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Creating a culture that leads to a profitable massage clinic

Hi gang! This is a transcription of an interview I did. It’s kind of long for a blog post, but I wanted to share. Hope you enjoy!

"Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival but that's exactly what it is." Anita Roddick

“Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival but that’s exactly what it is.” Anita Roddick

Host: Welcome!

Today we are speaking to Jodi Scholes, founder of the Business of Bodywork, a consulting firm specializing in working nationwide with owners of massage clinics. For 14 years, Jodi owned her own massage clinic just outside of Washington DC. She has been a massage therapist for over 20 years and according to her Linked In profile, she learned her small business skills through the school of hard knocks.

Today Jodi will be sharing with us some secrets on how she and her team implement systems, refines policies and overhauls staff meetings to create a clinic culture that leads to profitability.

That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Jodi, there are not many people working in this specific market, with so many options out there in the small business world, how did you end up working with massage therapists?

Jodi:    Thanks for asking! I’m really pleased to be here today.

True, it is a special niche, working with the owners, spa managers and business managers of massage clinics. It really is a natural fit for me. You see, all the way back in 1994, I opened a massage clinic myself. At that time, there wasn’t an Operations Manual on how to be successful in the massage business. In fact I wasn’t taken very seriously. By anybody.

I tried to be a friendly down to earth boss, but then I learned that the nicer I was to my co-workers–my staff–the more they took advantage of me. It was a stressful time. I was the one paying all the bills, doing all the marketing, buying all the supplies. I was the one praying payroll was going to clear. I was working my tail off and looking back, I realize I felt very alone.

So to answer your question, I really wanted to share what I had learned over the 14+ years of running my massage center with other clinic owners. Managing massage therapists is both an art and a science. None of us really know what we are doing when we start.

Host: You have titled this interview, ‘Creating a Culture that Leads to a Profitable Clinic.’ What does clinic culture have to do with profit? Isn’t culture just a popular buzz word used by consultants?

Jodi: For some consultants that’s true. But for me, I like to be super clear on what I’m talking about when it comes to corporate culture. Massage therapists have sometimes escaped from the corporate world to leave this type of mumbo jumbo behind. However, all businesses have a culture–intentional or unintentional. My best clients are positive, advancing entrepreneurs that want to be intentional about their clinic culture.

Jodi: So if I understand the question, you’re asking how can ‘culture’ -being a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and commonly agreed on practices- create a profitable clinic?

My belief is you can’t have a profitable clinic without a sharing positive attitudes, sharing the same high ethical values, setting clear goals and where everyone agrees on best practices.

At least not for long.

Culture has to do with the day to day stuff. Not everything runs smoothly all the time. Sometimes, massage therapists act like prima donnas. Now I know this never happens at the clinics of owners who are listening today. Now and then, front desk staff complain about other employees and even gossip!  Occasionally, I have found that even managers get irritated because they have to tolerate mediocrity. Hey I’ve been there, let’s be honest, at times having someone is better than no one!

For those listening, I’m sure this sounds a little familiar.  As an owner, I’ve felt frustrated because after just a short time my new hires would seem to ‘forget’ how to empty a trash can or throw in a load of laundry. And you’d think I was speaking to them in Chinese when I remind them to show up early for their shift, never mind on time.

Each of these situations demonstrates the certain type of clinic culture. If ignored, each of these examples can create resentment, frustration and eventually anger that eats away at the perfectly adequate, flat, boring culture in most massage clinics.

Host: Wow that sounds like it could get to be a real problem. How can you tell if the culture at work needs help?

Jodi: Great question.

I can normally tell when owners talk to me about situations like, out of the blue a massage therapist quit. Or a therapist calls out on the same day and all her clients have to be rescheduled. Owners tell me front desk staff just disappear– never quit, call out or show up again. When I talk to business or office managers, they almost always like to leave early, before the shift actually ends, because they are fed up, out of patience and honestly, close to being burned out.

Sometimes its just a matter of not having enough staff.

If any of this is happening at a massage center then they are not as profitable as they could be. There needs to be improvement or it will be stuck.

Host: Stuck? What do you mean by stuck?

Jodi: The clinic won’t be able to sustain growth or develop the staff they have. Stuck because there will be turnover. The owner will always be playing catch up.

Host:  So what can you do that the owner hasn’t already tried? In fact, isn’t that the manager’s job to make sure they don’t get stuck?

Jodi: (Laughing) Yes, in a perfect world the manager would notice the issues, have the training- and courage to address these issues.

Jodi: But the truth is most large clinics and spas are busy. The manager is responsible for handling customer service issues and client refunds; overseeing some of the day to day bookkeeping as well as verifying and submitting payroll. Managers also place ads to recruit new therapists; interview and train new hires; plus make employee schedules and approve time off requests.

Needless to say they are busy. To improve the culture in a massage clinic the manger must have the time and the energy to be creative. Most managers ride the hairy edge of burn out. So yes, it is the manager’s job (or the owners) but the urgent takes precedent over the important and improving clinic culture stays on the list of really good ideas to do, one day.

Host: Jodi, most workplaces aren’t perfect. When does a manager know things are good enough? And how does profit get impacted by culture?

Jodi: True. Most workplaces aren’t perfect. But hopefully they are improving. I believe we always need to be innovating and being creative. If our culture isn’t improving, it’s likely getting worse.

