24 massage therapists train at new spa in Chattanooga

24 massage therapists train at new spa in Chattanooga

September 20th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Meredith Garrett, left, trains employees Monday at the Chattanooga franchise of Massage Envy Spa, soon to open in the Terrace at Frazier building in North Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Fast Facts

• Franchise -- Massage Envy

• Owner -- Christine Helms

• Location -- The Terrace at Frazier, 345 Frazier Ave.

• No. of employees -- 24, growing to as many as 45

• Estimated revenue -- $1 million

• Cost -- $250,000 to $400,000

• Opening date -- Friday, Sept. 23

• Prices -- $39 massage for new customers

Source: Massage Envy

Owned by Douglas and Christine Helms, the Chattanooga franchise of Massage Envy Spa will open soon in the Terrace at Frazier building in North Chattanooga.

Owned by Douglas and Christine Helms, the Chattanooga...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Massage therapists may offer relief for workers tied up in knots over the recession.

But a massage may also seem an expensive luxury, especially with next week's paycheck already spent on last month's bills.

Now there's an answer for consumers who need therapy but have little time and even less money, said Christine Helms, owner of new spa Massage Envy.

The spa, which opens on Friday, is helping to fill out The Terrace at Frazier, an upscale development on the east end of Chattanooga's North Shore.

Massage Envy will offer one-hour massages, seven days per week for $40, with a special focus on mending strained muscles and sore joints.

In fact, Helms was herself transformed from a limping arthritic on a twice-daily painkiller prescription to an animated entrepreneur following what she describes as a "flabbergasting" round of massage therapy.

"After that, I noticed that I had stopped limping," she said of her own experience at a Massage Envy spa in Knoxville.

Two appointments later, Helms decided that the only thing to do was to spend her savings and buy her own massage franchise.

After a year of preparation, she's hired 24 employees and hopes to bring in $1 million per year from the business for her investment.

More than 115 prospects applied for work, so Helms is keeping their names for an expected growth spurt to 45 employees when she secures enough memberships.

Massage therapists are a lively bunch, she's found, especially when many of them went to school together.

Including Cindy Jaggers, Helms' clinic administrator and former massage instructor, as many as 90 percent of the new hires are graduates of Virginia College, a local technical school that trains students in practical trades.

Jaggers helped train many of the students who will now work under her, and she says her academic experience helped her to identify the best massage programs in the area.

"With some programs, I know the students might have a shortcoming," Jaggers said while explaining her hiring process. "Technically anybody can be a massage therapist, but giving a good massage is an art."

It's an exciting time for Nicole Ransom, who studied at Virginia College while Jaggers was director of the therapeutic massage program.

Along with a friend, Darcy Fournier, Ransom argued that being a massage therapist is more than a profession -- it's a lifestyle.

"It's not just a job for us," Ransom said. "You've got to have the touch."

Fournier calls it "being in that little moment," and developing a "therapeutic connection" with customers.

That connection is about more than good feelings: it's the No. 1 determinant of whether a customer will return, Jaggers added.

And Massage Envy customers do tend to return, corporate franchise officials say.

Tony Frye, director of franchise development for Massage Envy, said that individual business owners typically spend between $250,000 and $400,000 to launch a spa. But he said the therapeutic focus has kept it profitable, even through the recession.

"We're in health and wellness, so most of our clients have issues that we fix," Frye said. "For our patients, it's a need, not a want."

Connect with the Times Free Press on Facebook.