Massage franchise businesses in the US have permanently changed the spa industry, drawing new types of consumers to the wellness lifestyle and accelerating the growth of the sector.
The model has scaled incredibly quickly to the point where market leader Massage Envy topped the US$1bn turnover mark last year and will have more than 1,000 spas by the end of 2014, making it a substantial business by any measure.
No-one has yet estimated the value or volume of the crossover business, ie, people who are introduced to the industry via a franchise and go on to become customers of full-service spas and vice versa. There’s a need for these numbers to be established now and more importantly, to be tracked given the rapid growth being experienced.
The franchise industry is a highly entrepreneurial one and investors have been quick to see the potential of the sector. New entrants in the US such as Massage Green Spa, Hand and Stone, Massage Luxe and others are growing quickly and investors right across the international markets starting to see the potential too.
Massage is a neighbourhood purchase, with people typically prepared to travel a 20-30 minutes for a treatment. This makes it very like the health club model in scale, while the pricing being adopted by massage and facial franchises is also similar to that deployed by volume health club operators. As a result, it seems likely the spa franchise market will turn out to be a similar shape to the health club sector by the time it reaches maturity.
On page 34, our experts examine the impact that franchises are having on the wider spa market. The debate centres around quality control, market fatigue and staffing – are there enough customers to support this many sites and enough therapists to deliver the volume?
But the biggest question is whether these businesses can be sustained without impacting full-service spas. Will they suck the life out of the full-service sector and what kind of shape will the industry be in once they’ve scaled?
In the health club industry, where budget offers have proliferated, they’re starting to bed down to co-exist in a sustainable way with the high end operations, but have knocked the stuffing out of the mid-market. Time will tell whether the same thing happens with spas.
Whatever the outcome, spa operators worldwide need to prepare for this change with eyes wide open.