EarthGear was a company that manufactured massage therapy equipment. Although they are no longer in business, we felt their interview had some really good information so we decided to keep it. We hope you find it useful.
Interview with Michael Callera.
What is your feeling about brand recognition in the market (earthlite, golden ratio, earthgear, etc.) when considering the purchase of a massage table or equipment?
Brand recognition is important in that the quality and reputation of the manufacturer should be considered. For instance, almost everyone has heard of massage tables by Earthlite. I won't say it should be a primary consideration, but it should be considered. I believe that the best way to evaluate product quality is the warranty that's offered.
Have you had an experience where similar products had dissimilar warranties?
I don't necessarily know that to be true - a well made product will have a warranty that justifies that or backs that up. Conversely, if a product is not well made, or there is not a lot of effort put in to products and quality - you can't afford to have a good warranty.
Products made over-seas are often less expensive than American-Made products, leading to the general consensus that the American-made products are more sturdy or better crafted. What are your thoughts
There are some very well made American Massage tables, and the same can be said of foreign made products. Again, I would go back to the warranty. Irregardless of where the product is made, if they stand behind it with a good warranty, you can assume that they will have a good solid product.
Some American advocacy groups insist that buying overseas puts more money in to the hands of foreigners. Wouldn't it be better for our economy to keep that money here?
Michael Callera - I would ask those advocacy groups to take an inventory of the things that they currently own and see where those products are made. I am willing to bet that better than 95% of the textiles are made outside the US. Probably better than 95% of the electronics are made outside the US. Most likely 70% of all other consumer goods are made outside of the US, and close to 60% of the cars on the road are foreign made.
Talk to me about the life of massage tables. More and more manufacturers are starting to offer lifetime warranties, but with decreasing focus on tables that will actually last a lifetime.
Michael Callera - In a global economy, you kind of have to be concerned about the bottom line. Import products have brought value to a market that wasn't focused there in the past. I still think you can find well-made American massage tables, just as you can find well-made foreign tables.
Do you see a decline, over the years, of the sturdiness, or craftsmanship, of massage tables?
Not necessarily. American made tables have had very little change in terms of quality or design. What happens, instead, is that their price changes. As things become more expensive, they raise the price of their tables - but they don't undermine the quality of their tables. That's in general - I'm not talking about everyone.
Certainly foreign made products have a reputation for lower quality - what has changed?
Well, you have to start with a good design. Even today, if someone goes to a foreign manufacturer with a cheap design, the result will still be cheap. But as these economies have developed, they have increased their capacity and raw materials so that they can produce products with very good quality. Some products today are even produced with the overseas manufacturers who have passed the ISO 9001 standard certification. Developed by the International Standards Organization, it certifies that, at every level, the manufacturing process has been refined and is more like a machine and less like a haphazard collection of machined poor quality products.
Tell me about UL testing in the process of manufacturing. How is that important for the end customer?
It is important. Obviously, anyone can make any claims they want about their working and static weight capacities. A UL listing is an independent evaluation by the leading consumer testing organization, and confirms that those capacities are actually valid claims. While UL listed tables tend to have lower working weights and static weights. It doesn't mean that the tables are less strong, but you know that for the indicated weight, the table is capable of withstanding that weight with continued use for long periods of time without any deterioration - no fatigue, no failure whatsoever.
What do you see as the primary factors to consider when buying a massage table? Are they the same for beginning students as graduates, or long-time MTs?
Regardless of whether I was a seasoned professional or just starting out, I would look for value, the combination of quality and price. I hate to beat the same drum - but if you've got a great warranty, that says a lot about a product. If you don't have a great product, you can't stand behind it with a great warranty. You can get a very well crafted massage table for $600 or more - you can also get a well crafted table in the $300 price range, sometimes less. If they both have a quality lifetime warranty, it's kind of a no-brainer. But just like a good quality massage cream, everyone has their preference.
Reiki Plates: Some people it say it decreases the structural integrity of a massage table, other people would like to leave their options open.
If it's well designed, it doesn't have to decrease the integrity of the table. It's a nice option to have and not just for the one modality - if you're doing seated work, it's nice to have. I don't know what value I would put on that option when purchasing a table, but it is nice.
What about multi-layer foam?
When you're talking about multi-layer foam, your smaller layer should be low-density foam to give the client that soft, cushy feel - and then you would want a substantial amount of medium density foam to help prevent the feeling of bottoming out. I did a little bit of testing and when you're talking about a single layer of multi-density foam, it feels a bit hard to the client.
What would be your target foam thickness?
