Interview with John Lewis.
How did you get started in Sports Therapy?
I didn't necessarily aspire to do it. Once I got my foot in the door, and because it was so much fun to do, and to meet really cool, interesting and talented people, and be able to make a tangible difference in their health, was very exciting to me. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, especially when I started working with my first professional team. I was working at a health club part time. The coach and the players for the soccer team for which I would work, the Chicago Horizons, were huge proponents of Massage Therapy for sports, and were looking internationally for a massage therapist. It just so happened that the players made the club where I was working into their own training camp. Europeans have long realized the benefits of massage and have used it very successfully in sports. The players on this team were from Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, and all of these countries provided massage therapy for their players. I just happened to be working at this club and with these players - the coach found out about me and offered me the job over someone he had found in Canada. So it was kind of a lucky break. Later, Meadowlark Lemon hired me in 1982. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend, and I ended up going to one of his games. He said to me, "I'm really beat up. I've got a hamstring injury. I think I could really benefit from a massage right now." I happened to have my table in my trunk, so I offered to work on him after the game. He said, "done." He was fifty years old at the time, trying to play three quarters of a basketball game with College All Americans - kids half his age. And they were good, talented players. I said, "You're getting these muscle injuries. Massage is great at treating these injuries, but also at preventing them." I said, "I believe I can add years to your athletic lifespan." He and I had an immediate rapport. He said, "When I go on tour in the fall, I'll give you a call." And he did. I gave him a very thorough arm massage every day. During that time, he had no muscle injuries. He had a little cartilage problem with his knees, but I couldn't do anything about that. But he was 50 to 51 years old at that time, and he had no problems. There are two more athletes I want to tell you about. If you have ever followed soccer, you would know the name Carlheim Granitza. Carlheim was a player for the Chicago Sting soccer team. He was the leading all-time scorer in the league at that time. He would receive 2 to 3 treatments from me a week. No muscle injuries at all, and his age was advanced. I started working with him at 28, and I think he was 33 when I stopped working with him. And once you're 30 in soccer, your days are numbers. I believe, and certainly he believed, in massage. And that led me to some excitement about what I was doing. I got to make a tangible difference in the health of these athletes: a difference in their performance, and in preventing injury. We just did some data on the last athlete I'm going to tell you about, named Frank Thomas. Frank's got over 450 home runs. He's in the top 30 homerun hitters of all time in pro baseball. Until I started working with him he had never had professional massage therapy. From that time until now, I only worked on him when he was playing here in Chicago - not when he was on the road. Frank comes in and gets massages a couple of days a week when he is in town. For the first 12 years of his career, he had 53.74% of his home runs at home. Since I've started working with him, he's got 74% of his home runs at home. He said that the biggest benefit he's derived from massage is that he can fully relax at the plate, and focus on the ball better. I attribute that to endorphin release. You have milliseconds to react to the ball. Naturally, the flexibility is improved, the circulation is improved. We're getting toxicity out of the tissue, so he's less likely to be injured or pull a muscle. Frank is 36 years old, which should be the twilight of his career. The average number of homeruns per seasons pre-massage was 29 per year. Since getting massages, he's averaged 35.2 homeruns, roughly a 20% increase... and he's in the twilight of his career. It's a substantial increase. It's huge. In fact, all of his stats have increased since getting professional massage.
You've had a fairly high profile career for a massage therapist. Your center has appeared in the Chicago Sun Times and you've been on Television as well as Radio. Many MTs experience the exact opposit
I started in the house call business, working the north shore of Boston. At that time, it was very difficult for the average male to make it in the industry. Most females were wanting a female therapist, and most males were wanting a female therapist.
Yea. It was difficult for me to get established. I ended up spending a lot of time and money getting started - I places some classified ads but the ads that were most successful for me were display advertisements that I did in local newspapers. It turned out to be a very good thing. I slowly but surely built up a very solid weekly out-call business.
Mostly Male or Female?
Pretty even. I had a lot of husbands and wives that I would work on. That was a good deal because I would go for two treatments at the same house, at the same time. I continued to work with professional soccer. I didn't travel with that particular team so that left me lots of time to build up my out-call business. Unfortunately, the soccer team folded in 1988. I felt that it was a decision time for me. I didn't want to continue in sports. I didn't want to travel, and for most teams, travel is a requirement. I felt that I needed to make a decision - I could build up my house-call business, which was already thriving, or I could bump it up a notch and go into having my own clinic. I decided that was the way to expand. I only had two hands, and it was a way to leverage my reputation and build something more substantial. Winnetka is one of the most affluent little villages in the country, so it was a natural for my service. These people could not only afford it, but many of them had been to spas or places where massage was offered. It enabled me to have a great entre into a very wealthy community. One thing led to another, and I slowly built my clinic (we now employ seven therapists, we're open seven days a week, and have been rated the best by The Chicago Sun Times and a book called Necessity Chicago. I feel that I've been able to create a spa-like environment, although we only provide massage therapy. It's a really pleasant environment. We've got juice in the summer, herbal tea in the winter, and we've always got a big basket of apples on the desk - free for the clients. We've got a beautiful marble bathroom with a steam room, and I'm really proud of it. I think we live up to our reputation as the best in the area, and we're always trying to improve and make ourselves better. Kevin Wade is my assistant director and a massage therapist. He is the day-to-day manager and has done a great job. He has been a great help, and a very competent manager, which allows me to build my new company, AcuForce.
