Business, Goals & Growth, Yoga & Massage

How I started my Massage Practice

I graduated from massage school in late March of 1999.  I was 5 months pregnant with our daughter, Taylor, and after paying for school, working very part time and trying to prepare for her arrival – was flat broke.  I couldn’t even afford the entrance fee to sit for my State Massage Therapy Exam.  It took me a few months to save up, and in the meantime, Taylor arrived in late June.  When a newborn shows up in your life there is a lot of downtime, which was perfect for healing and studying.  I was finally ready to take my exam in August, and I was ready to go.

I never had any real intention to work for anyone, so I was scouting for opportunities to get started on my own.  One day while scanning the classifieds, I found an ad for a space to rent for massage, in a barber shop, for $150 a month.

Barber shop, huh?  What the hell.  Why not.

The barber shop was a stand alone house on a busy highway, less than 10 minutes from my home.  It was on the same property as another house that had been converted into a hair salon whose target clientele was retired ladies getting perms and style and sets.  The barber shop was in the back of the house and had an old time feel to it.  The front of the house had been turned into a nail salon with a little closet type room off to the side that they decided could fit a massage table in.  The floor was sloping, the walls were wavy, it had a pocket door that you could neither open nor close without two people helping you, and the building shook when a semi drove by.  It wasn’t perfect by any means, but sometimes you do the best you can with what you have to work with.

When it came time to negotiate with the owner, I had an idea.  I said “I don’t have any clients, and I can not afford to pay you $150 in rent.  But I noticed you do not have any one answering phones for the nails or barber shop.  If you don’t mind me bringing my daughter in with me, I will sit and answer phones for you in exchange for rent.  In the mean time I will fix up the room, and get to meet new people and hopefully get them on my table.  As I start making money I can pay you rent.  Would that work?”

He thought about it and eventually said yes.  I replaced the pocket door with a swing door, covered the walls with discounted fabric I found on sale at the fabric store, and furnished my room with things I found at yard sales, Thrift Stores and even on the side of the road.  As I made a little money, I reinvested it into building my practice.

The nail tech, Becky, had a little boy just a few months older than my girl, and on occasion she would have to bring him to work as well.  When she had clients I would watch him, and when I did she would return the favor.  There was even a day a woman in her 90’s walked in for a massage.  I tried to book her for a later time when I could have someone watch Taylor,  but she laughed and said “You bring that baby in the room!  She’ll sleep the whole time I bet.  Plus crying babies don’t bother me, I’ve raised enough of them!”  And so I did a massage with my infant sleeping in a  baby carrier in the corner.  I showed up every day, whether I had appointments or not.  I used the time to learn about marketing and creating systems to run my little business.  I thought if I consistently show up, clients will too.


how I started my massage practice(1)


When Becky and I had down time we would dream about going out into the world and what having our own perfect business would be like.  At this time there was a large building for sale across the road that I though would be perfect for a Day Spa/Wellness Center.  I called the realtor and remember the number being in the $300,000 range and in my mind that may as well have been $3 million dollars.  There was no way I would ever be able to buy it.  So instead I got out a .75 cent spiral notebook and made lists of what my perfect practice would offer.  I wanted multiple Massage Therapists, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Skin Care, Yoga, Wellness Classes, and more.  I wanted a pond and a place for people to go outside and rest. I wanted an outdoor treatment space.  Lots of parking and roadside visibility.  It felt like I was basically wanting for the impossible, but it was a fun way to pass the time.

It took me less than a year at the barber shop to realize I really did want more.  My practice was growing, and in order to keep that momentum going, I would need more space.  I kept scouting around the area for where I was going to move.  Again, I had a list. It needed to be less than 2 miles from where I was now.  Space to grow, decent parking, and affordable.  It took me almost a year, but I was patient.  I found an office complex less than a mile up the road and it had a space open.  The space was for 1500 sq ft and I knew I couldn’t carry that over head.  But I would still think about it every day I drove past it.  Sometimes I would stop in and peek in the windows and visualize what I could do with the space.  I also kept track that it stayed unrented for a long time.  I reached out to the landlord several times with ideas, until one day I suggested he split the space up and by closing up one door I could rent 450 sq ft making the remaining 1000 sq ft easier for him to rent.  Reluctantly he gave in, and shortly thereafter he rented out the other side.

I was in business alone, but again knew I wanted more.  So I dropped my name and created North River Body Therapies.  I decided against North River Massage because I didn’t want to limit my future options.  A few months later I hired my first Independent Contracted Massage Therapist, Jennifer Hargis, to work with me.  She stayed with me for almost 8 years, and was incredibly important to the growth of my practice.

And so began my realization that first you decide what you want to do, then you find a way to do it.

While this isn’t the end of my journey, this is the end of this post about my time at the barber shop.  Stay tuned for more…

PS – Becky also moved on to open and run her own business. 🙂