“If I’m sending good, positive energy, my clients will come”: Massage therapists in the recession

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Massage therapists in the Twin Cities say they are seeing a decline in business due to the struggling economy, and many of them are finding new and creative ways to help their businesses survive. While occupational therapy, physical therapy, and chiropractic treatments are often covered by insurance, many massage therapists are not, and as the fear of a falling economy grips the community, getting a massage can be seen as a luxury more and more people feel they cannot afford.

“It’s really a mixed bag,” said Ron Precht of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). He said AMTA estimates that there are 4,931 massage therapists in Minnesota, and while some of them are finding themselves busier than ever, others are saying that it’s really hard to make ends meet. “Day spas and resorts in particular are struggling.”

“People just have a lot less expendable cash in their pockets,” said Xshuba Evaristo, who has practiced holistic body work for the past eight years. “I’ve lost a third of my business in the past few months. I used to do 15 to 20 sessions a week, and now I’m doing 12 to 14.” Evaristo said that while he might be able to get more clients if he was covered by insurance, he didn’t want to deal with it. “I don’t work with insurance currently because it’s a pain in the ass,” he said. “It’s a personal choice.”

Evaristo said that his regular clients who do continue to see him seem to be having more and more stress-related problems, which he feels derive largely from the economic crisis. “One of the reasons I’m not doing worse,” he said, “is because my clients need stress relief now more than ever.”

Karen Townsend, who practices shiatsu and does deep tissue massage therapy, said that most of her clients see massage as a necessity rather than a luxury. “Most people see it as something they have to do. They’d like to think of it as a luxury, but after a while you’ll see them again.”

Townsend said that while her regular clients have been coming to see her less frequently, she has increased her chair massage business, which helps round out her business. Townsend sets up her chair for shorter session massages in downtown near a law firm, and also by the skyway. Townsend said that her chair business allows people to invest a smaller amount of money into getting a massage, and has found a way to make a profit at it.

Chandler Yorkhall, a shiatsu therapist, said that he has tried to do free promotional work and offer discounts, but many of his clients decline the discounts. “For some people,” he said, “It’s below their pride.” Yorkhall also has a referral program, but that hasn’t been very successful either. “Everyone says they are going to use it. People love the idea. But to convince people who wouldn’t otherwise [seek massage] on their own is tough. It’s a very personal decision.”

April Fleck, a massage therapist who works part-time to support her two children, said she tries to think of sending out energy to bring in new clients. But she also said that in the last six months she did notice that while her regular customers were still coming, she was seeing significantly fewer new clients. Like Yorkhall, she said she has tried giving discounts, but found that clients either think they are rich enough to afford it, or not. In addition to sending out more positive energy, Fleck said that she plans on increasing her marketing and has started a blog to bring in new clients. “I feel like if I’m sending out good, positive energy,” she said, “my clients will come.”

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.