Do you still work at your clinic?
Some, yes. I still see a few people in their homes, and see a few people at the clinic - but not on a regular basis ... just when I am there.
What business model do you use? We've heard about other clinics that rent out rooms to independent contractors, but it sounds like you have a more cohesive environment.
The therapists are independent contractors, so it's kind of like that - we did try to create an environment that is very team-oriented. We may follow the same business model, but we've gone out of our way to provide a more uniform, "plush" environment.
How do you stay the best? You must have quite a lot of competition in Chicago.
We interview carefully. We're not only looking for the most talent, but also people who are personable and who really care about what they are doing. We are looking for enthusiasm about massage. We charge $85 per hour... it's pretty much in the high area, but we have attracted a group of clients that appreciate what we do for them. We focus on the details. The little things, and the things that can really make the difference. We use clinician tables, not portable tables. We haven't gone to hydraulic tables - that would be overkill for us. But we have always used clinician tables, because it is just a more solid feel. We have a table warmer on each table. The rooms are sound proof - I had this building built for us, and I was out there every day with the construction people - I wanted to be sure it was done properly. We have a couple of things that I think are pretty unique. First, the floor in the clinic was concrete. Because we stand all day long, I felt it would be good for us to elevate the floor. We built it up five inches and put wood floors on top of insulation. So instead of having to kill our feet all day, this new flooring helps us save our feet and our energy. We put high-quality sound insulation between treatment rooms so you can't hear a normal conversation in the next room. Also, the treatment rooms have thick, hardwood doors. This helps with the sound-proofing and also adds to the environment. We have a real sophisticated sound system. We have speakers in each room, in the halls, and in the waiting room. The sound is really high quality, and we use massage-specific CDs, but also some symphony CDs. A lot of these folks from the Chicago area are fans of symphony, so we use that. We have robes - the same ones found at the Ritz-Carlton hotels. It's a plush robe with our logo embroidered. We use towel warmers in the steam room, and we put gold-wrapped chocolates on the tables before the massage. The staff and the receptionists all wear a kind of uniform - a shirt with our logo on them. We have what I believe is the most polished atmosphere. We have travel and leisure magazines, golf magazines, stuff that our clients really are in to. The reviews from local papers are great, but the best thing is that 90% of our center's business is referral. You can't ask for a better review.
Have you considered adding Salon Treatments?
I've always believed that massage should be separate from all the rest. Perhaps it's because of my clinical background with athleses. Most of my work has been focused on real therapeutic work and I feel like salon treatments conflict with my goals for a treatment facility. To have a bunch of other services there. That's my own feeling.
Did this plush atmosphere develop over time or was that your idea from the beginning?
When I started to build this place, I knew what I wanted.
Obviously you needed to pick up clients fast when you started this new salon. What did you do to promote yourself?
Well, I hired a PR firm for the clinic. We had a huge grand opening party. for the clinic - some of the soccer team came and restrauntour friends of mine came. I rallied my most prominent friends to make sure they got there, so that made news. That was kind of a big deal.
You got into the newspaper basically because those people were coming?
Well, that made it a bigger story. It would probably have worked either way, but that didn't hurt. We also had a really good PR firm. The woman who ran it knew how to rally the writers, and to get them to come. For someone who is more budget conscious, you can just send out a press release. Just send it out to the papers and periodicals in town. Anything that you do - whether it be a neuromuscular class, or a grand opening party, write up something on it, and send it to the paper. Add your contact information and name. You don't have to spend a lot of money on public relations, and you can certainly spend a lot of money on PR.
Do you think it's money well spent?
It can be, but if you don't have the money, do it yourself.
So, say I wanted to send out a press release? Where would I send it?
Find the local publications in your area that would be interested in a story like this. They print a lot of this stuff - stuff that you wouldn't think they would find interesting. Call the publication and ask, "I want to send a press release about my business. Who is the contact person?" There is a format that press releases use... pick up a book at the library on public releations and learn how to write a press release. It's something that most people can do with minimal effort and it could have a really substantial result. It's a very good way to go, if you don't have the cash to spend. $80 to $150 an hour is big money. Networking in the community is big. Getting out and introducing yourself to the community. Always have a business card on hand. Most importantly, don't be afraid to put that card into someone's hand. For years I've given gift certificates to people, or written, "One hour of complimentary massage" and sign it. The staff at the clinic knows to honor that. Networking with chiropractors, MDs, Physical Therapists; all of these are real effective ways to meet with people in the industry.
