who want the benefits of regular massage and facials at an affordable price — $59.99 to $79.99 a month to select one treatment or one service. The price variation depends on what each market will bear.

Most people find their prices very attractive as prices at clinics, gyms and spas typically range from $30-$50 USD for a 30-45 minute massage and $50-$90 USD for 45-60 minutes. Hotels or resort fees are typically $50-$70 for 30-45 minutes, and $85-$125 for 45-60 minutes, making Massage Envy seem like a really great deal.

goodbyetostressHere’s how it works: you can try Massage Envy out for a special introductory price that is $10 lower than the price members pay, but you can only do it once.  It’s a great ‘special offer’ to get new customers in the door and show them ‘the love’ with a fantastic massage therapist. From there you either pay the higher price or decide to become a member. If you become a member, Massage Envy has you sign a one-year contract where you agree to be billed monthly for a massage or facial.

Now for the double edged hook: whether you use it or not,  or whether or not you can find another therapist you like, after your initial introductory massage, you are billed monthly and cannot cancel your contract for a whole year.

How customer oriented is this? Well it turns out, not very. It certainly can freak some people out because invariably the questions arises:  “What if I don’t use it?” Or “What if I cannot find a therapist I like who has availability to see me?” Both problems turned out to be mine.

Since the age of 20 I have believed that massage is not only a gateway to reducing chronic stress but also essential to eliminate toxins from your body because of the increased circulation massage offers, if you go regularly. Research suggests that the build up of toxins have a lot to do with major illness and so I have gone to massage schools, and reputable credentialed private masseurs most of my life for regular treatments.

However, when I moved to the suburbs I found it harder to find an assortment of professionals to choose from, that were readily available in the city, and decided one day to walk into a Massage Envy for the same reasons anyone would- it sounded like a great deal and exactly what I needed. I told the front desk I frequently get routine massages and wanted a highly experienced therapist. I specifically said I didn’t want someone right out of school, but someone with at least five years experience as I had been going regularly for massage for over 20 years and know the difference between a beginner and an experienced massage therapist.

Massage Envy recommended an appointment for me with a therapist they said had 10 years experience — and I had one of the great massages of my life for a $49 introductory price (and a $20 tip she well deserved). And so I signed myself right up for a monthly membership massage for a year, and at another location, a membership for my husband too.

What I did not realize is that Massage Envy has a reputation for hiring massage therapists right out of school, who still have a lot to learn typically. While all the therapists they hire are professional and licensed, they recruit from massage schools, so you are more likely to get an inexperienced therapist fresh out of school. But Massage Envy also has some highly experienced therapists, like the one I was offered.  What I found out quickly is that there is typically only a few of them at this level, at any single location, and they are usually solidly booked and hard to get in with after that initial appointment you had with them that got you to sign up for a year long membership.

What Massage Envy tells their clients is that once you’ve found the right fit, try to make a standing appointment with them. And if you can’t they suggest you try other therapists until you find one you like just as well.

So the therapist I liked, the experienced one, it turns out was sick of being paid so little for the massages she gave. She complained in almost every session I was able to get with her about how overbooked and under paid she was. I heard frequently about how the franchise was only focused on the bottom line and that they had refused to upgrade or address client issues, broken massage tables, or provide additional towels to her after repeated complaints from clients.  For some reason, because my first massage had gone so well, I never bothered to look online at the reviews about the company.  They are heavily mixed at best, and mostly negative I found. And then came my biggest problem of all- my massage therapist who was highly booked and had a 96% client satisfaction rate was mysteriously one day abruptly terminated. The front desk told me she left, but I knew better because I knew her well enough to know she needed the job. Regardless, now I had to find another therapist as I was under contract with Massage Envy.

Well, there are several ways Massage Envy explains to their new members that they can deal with any unused sessions you have. For one you can roll them over to the next month.  So now you can get two massage the next month.  Or, they explain, you can take that missed session and add a half-hour to two other massages, making them 1 1/2 hours long. You can also give it to a friend or family member for a $10 surcharge.   And if you’re going away for a while, you can “freeze” your membership for up to six-months.

