Massage business rubs clients right way

By K.W. Meyers, Special to the News,, March 25, 2001

When strangers first ask his profession, Dirk McCuistion is accustomed to the raised eyebrows and insincere nods his response draws. It comes with the territory when you run a company named

"There's a part of massage therapy that's spiritually based and somewhat groovy, and it's hard for some people to separate what we do from that because the profession exists on a continuum," said McCuistion, a certified massage and neuromuscular therapist.

"It's been an uphill battle for us, but I feel we're making great strides in pushing massage therapy into the mainstream."

What sets McCuistion's Boulder-based company apart is a thoroughly businesslike approach to the science of massage, including Web-based scheduling, seven-day-a-week availability and workplace seminars on ergonomics. It employs 18, including 12 certified massage therapists, in a two-story facility nestled between the University of Colorado campus and the Pearl Street Mall.

"Our convenience, professionalism and high quality massage therapy set us apart from the one-person shops," McCuistion said.

Founded as Corporate Health Systems in 1997, has about a dozen corporate clients, which it targets with a variety of services. While some companies contract for an on-site massage therapist once a week, others sign up for seminars on healthy workplaces.

McCuistion's company focuses on neuromuscular therapies, which target the body's soft tissues such as muscles and tendons. In highly automated jobs, which feature frequent movements in a limited range of motion, the soft tissues are susceptible to repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

One longtime client, Boulder-based OmegaTech, arranges for a massage therapist in the office every Friday and covers 50 percent of the cost of a session. Public relations manager Ellin Todd said many of the company's 49 employees take advantage of the service, ranging from lab researchers to meeting-weary executives.

"It's proven to be a very valuable benefit," Todd said. "And a lot of the people who really appreciate the sessions say that they wouldn't be doing it otherwise."

McCuistion admits the corporate market could tighten if the economy continues to sag, and he isn't certain how Congress' recent repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomic regulations will affect the consulting side of his business. However, armed with effective treatments and preventative measures for workplace injuries, he's optimistic that corporations will continue to see a need for his company's services.

"If we're in there working with the employees and we see the beginnings of a trend, we can provide visibility to the management if there's a potential problem," McCuistion said. "Ultimately, pain translates into inefficient workers, whether they're calling in sick or slowing down their productivity."

Meanwhile, the individual client base, which accounts for 60 percent of the company's business, is thriving. Without disclosing specifics, McCuistion said companywide revenues grew four-fold in 2000 and projections for three-fold expansion in 2001 are looking solid. Plus, the company posted a profit six months after it was established as last June.

McCuistion, a one-time professional bicycle racer, said he engineered the name change to better reflect the company's business and tie in the online scheduling service. He laughs about avoiding the "dot-com" curse, since there's nothing virtual about a massage therapy session, and added that the Web presence has been helpful in the company's marketing efforts.

Eventually, McCuistion would like to open five other locations in Colorado, with Interlocken, Denver or Longmont leading candidates. He's in early discussions with potential investors to finance any expansion.


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