by KDelGrande on June 28, 2011
Wanting to touch more lives by giving clients what they really needed drove Michele Merhib to open her own massage therapy shop. After a very successful first few years and the opening of a second store, the brand was franchised by Fitness Together. Elements Therapeutic Massage now has 85 locations across the U.S. with close to 120 sold.
The Franchise Hound spoke with Elements Therapeutic Massage founder Michele Merhib about turning her business into a franchise, handing over the reins and the passion that drives her.
Franchise Hound: As a massage therapist, why did you decide to open your own shop and develop a franchise?
Michele Merhib: I had already made a big career jump from an occupational therapist to a massage therapist. I made the switch because I didn’t feel that I was giving clients what was fitting my values. My massage therapist was retiring and suggested that I buy the business. I started taking a weekend massage course and loved massage therapy school. I loved the flexibility that it gave to me. I was able to open a practice within a local country club, but needed to look for my own shop when the owners decided to no longer offer massage services.
The smallest space that I could find was 750 square feet. It was way too much space for just me so when I opened in 2002 I hired another massage therapist – someone with whom I went to school. Within just a few years we were doing 650 massages a month out of a four room studio. We couldn’t expand, so I decided the best option was to systemize the business and open a second location.
After my second shop opened in 2005 I had two separate companies approach me with offers to franchise. The company that I didn’t go with was much more focused on the money and I knew that’s not how I wanted to run my business. The wife of Fitness Together’s director of sales owned one of their franchises in the same strip mall as my second location. They liked my business model and saw that I was having a great deal of success. They knew franchising and weren’t totally focused on the money, so I signed a franchising agreement in 2006.
FH: As a successful business owner did you have any hesitations about signing a franchising agreement?
MM: I’ve always found that when one door closes another opens. I went into the massage industry because I was tired of corporate America and needed my own space. The business part of my brain thought that when I opened my second store it could be something bigger. But I did wonder if I was putting myself in a position to wind up back in corporate America.
I figured that I could only really run three shops on my own, but there was so much potential to touch more lives if I expanded. Part of me felt like I was letting go of my baby, and I didn’t know how much say I would have after it became franchised. Fitness Together trusted that I knew how to handle the therapists, and I did. I wanted to give therapists a place where their employer really understood them. In the end, I knew that it was the smartest decision for both me and my company.