I hear a lot of people talk about networking, but I don't think most people know what it means to network. Can you give your ideas of networking? What is it to network?
That is a great thing to define. It's kind of a buzzword. I would define networking as putting yourself into a community. You are benefiting both you and the other members of the community. Think of it as, "What can I do to benefit this community?" It shouldn't just be you getting something out of it. I was part of a networking community that met for breakfast every Tuesday morning. What was exciting about this group was that they were all there with the mindset of, "Let's build relationships. Let's understand what we each do and help eachother grow our businesses and be better citizens." It's a relationship - a give and take like any healthy relationship. That can be a healthy thing. A massage therapist who is particularly creative and socially capable and able to forcefully get out there and organize could create a group like this. Walk around to the local businesses and say, "Hey, I'm so-and-so. Here's my card. I'm a local massage therapist and I'm starting a networking breakfast every Wednesday at the community house or Joe's Breakfast House or whatever. There's no charge, it's just five bucks for breakfast. We'll meet, and talk, and hopefully grow each others businesses." That kind of a thing. Not everyone can do that but for someone who is socially able, that can be a powerful way to network. It's a small investment - just the cost of breakfast and the time to say, "Hey, we're meeting on Friday, can you make it?" That can be a powerful way to get yourself going in the community. I'm a member of my chamber of commerce. I have friends who belong to the local rotary club. It's a huge time commitment. The beginning or the end of the day is a great time for me, although other people, lunch is better. I think that for anyone that has some creativity, those are a couple of good ways to get yourself out there. Oh, also, we have a local "sidewalk sale" here in my local community. Because we're a part of the chamber of commerce, we are able to set up a booth in the downtown area. We give away free chair massages, and then we hand out coupons for the clinic. It's a good way to get yourself out there. Generally it's two people, 9 to 5, Friday and Saturday. Taking that a step further, a therapist who was trying to build up a chair business could go around to businesses or make an appointment offer to give two hours of chair massages next Tuesday. All I ask is that I be able to give out my card and, if it works out, you consider doing it on a regular basis. We don't specialize in chair massage because it's a whole other animal, but I'm told that people who do chair massage tend to go to smaller to mid-size companies because of the red tape involved in larger companies. I was given some advice years and years ago when I was trying to build up my out-call business. "Look John, you're talented at what you do. Offer your services for free when you're not busy. Offer them a free sample so that they can experience it, and you've got a customer." I took that advice and that's why I offered business cards with coupons. Also, I've done this many times. I will say to one of my customers, or someone who is interested in seeing my business grow: I will give you, free, some gift certificates to give to your friends. I encourage them to give it as a gift from them to their clients. Naturally, the recipient will say, "Wow, that is so cool of you."
A unique and thoughtful gift.
Absolutely. Most of those get used - they don't want to waste the money of the person who gave it to them. Some of those people will become used. Another thing - I don't think people should design their own business cards. We hired a really talented artist. Although they may be excited about creating something, but if they aren't an artist, the card may be cheesy or bad. I did, but you don't have to. You want your image to be professional. It's what the people have that represents you. You should look at our website... http://www.MassageWinnetka.com/. Bartering also works - you might find someone in the community whose art you've seen. Say, "Hey, can I swap you four or five massages for this?" That's a good way to control your costs.
MassageKing has noticed a trend in the industry toward massage tools. Have you experienced this at your center?
I was looking for an outlet for my own tired hands and I started looking for tools. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that there was anything out there that replicated what I do with my hands. I felt like the tools felt to synthetic to use on my clients, not like my hands, and I didn't feel like they gave me much benefit, because I had to really put my weight into these things to get any benefit. If it doesn't feel like my hand, the customer's not going to be happy. After two and a half years of research, I created the AcuForce 7.0, and then the other products. I still feel that it's the best product of its kind in the market. If I'm using the AcuForce 7.0, I'm applying seven pounds of pressure, and that's really important for deep tissue work. I know from experience that the weight is going to bring some value. Many of the products in the marketplace don't bring that pressure.
So this was mostly created out of a lack of available, useable tools?
Exactly. Thankfully, I think I've really accomplished what I wanted. I think I've got something here that is really of value.
And have you gotten any feedback on the 7.0?
When I sell a product direct, I try to call them a week or so later. I say, "You ordered the 7.0. How are you doing with it?" Honestly, Johnathon, 99% of the time, the response is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I don't know what I would do without it. My clients don't feel like they're being ripped off... they don't feel like it's a cheesy piece of equipment. I'm using it for this and that..."
What are the differences between the 7.0 and the 2.5?
One thing that the 2.5 is good at is getting behind muscles. You can strip out a ham string, you can strip out a calf, really effectively. Obviously the 7.0 has the rolling component, in addition to the spanner. What's great is that with the 7.0 you can hit the trigger points and the muscle stripping, with the 7.0. That's what kills our thumbs. Virtually you would do trigger point, muscle stripping, or cross fiber, you could use either tool to accomplish what you would with your hands.