But what if you cannot find a therapist you like? What if you don’t want to use their service any more? Of in the case of my husband, you never have time to?

In my situation, I took the time to call the front desk and complain. I told them I had tried to find several other therapists and that no one was as good as the therapist that was no longer there but that I was willing to try someone else, again after several failed attempts. I told them I had worked hard to get in to my preferred masseurs schedule, and that I had patiently waited for a time slot she had open on a regular basis to become available, that I could actually make. I had moved my entire schedule around to make this time-slot now work, after months of seeing other therapists with little experience, and that I appreciate it if they would please keep my standing appointment with whoever they thought was next best that had that same availability so that I could get to work receiving my therapeutic benefit.

And then arrived my next standing appointment.

When I walked in the front door I was told that I did not have an appointment, despite the fact I was booked the last time I checked for almost 4 months of standing appointments. Infact upon digging into it, I learned from the franchise owner, without any explaination offered, all my standing appointment had been cancelled without my approval or at my request, and that my membership was being terminated. What I said? ‘You did what? ‘

With no response, I followed up with a phone call to corporate headquarters. They, of course, never returned my phone call. In fact, they don’t ever answer their phone. They are a national franchise with an answering machine. Feel free to call them, you can leave a message too that will never get returned.  So I guess that’s what you can expect if you complain to Massage Envy as a paying customer.

And my husband? Well we encountered an entirely different situation all together. My husband was too busy at work and never did not use his membership. We paid for over a year of massage for him and never received a single treatment.  After my experience at the other location, I called the franchise and told them we would like to cancel his membership. I was told that happily I could terminate his membership however my husband had to use up all 14 of his massages in 30 days or he would lose them. Turns out there was a class action lawsuit against Massage Envy as a result of a lot of other customers finding themselves in exactly the same situation.

Here is what we discovered:

The initial Massage Envy class action lawsuit was filed by Hahn on Dec. 7, 2011, in San Diego County Superior Court. Hahn claimed she had signed a contract with a Massage Envy franchise in September 2008, and made 23 monthly payments thereafter, but had only used two massages. Hahn alleged that she attempted to cancel her membership, but was unable to until she requested that her credit card company stop making the payment, and even then the chain referred her to a collections agency. According to the sales script detailed in Judge Sabraw’s order, she was told something like, “[Y]ou have the entire term of your membership to use your member services. As long as your membership is active, your services roll over. In other words, if you can’t come in one month, you’ll have two waiting for you the next month … .” She alleged in her class action lawsuit that Massage Envy would not provide her with the 21 massages she had paid for, nor would they provide a refund for the unused services.

The case was removed to federal court in January 2012. The members of the Massage Envy class action lawsuit,  as many as 130,000 sought injunctive relief prohibiting the company from its practice of forfeiting prepaid massages, in addition to compensation for, or reinstatement of, their massages. As of May 2015 a preliminary settlement was reached.

As for my husband, we eventually were able to negotiate that he receive 12 massage gift cards out of 14 he should have been offered in light of this development. We gave all of them away to friends and family and will clearly never go back to Massage Envy or ever recommend them to anyone we know.

While it seems Massage Envy’s boat has not sprouted enough of a leak to completely sink, they seem to be sputtering out water. At the very least, it surely seems that there is plenty of room for another national franchise to come in and show massage customers the value and love that so many seem to be looking for. Wouldn’t you agree?


From the Massage Envy Website:







At Massage Envy, we’re here for you every day of the week, morning and night, across the entire country. We are hundreds of franchise owners employing more than 25,000 massage therapists, estheticians, and employees and every one of our franchisees consider it their job to be passionate in their support of your commitment to total body care: an integral part of everyone’s well-being journey.

