Getting Rich or Getting By?

I conducted one of my scientific FB polls this week. For the benefit of those of you who may not be on my FB page, it was about how much money massage therapists are making. I obtained 53 usable responses. Here they are. Of those 53:

7 work in a spa
2 work in a “luxury” spa
14 work in a chiro office
18 work in a massage office
3 work at Massage Envy
4 work in an MD’s office
2 work in a hospital
1 works in a nursing home
1 works in a salon

14 are classified as ICs, but 4 of those said they know they are misclassified and should be employees

39 are classified as employees, but only 11 of those people get paid anything when they are not performing massage.

5 of the ICS say they get paid when they are not doing massage, ranging from minimum wage to $9 an hour.

5 of those 39 people say they have benefits, ranging from CEs to full benefits such as insurance and vacation time

18 reported that they are paid on commission, which ranged from 30% to 80%, and an average of 53%

2 people who said they were ICs said they pay a flat rent for the use of a massage room; 1 of those pays $10 per massage, the other pays $25 per massage

28 people reported being paid by the hour, with hourly pay ranging from $7.40-85.00 an hour. The average was 23.41 per hour.

Of those 28 who are paid hourly:

3 report that they make $10 an hour or less
5 report that they make $11-15 an hour
8 report that they make $16-20 an hour
6 report that they make $21-25 an hour
3 report that they make $26-30 an hour
Then the data jumped to $50, with 3 people reporting that they make $50 or more per hour

30 people said they receive tips
23 people said they do not receive tips

21 of the 53 people work more than one job to make ends meet

$$-wise, it appears that the MD’s office and the hospital are the best places to work, with higher pay and more benefits.

I tossed the answers of sole proprietors and contractors who only told what they charge and didn’t account for their net earnings. Sandy Fritz addressed that issue in her blog this week.

When I published the results on my FB page, there was lots of chiming in about the low pay rates, and a few comments about people spending $40,000 to go to massage school and ending up working for a pittance. So I started investigating the cost of schools. In my state of NC, you can get a good education for less than $10,000. In fact, at some long-established schools, including one that’s COMTA accredited (which is not cheap to obtain), you can attend for less than $6000. Of course, that varies all over the country, but it seems like the majority of smaller schools are trying to keep their programs as affordable as possible. School owners from across the country chimed in, as did MTs telling what they had paid to go to school, and I don’t recall anyone going as high as $40,000. Massage school looks like a bargain education, for the most part.

Many of the comments on the results of the payment poll were negative, with the usual accusations toward the franchises for lowering the bar, and criticisms of other employers paying too little and expecting too much. One thing that I have noticed is that very little of that criticism comes from people who are actually employers. The majority of it is from people who have never been on the employer side of the equation.

When I opened my business ten years ago, I prided myself on paying above average. I wanted to do that in order to attract quality therapists and not have staffing problems. That worked pretty well for a long time, and I certainly wasn’t getting rich; I was getting by. I live in a very small town that is very economically depressed. The place where I live has not recovered from the recession, and in fact, in many ways it’s actually gotten worse. They claim the unemployment rate in our town is 12%, but that’s not realistic because it doesn’t include the many people have maxed out their unemployment benefits and all the self-employed people who have lost their businesses and can’t get in that line. Our homeless shelter is full every night. Soup kitchens and food giveaways are keeping a lot of people from going hungry.

A little bit of industry has started to trickle back in, but instead of the big cotton mills that employed several thousand people each, the businesses that are coming in are small companies that employ maybe 25  people. It’s not really making a big dent in the cycle of poverty and foreclosure that is going on here. People I know who have worked hard all their lives have lost their homes and their businesses. It isn’t a pretty picture, and I’m not exaggerating, or dressing it up. It’s the cold, hard facts. If you go on a tour here, you’ll see all the empty factories sitting here and all the empty small-business storefronts in our towns. You can’t begin to document the fallout on small business. The three really nice restaurants in our county–the kind of expensive place you’d go to on your anniversary or another special occasion–have all closed. Anything that is considered a luxury is not doing so well. People have cut down on massage. They’ve cut down on going to the nail salon, the hairdresser, the movies, and other forms of entertainment and eating out.

Over the years that I’ve been in business, expenses have gone up. I haven’t raised the price of massage in a couple of years because of the financial condition most of our county is in, and I feel it would be a nail in the coffin of my business if I raised it right now. The level of pay I used to offer people has gone down, which was a hard decision for me and one that I hated to make, but it is still superior to what anyone else in this area pays. As the owner, I also have to make a living. It isn’t going to serve me, or my staff members, if I can’t pay the bills and have to go out of business.

