Entrepreneur's Notebook/MassageSpecialists.com

By Brad Spirrison, eMileHigh.com, February 19, 2001

BOULDER, Colo., Feb. 19 (eMileHigh.com) - Is MassageSpecialists.com a therapy center or a dot-com? Founder Dirk McCuistion explains that the company is a little bit of both in this week's Entrepreneur's Notebook .

EMH: MassageSpecialists.com is an actual store, and, aside from scheduling appointments online, doesn’t really have the characteristics of an Internet-based business. Why then is “dot-com” imbedded within your name?

DM: We used to be called Corporate Health Systems Incorporated. We changed our name because first off, massage therapy is what we do and that’s what we wanted our name to convey. Secondly, the Internet is a great way for people to do research on you without having to commit to the initial contact.

So we felt that including dot-com in our name was important because we are the first massage company in the states to develop its own scheduling database and proprietary Web site. There are others now trying to emulate and get online scheduling.

We have a lot of people that drive by, see the sign, and then go home and schedule an appointment through the Internet. Our strategy was to try to get that market. Expose our business to people who otherwise would not take the steps to investigate us.

EMH: When did you change your name?

DM: 1999.

EMH: A good time to be a dot-com, for certain. Were you trying to tap into the gold rush? You know, slap the dot-com at the end of your name and raise millions in venture capital…

DM: There was actually a lot of resistance on our part to include the dot-com. It was like ‘come on, that’s such a trendy thing”, who’s going to schedule massage therapy online?

One of my clients suggested that we build the Web site, and I got this image of people turning their backs to the monitor waiting to get a massage. So honestly there was a lot of resistance at first.

But as we talked to more corporate clients, they were into it. We schedule a lot of ergonomic training sessions and massage therapy consulting, and anything you do to make it easier for these clients to schedule their appointments makes it all the better on their end and on ours.

There is no frustrating phone tag involved. The Web site enables corporate and individual clients to check the availabilities all our therapists.

EMH: How do you sell corporations like U.S. West and NetLibrary on the idea of paying for massage therapy consulting for their employees?

DM: There isn’t exact statistical analysis of the bottom line costs of massage therapy. But things that we specialize in like repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome are the most expensive costs to workers compensation claims and insurers. Our program can put employees through treatment and return them to work a lot faster at about 11 percent the cost of non-preventative methods.

In other words, if your typical average claim is $12,000, we can do it for about $1,000. And that figure doesn’t account for the lost time and lost opportunity.

But the real soft benefit are not the one or two people out of 500 that experience the massive problems, it’s the other 498 people that are 10 percent debilitated. People that experience some pain while at work; headaches or pain in their forearms. The figure is something like two of every four workers face discomfort at work, and that discomfort is in the muscular system. This is what our company specifically treats and focuses on.

So what is the cost to industry for that 10 percent reduction in capacity? Whether it’s logical skills or not being able to type or assemble parts as fast. It’s hard to say. Massage therapy is a new field and often looked at as just a novelty. We are here to disprove that.

EMH: Did having an Internet component bring investors knocking on your door?

DM: This is happening now. People are interested because we are one of the few dot-coms out there making money. We broke even at six months.

EMH: Prior to getting in the black, did you take in any outside investments to get your business going?

DM: No. Everything has been internally funded with a lot of 100-hour weeks. We are looking to expand into three other locations in Colorado, and that probably would require investment capital.

EMH: Would this come from a VC, angel investors, bank loan?

DM: We’re looking at all different situations. The thing that’s appealing about venture capital is the management support and vested interest with specific exit strategies. Then again, the whole idea of somebody not owning a part of the company is a very attractive option.

EMH: What is the percentage of your business that is generated from the Internet?

DM: It’s difficult to gauge how much new business is due to the online component, but at least 40 percent of all of our scheduling is done through the Internet. We get people that drive by and schedule online or people that are across the street at Alfalfa’s that check us out online. Other people have found us via search engines.

And we’ve had other massage therapy companies call us from as far away as Seattle to investigate and then license our database application.

EMH: And I’m sure it’s easier to start something like this in Boulder, then, say, Buffalo?

DM: It is easier because there is a much greater awareness. Boulder is kind of like this vacuum in this very western, cowboy state. But, massage therapy is gaining more acceptance nationwide. Something like 80 percent of Americans use alternative therapy one a year. So even places that are not Boulder, which are very progressive and, you know, groovy, I think people are realizing that this stuff works.

Over the next ten years, you will see massage therapy looked at similarly to chiropractic methods. There’s definitely a place for it in the quiver of healthcare.


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