For multi-layer, stay at 2 ½ inch or better. For single layer, you wouldn't want anything less than 2 inch. Again, we want to prevent that 'bottoming out' effect.
What weight range do you consider acceptable?
As far as table weight, it depends on how much out-call you do. If you have something that weighs 35 pounds or more, you don't want therapists showing up to an appointment needing a massage themselves. Especially if you're lugging your table up stairs, that can be really tough on the therapist. For aluminum tables, look for a table weight of between 21 to 24 pounds, and for wood, look for table weight of between 30-33 pounds.
What kind of wood is the best?
Well, a massage table has got to be made of hard-wood. The hardware that is used in the joints and the bracing of the table would be much harder than the soft wood. And with a soft-wood construction under continued use, the hardware would round out the holes in a soft-wood and over time, wear out the wood. Eventually the table will become unstable. For professional use you would have to use a hard wood. Oak is a hard wood, but tends to be rather heavy. Maple is very popular - it has one of the best strength to weight ratios available. Some of the best wood available is the Canadian Hard Maple. It allows manufacturers to use a smaller wood profile (for a lighter weight) to achieve better strength than lesser quality woods. Obviously, the ultimate solution is aluminum - it has an even greater strength-to-weight ratio. Some practitioners feel don't get the energy from aluminum as they do from a wood product, (although Aluminum is a natural element - in some ways it is more purely natural since it appears on the periodic table of elements.) Of course, an aluminum table is going to be more expensive.
What about dimensions - what width is the most popular?
Unless you're looking for a specific-use table, nothing under 30 inches is going to be acceptable for most therapists.
What about over 30 inches?
Unless you've got an extremely tall therapist, anything over 30 inches makes it difficult to get the proper access to the client.
Which vinyl's are best?
Quality vinyl really helps the durability of the overall table, and so of course you are looking for something that is of high quality. The softer, high-priced leather-like vinyl's such as Dura-Touch and Ultra-Leather, aren't always the best because their performance specifications are often lower than the industry standard for a quality polyurethane vinyl which are, most often, the higher quality vinyl. You're paying a lot of money for that options, and you're getting a lesser performance
What features and materials do you look for in a headrest?
To allow for maximum comfort for varying sizes and shapes of customers, you need a deluxe adjustable headrest. This has an elevating feature where, without pulling the headrest away from the table, you can elevate it. For large or barrel-chested clients, an elevated headrest position will be more comfortable. And for best shoulder and neck access, you need the tilting feature. The aluminum frame headrest platform offers the best strength and performance. One thing that therapists seem to appreciate is the single-lever action on headrests. An unwritten rule is that in massage therapy you need to keep one hand on the client at all times - they're paying for the touch.
What about cable systems and underbodies?
The most widely used and probably best performing cable system would be the cable-lock cable system. It's a well tested patented design, and is what most of the leading table companies tend to use. An exception is that most aluminum tables use a little more elaborate design - but the best performing cable system in my opinion is the cradle-lock cable system.
Massage Pillow Bolsters - unlike many massage therapy manufacturers, your company doesn't offer this as an accessory. Do you see a trend away from Bolsters?
We have recently begun production on a line of bolsters, so we will be offering them. and I don't think you will see them going away any time in the near future. We're not going to have a compliment like some of the domestic manufacturers, but we will have a good selection. The most used or utilized size would be close between a full round and a half round. Of course, the size and position of the client, not to mention the area of focus, determines which of those is most appropriate.
A recent development in the Massage Industry is the Massage Chair. Your company, EarthGear, has one - and so do several other manufacturers. But massage has traditionally been about a more relaxed experience, and some say a massage chair, even a professional massage therapy chair, doesn't allow for the client to relax.
It allows for massage in environments in which you wouldn't usually find massage. If you look at where massage chairs are used, you find them in malls, airports, businesses, and other places where it just wouldn't be convenient to get to various levels of undress and lay down for a massage. They're also widely used for shorter duration massages, say 15 minute or less. And our often found at fairs, sporting events, and various other gatherings.
Is there still a good Therapeutic value?
Absolutely. If someone gets a massage at a carnival or a mall and they wouldn't normally get a massage, then that is more massage than they would have gotten. It also brings exposure to the massage industry. You aren't going to see people who are already getting massages running to the mall for one, so you aren't likely to loose existing customers that way - but you might gain new ones. More and more employers are having massage therapists come on site, and a chair is, more often than not, the perfect vehicle for that.
In terms of adjustability, material, etc., what would you look for in a chair?
