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Massage-therapy biz growing in Colorado

Jun 3, 2011

From the Denver Business Journal
Date: Friday, June 3, 2011, 4:00am MDT

It’s not clear if more people were stressed out during the Great Recession and needed a massage, or if it’s Colorado’s reputation as home to a lot of fit people. But the state has been a hotbed of growth for massage-therapy businesses in recent years.

“Our growth here has been phenomenal,” said Jeff Jervik, president of CEO of Fitness Together Holdings, parent company of Elements, which came to Colorado in 2007 and just opened a Centennial location, its 14th in the state.

Massage Envy, with the highest number of franchise massage-therapy businesses nationwide, now has 24 locations along the Front Range. The Cherry Creek North store is the biggest, by sales and volume, of any of the nation’s 680 Massage Envy locations, said Larry Reiff, Colorado region franchise developer and owner of two Highlands Ranch stores. “Demand continues to increase here,” he said.

The number of licensed massage therapists in the state has more than doubled in two years, from 4,789 to 9,949, according to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. Much of that growth stemmed from the fact that the state Legislature mandated licensure as of April 1, 2009, and thus many therapists already practicing in Colorado went out and obtained their Colorado licenses.

The state’s Division of Private Occupational Schools lists 57 schools offering massage therapy training in Colorado. No historical data on the number of schools in prior years are available.

But Erik Bostrom, owner of Highlands Ranch Hand and Stone, which has 45 locations nationwide, said an American Massage Therapy Association study showed Colorado has the highest per-capita number of schools of any state.

Jervik wouldn’t provide exact sales numbers, but did say that Elements locations open for more than a year all have generated same-store sales figures of double-digit increases from the prior year.

“The growth continues to be very robust,” he said, estimating Elements could open up to 10 more locations in Colorado in coming years. The nationwide chain has 83 locations, with another 25 opening this year and another 75 set to open in 2012, Jervik said.

Bostrom said franchise agreements were signed in March to open two more Colorado Hand and Stone locations, one in Cherry Creek North this fall and another in the Westminster/Broomfield area in 2012.

“Our growth rate in Colorado is good,” said Bostrom, also the Colorado regional developer. “Very active, health conscious, educated people are attracted to Colorado. They are more readily accepting of the benefits of health therapy than those in other parts of the country.”

Bostrom said since opening in December 2008, during the lowest point of the economic downturn, “we’ve experienced some phenomenal growth. We’ve grown every single month since opening.”

“The healthy demographic and active lifestyle of Denver consumers make the market a great place to own and operate a massage business,” said Les Sweeney, president of the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP).

The ABMP estimates there’s one massage therapist for every 535 Colorado residents, much higher than the national ratio of 1-to-1,036.

Sweeney said the state’s move to regulate the industry has helped fuel that growth. “One of the primary benefits [to consumers] of that move was the requirement of professional liability insurance,” he said, noting the ABMP has 4,500 members in the state.

In Sweeney’s opinion, the industry grew here despite rough economic times because more people are educated about the benefits of massage therapy, and many were looking to pamper themselves on a budget.

“I was surprised massage weathered the down times so well,” he said. “But people didn’t stop doing Ride the Rockies, or triathlons — that’s just the nature of the population in Colorado.”

Reiff said Massage Envy made massages “convenient, professional and affordable,” which opened the door to many who previously thought it was a luxury expense.

Said Bostrom: “This just seems to be an incredible time to get into the industry.”

http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/print-edition/2011/06/03/massage-therapy-biz-growing-... 6/3/2011

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