Jennifer Burlington, a three-unit Massage Heights franchisee in San Antonio, has a simple yet often overlooked way of finding out what her massage therapists want in the workplace: She asks them.
“I’ve asked that question over and over and over,” she told me, in a visit last week to Massage Heights’ Texas headquarters, for a larger story I’m preparing on the family-run franchise. “It’s everything from a silly thing—they don’t want to do laundry, to a more cultural thing. Therapists want to have more freedom. They don’t want a corporate environment.”
To address the former, Burlington stopped the practice in which therapists would also have to wash the linens that clients used. To address the latter, she doesn’t require things like time clocks they have to punch.
The pay for massage therapists at franchised brands is an issue, as is pay for service workers everywhere, and it came up when Shane Evans, president of Massage Heights, appeared on “Undercover Boss” in 2013. The goal of Massage Heights is to make massages an affordable routine, not an expensive luxury, and to do that, of course, the cost has to be held down—but then how can therapists make a living?
Burlington says the key for her retreats, as Massage Heights units are called, is to be creative, responsive and to focus on the full benefits of the workplace, not just compensation alone. “You have to balance that” against keeping the price affordable,” she says.
She also focuses on what she’s bringing to the workplace. “It’s like the Dog Whisperer,” she says, referring to the popular TV show featuring Cesar Millan. “It’s never the dog, it’s the owner” that’s the root cause if there’s a problem.
“I have to look at myself, what my attitude is, what I’m willing to invest, because that comes out in my team,” she says. In today’s environment, with an intensifying shortage of good employees, Burlington’s approach is refreshing. The fact that one of her retreats is the chain’s highest-performing, with $2 million in sales, is instructive.