At Massage Envy, we’re here for you every day of the week, morning and night, across the entire country. We are hundreds of franchise owners employing more than 25,000 massage therapists, estheticians, and employees and every one of our franchisees consider it their job to be passionate in their support of your commitment to total body care: an integral part of everyone’s well-being journey.

That’s why we’ve made it our purpose, our guiding light, the reason we do what we do.

And with that in mind, we promise one thing:

We help you take care of you.

What We Believe

We believe that massages and facials aren’t a luxury; they are body maintenance, pure and simple. Regular massage and facial care goes a long way toward helping Massage Envy members and guests take care of themselves and manage the side effects of life.

How We Help

We are often credited as being the leader in accessible massage. Yes, the Massage Envy membership model has popularized the belief that massage can be convenient and affordable, but from the very start of our journey we have believed that there’s more to it than that. We may not have always talked about massage and skincare in this way, but these ideals have been at the core of our belief system from day one.

Massage Envy has been in the massage business since 2002 – longer than any other player in the industry – and now has over 1,000 franchised locations in 49 states. Because of that we have had the opportunity, through our franchisees, to deliver more than 90 million massages and 4 million facials to more than 1.65 million members. And the only reason we’ve been able to help that many people is due to the more than 25,000 therapists and estheticians at each franchised location who believe in their power to help people feel their best and who demonstrate their passion in what they do.

Who We Partner Up With

We’ve had some help along the way. Our exclusive partnership with the global leader Murad in skincare allows us to develop and offer proprietary skincare products and services that make a difference in people’s lives. And our collaborative work with the Arthritis Foundation helps find a cure for the millions of women, men and children who suffer from arthritis (the leading cause of disability in the U.S.) and provides body care to help them find relief and maintain their lifestyle.

Our Role in the Industry

We believe being a pioneer in any industry comes with the responsibility of leadership. We feel it’s important for Massage Envy members and guests to know where we stand on the safety and professionalism of our industry. To put it simply, there is nothing more important to us.

That’s why since 2002, when we set out to promote healthy lifestyles through massage and facial services, we’ve made it our priority to set the bar (a high bar) for standards in the massage industry.

What You May Not Know

  1. We Choose Partnerships Carefully. We’ve chosen to establish partnerships with national organizations in the massage, esthetic and spa industries to support and promote the longevity of our profession.Through Education & Training Solutions, who are approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, we’ve developed the Massage Envy Behind Closed Doors training program. This training is a cutting edge program that instructs therapists on real-life situations in the therapy room, something that is not taught in most massage therapy schools. We require that each massage therapist and esthetician employed by our franchisees complete this training, along with three additional mandatory courses, every year.These mandatory courses cover some of our most critical policies, which reflect some of the most stringent standards in the industry:
    • Zero Tolerance and Code of Conduct Policy – sets forth clear standards for appropriate conduct of therapists and estheticians
    • Draping Policy – our draping protocol is the most stringent in the industry and often requires retraining of draping learned in school or prior employment
    • Wellness Chart Policy – includes clear procedures for consultation and consent
  2. We Seek More Uniform Nationwide RegulationsWe also support the work of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and individual states to promote a more uniform regulatory structure across the country, including working toward all 50 states requiring licensing (and standards for licensing) for massage therapists.And for states without massage therapy regulation and licensing, our policies step in. We require a Massage Envy therapist to have no less than 500 hours of massage therapy education from a professional, private post-secondary school (the standard for licensure in many states).
  3. We Stand Firm on our Policies and Procedures. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of Massage Envy members and guests. That’s why we require strict enforcement of our  Zero Tolerance and Code of Conduct Policy by our franchisees. And we vigorously monitor and ensure compliance by franchisees. To that end, we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff and technology tools that help ensure compliance.Before hiring any massage therapist and/or esthetician, our franchisees are required to perform a criminal background and personal reference check and to validate each license or certification. And we are always working to implement technology tools that could help change the face of the industry as it relates to therapist screening.


To your highest purpose and best startup self, friends.

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How to alienate your customers: A case study, Massage Envy

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