Founder of Elements Therapeutic Massage shares what she has learned through turning loss into opportunity
Jan 20, 2011
Losing is a Great Beginning
Michele Merhib, founder of Elements Therapeutic Massage, shares what she has learned through a long history of turning loss into opportunity.
I consider myself a winner because I have become one of the luckiest and most determined losers. When I finished massage school, I went into business for myself—thinking I had officially arrived. I had my dream job. No more corporate pressure, red tape, unhappy employees, and low morale. It was just me and a steady stream of clients.
And then, lucky me—the losses began piling up.
Adversity Can Be a Wake Up Call
About a year into my bliss, the country club where I rented a room was sold. The new owners did not want massage therapy, and I lost my first business location. I left kicking and screaming. I had been comfortable, happy, and everything was clicking. Suddenly, I thought my massage dream was over forever.
But losing that location was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Quit Fighting Change and Make the Most of It
Finally, I quit fighting my fate and took a step forward. I secured a retail space and opened a retail massage studio. I was no longer a room renter. I was involved in the construction process, developing business systems, and hiring employees.
This was the first of many experiences that taught me a great life lesson: What may seem frustrating at the time is an opportunity to grow. Being pushed out of the country club opened a new door for me, and I ran through it.
Let Go of the Way You Think Things Should Be
My idea was to open a general wellness center. Therapeutic massage would be just one of many services. I could see it all so clearly in my mind. The clients, however, saw something different. Demand dictated supply, and therapeutic massage became my core business. Being a rookie business owner, I had to lose my vision of the business I thought it should be in order to grow the successful business it needed to be. I let go of some employees so I could hire more massage therapists.
That's where the demand was, and I had to lose in order to win. And, boy, did I win.
Business grew. Demand grew. I opened a second location.
Loosen Your Tight Grip
I knew I could only do so much by myself, as a solo studio owner. Sure, I could have kept a successful business all to myself, stayed in my first location, kept a watchful eye on every aspect of my little domain, and never ventured outside that comfort zone. And I would have a small therapeutic massage studio with a limited number of people I could touch in positive ways. I would be owner and operator of an independent business. And everyone else would be my competitor.
Instead, I decided to be a loser. When I signed a contract with Fitness Together Holdings Inc. to franchise the concept, I let go of some of that control in order to share the wealth with others. Some might have thought I was giving it all away, but I knew I had to lose my tight hold on things in order for a good business to become a great national chain. Today there are 75 other studios in my same business, with the same name, who are not my competitors. That makes me the luckiest loser in the world.
A Step Backward Can Be a Leap Forward
In a tight economy, everyone has to tighten his or her belt. At the three Elements Therapeutic Massage studios I continued to co-own until recently, we had a great team of 45 employees. As business owners, our most important obligation was to make their payroll. But when client bookings grew lean in 2008 and 2009, I was faced with a tough decision. I could pay my studio managers, or I could pay myself. My partner and I agreed that we had to lose the studio managers and re-enter the daily operations of the business. I felt like I had lost again. Why did I have to go backwards?
Once again, the loss was a blessing in disguise. It had been a while since I actively managed a studio on a day-to-day basis. Here was a chance to revisit the nitty-gritty. I learned that the systems work if we work them, and I gained tremendous confidence in the business and systems I had created. They're as good today as they were when I created them. In fact, they're better due to the contributions of our amazing franchise owners.
Be Your Own GPS and Navigate Change
The landscape of life is always changing. A road we thought we’d be travelling forever can detour, disappear, or turn out to be heading in the wrong direction. It helps to have an internal GPS that can recalculate your route. If you want to make it as a massage therapist, manager, or business owner, know that losses can be great opportunities. Be resilient, check in with yourself after every wrong turn or unexpected obstacle, and stay on the journey.
Like it is for me, losing may be the secret to your success.
Michele Merhib is the founder of Elements Therapeutic Massage, based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. There are currently 75 franchise locations in the United States. Visit corp.touchofelements.com/franchise or call 877.663.0880, ext. 51.