Your second question was how is profit impacted by culture?

When a clinic culture is negative or lacks a vibrant energy, eventually staff members start to look for other opportunities. Simply put, they go where they think the grass is greener. They quit. Recent studies have shown, on average, it costs an owner somewhere between $2000 and $4000 to replace an employee.

Host: $2000-$4000? That sounds like a lot of money considering we are talking about massage.

Jodi: That is a lot of money. But add it up: There’s a weekly ad on Craig’s List or another paper. Plus time it takes to write the ad, answer calls, prequalify candidate over the phone. Add in the time it takes to perform the verbal interview and the time it takes to do the practical.

Host: I’ll be happy to volunteer!

Jodi: I’ll keep that in mind. Have you had many massages?

Host: Im a massage junkie!

Jodi: Okay, maybe you can be a secret shopper.

Host: Sign me up!

Jodi: That can be arranged. However, before I forget, I wasn’t quite done with all the costs associated with a new hire.

There’s the investment to do a background check as well as paying another person to train the new hire on, ‘the way things are done around here’ It can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks to get a new hire ready. It will depend on their experience, the status of their license and liability insurance that kind of stuff.

Jodi: One more thing. We can’t ignore the revenue that would have been generated by the person who quit. That is a loss every day, every week that the clinic is a man down. {or woman}

Host: Those are all good points. But do you think that all adds up to $4000?

Jodi: Well it depends on how much the massage center charges per session. A full time therapist will see about 25 clients a week. If the clinic charges $70 per session. Do you have a calculator? What is 25 x $70.00

Host: 25 x $70 equals $1,750.00

Jodi: So in lost revenue alone, the clinic loses $1,750.00 per week. If it takes 2-3 weeks to find a good staff member, well, what is 3 x 1750?

Host: 3 x 1750 equals {surprised} $5,250.00!

Jodi: Yah, and that is in lost revenue alone. Now keep in mind that’s not 100% profit, but you can see it’s really important to keep the good people you have.

Host: Wow. So what’s your secret? Other smart people have tried to get things going at work but it doesn’t last. Why does this work for you?

Jodi: I’m glad you ask. I work with some really talented, smart people. Owners and managers that honestly care about the people that work with them. In fact some of the owners I work with  are so frustrated because the harder they try, the more they feel like they are separated from their team. See that’s the problem. The harder they try, the more their staff wonders what’s up. The staff thinks, ‘I wonder how long this will last.’

The manager wants to be positive and upbeat, but they can only sustain their good attitude for so long. Then the whole place goes back to what it was like, or worse.

Host: So what makes your company different?

Jodi: We’ve had loads of success in improving the clinic culture. I believe there are three reasons.

  1. Myself and my team are massage therapists, so the staff listens.
  2. We are not their boss.
  3. We have a solid reliable plan to follow.

Host: Please explain more.

Jodi: Well, number 1, the staff immediately have respect because they know we are just like them. They can relate. So they listen. Number 2, Have you ever heard the saying, “You are never a prophet in your own land”? Just like a mom can tell her kid something over and over again but, if a friend’s mom says the same thing, well then of course it’s gospel. Sometimes it just takes someone else explaining for the staff to hear. We show up and tell them the truth about what’s going to work best for them and for the team. And number 3, I have a rock solid plan.

It would take too long to give you all the ins and outs but the full program is just one year. Some owners can run on their own after 3-6 months. Most managers and owners want to do the full year because it’s just easier to have us around.

Host: Can you tell us a little more about the program?

Jodi: Of course. There are 5 parts.

Part 1. We drastically improve the staff meetings.

2. We introduce self care benes.

3. We add continuing education and explore the path of advancement for each therapist.

4. We create clear consistent communication

And 5. During all this we watch for key people to develop as lead therapist, lead trainer and even potential management.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

Host: Hmmm pretty comprehensive. You’ve thought of a lot of details. How did you come up with the 5 steps?

Jodi: If Im being honest, I made a lot of these mistakes myself. Also, I’ve worked with dozens of massage clinics, massage centers, spas, chiropractic offices and even a multi-discipline wellness center. What I have found is they all need some of the same stuff. Each program is customized. But this is where we start.

Host: What else do you find the owners want? Or need?

Jodi: Some owners like me to coach their managers or assistants one to one. As you may know, the massage world welcomes new and experienced people into this work. Sometimes younger or less experienced people have the opportunity to move up the ladder quickly. That’s exciting, however, sometimes the new mangers don’t have all the leadership skills they need. I work with managers 2x per month to support them when they have challenges and celebrate with them as the spa improves.

Host: Sounds like sometimes they need to blow off some steam!

Jodi:  True. And the one to one coaching allows them a safe place to do that.

Host: Good for you. Sounds like massage clinics should hire you to make them profitable!

Well that wraps up our show for today. I want to thank Jodi Scholes from the consulting firm, Business of Bodywork for being our guest today. Jodi, if our listeners want to reach out to you personally, how can they do that?

Jodi:  Well Jeff, they can reach me by emailing or calling. Email: Jodi at And of course for those who are on Facebook, they can send me a personal message via my Facebook page.  Just type in the search box Business of Bodywork.

Host: Thanks for listening in to the interview! Reach out to Jodi Scholes directly if you have more questions or comments. Til the next time, wishing you great success in your business!

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