The accusations that employers are getting rich while the massage therapists are getting substandard pay is getting old. If that’s happening, it must be the minority, because I am not getting rich, and of the several hundred massage therapy business owners who are also employers that I am personally acquainted with, I can’t name any who are. They are either struggling, or they are making a decent living, but they aren’t millionaires and in all likelihood are never going to be one. The business owner is the one taking the risks. The business owner is the one paying the rent or mortgage, the utilities, the phone and Internet, the advertising, the laundry, the cleaning, the office supplies and janitorial supplies, the bank service charges, the credit card fees, the accounting services, the sales and use tax fees, and if they are utilizing employees instead of contractors or renters, they’re matching Social Security and Medicare contributions and depending on the size of the operation, paying other benefits as well. Franchise owners are criticized all the time, but they also invest a lot of money up front and it takes them years to get it back.

There used to be a middle ground between getting rich and getting by, and that was called the middle class (which is reportedly shrinking on a national level). I think that’s what we have in massage. We have a few people who are making minimum wage. We have a few people who are making big bucks, and the rest are somewhere in the middle.

As for those who are criticizing business owners and claiming that we’re the rich while you’re the poor, I encourage you to put yourself in our places. Go ahead, take a leap, open a business, get a bunch of people you are responsible for, and take responsibility for all the overhead. When the economy is booming, you may be booming along with it. And when the economy sucks, you may be in the same position all owners have been in when that’s the case–trying to cut down expenses without making service suffer and trying to make sure everyone keep their jobs, while still managing to make enough money to keep the doors open and meet your own personal obligations.

Obviously, the economy is booming in some places, and some people are doing very well. To them I say congratulations.

To the estimated 70% of MTs who are leaving the profession after less than two years on the job, I say I hate that you were set up with unrealistic expectations.

To my fellow business owners, I say that sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. I’ve enjoyed my role in keeping people gainfully employed and providing a pleasant place to work, and I have always tried to show my appreciation for that in pay and in other ways.

To all those who have criticized employers that have never actually been one, I say you don’t have the slightest idea what you are talking about. If you ever become one, and you can manage to give your therapists top pay, while surviving severe economic downturns without laying people off or letting them go, having disgruntled staff members, personally paying all the bills and bearing all the other responsibilities, then you can criticize to your hearts content.

 

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12 thoughts on “Getting Rich or Getting By?

  1. The Rev

    I’m a self-employed MT/store front owner and a card carrying Massage Envy patron, collecting two massages per month at a lower price than the norm. I investigated ME as a potential franchisee and know I would not do well in that franchise. I have a lot of respect for the franchise owner of the ME’s I patronize. This ME franchiser, like me, will not become a millionaire.

    I feel confident many of those self employed will agree, that one of the advantages to being self employed is we get to work 1/2 a day, with the advantage of deciding which 12 hours it will be.

  2. Anne Ezra

    I tend to agree with the consensus on LMT’s who have never been self-employed. I did that for a couple years out of massage therapy school (which only cost me $8000 over a 2-year period) and very seldom did I earn enough to pay my rent of $200.00 per month. And I had to pay sales tax, plus the double taxation of self-employment. Thank God for my non-massage job to cover those expenses. I recently was hired by Massage Envy where the hourly rate isn’t the greatest, but I make up for it in tips and not having to do all the leg work involved in getting clients. Basically I show up for work at my appointed time and get to work doing what I love – which is to provide healing touch through massage. I still do some massage on the side on my off days and not with any Massage Envy clients or employees. But ME is my bread and butter and I am grateful to work for them.

  3. Pingback: What you COULD earn as a Massage Therapist. Another perspective… | Bodywork Art

  4. Trent Cunningham

    It’s really nice to hear this opinion from someone well-respected in our field. I work for ME and a chiropractor, $15-20 plus tips as an employee, and lots of MTs act like I’m selling out or betraying the profession. I say I’m trading a chunk of income for a lot of peace of mind and less hassle. With the chiropractor especially, people seem to feel that I’m selling massage short by acting as his subordinate, and they never seem interested in listening when I explain that I feel almost like a business partner who makes a smaller risk and gets a smaller reward. I hope people read this article carefully.

  5. kim anderson

    How do i contact you via telephone? I have a friend that cant pass the exam she has taken it 4 times. can u tutor her any classes just for this? or books? she lives in burnsville nc. thanku.

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  7. Stromio Gas

    This write-up contains excellent original thinking. The informational content here proves that things aren’t so black and white. I feel smarter from just reading this.

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