To allow the widest range of client comfort, you want something that has a lot of adjustability built in to it. You want a fully adjustable massage chair, to make sure you client is comfortable. But you don't want the adjustability so complex that it is cumbersome or difficult for the therapist. You often have to adjust the chair for each client and you don't want to spend five to ten minutes adjusting the chair for a fifteen minute massage. So you want ease of adjustability and a full range of adjustability, but without the complexity.
What features do you consider important that you don't see on all chairs?
Because of the nature of seated massage, portability is important. Wheels certainly add to that, as does light weight. Again, chairs are usually used 'on-sight' so you want something that isn't going to hurt anyone. You want light weight, sturdiness, adjustability, wheels, and isn't difficult or cumbersome to adjust. And there are some good quality chairs that allows for chairs to be adjusted while the client is seated, which is optimal. There is even a super lightweight massage chair that lets your clients lay almost compeletly flat.
What about desk racks?
Again, these are mostly used on site. Concentrating on a smaller area than a typical table massage, but it's where a lot of people get the most benefit, it is more targeted than a chair, but can be beneficial.
We've seen memory foam in a few items lately, and some customers have been curious about whether or not that can be effective. Your thoughts?
It's got its pros and it cons. It is nice - but what many don't realize or consider is that to get the full benefit of memory foam, you have to have a certain thickness. Because memory foam weighs 8 to 10 times more than conventional type foam and many massage tables would be too heavy to carry at that weight.
EarthGear has become increasingly visible since you took over, but the product line has remained largely the same - to what do you attribute the change?
I think a lot of it has to do with the improvement in overall quality. If a particular EarthGear product that hasn't been totally redesigned, we have taken great strides certainly to improve the quality.
The TravelPro Massage Chair is a new project for your company, but the design is very familiar. What is the history of this chair?
It's been in the industry for quite some time. It was a patent that was licensed exclusively by a leading domestic manufacturer, who discontinued the product when they brought to market their own chair. We saw the value in this design, because it's been in the industry for a while and because it had a good reputation. With his (the inventor) previous agreement terminated, the patent holder has licensed the product to us for the life of the patent.
The DreamLite Massage Table has remained essentially unchanged since you took over. It is a big seller for us - do you plan to make any changes to this product?
In many respects we're very happy with the performance of the product. It does have the aluminum sub-frame, which is very unique at that price point. Aluminum obviously is much stronger than the best hardwoods. Under the most severe load, the most you can do to an aluminum sub-frame is to bend it. It's a very unique features. The fact that it has rounded corners is also very nice. We are looking at some changes and we should have a modified DreamLite in 3 to 6 months - it's in pre-production now. It includes the Cradle Lock cable system and a much improved headrest
The ExtremeLite has been redesigned to be lighter and to include a better cable system, and it's still a full-size table, when most light-weight massage tables are smaller than average. What are your plans for your lightest massage table?
The previous version was above 26 pounds, it's now at less than 23 pounds. It features the Cradle-Lock cable system, as well as the Deluxe Adjustable Headrest, and it's now available in five colors. We're very happy with the table and it has been very successful. I think it's also worth mentioning that all of our tables are pending UL approval for 500 to 550 pound working weight.
What motivated your decision to enter the accessory market?
We brought to the table industry what it had been lacking for many years - great value. We hope to do the same thing with accessories. We will introduce some unique designs that will, we hope, be an outstanding value in the industry. For instance, our disposable headrest covers are both lighter and stronger than our competitors'. They are also much softer, and hypoallergenic. The material is used in the medical and cosmetic industry. And again, we offer the best value in the industry. We pride ourselves on being the best value in the industry - we try to design around the wants, needs and desires of the industry professional. We actually try to put a little thought in to what we do. The Deluxe Oil Holster is a great example. Just because the industry standard is that you get a single or double pocket for a bottle doesn't mean that it has to be that way. We took a look at how we could improve upon it. We used the elastic gathering at the top for the oil pockets, which allows it to accept a wider range of bottles. We've also included a zippered picket that the therapist can use for their personal items that they don't want to set down. We didn't want to make the same old holster - we also gave it a fully padded back to allow for a little more comfort for the therapist.
You've put an accessory bar under your stool, and I understand that is to work in combination with the holster. Is that correct?
Absolutely. You can actually connect the oil holster to the bar. If you do a lot of seated work, it allows you to keep the essential products at the ready without having to actually wear it on your person. We do have some exciting things on the horizon, including a line of stationary and electric spa tables. We're enhancing our accessory line with bolsters and some other things as well, and exploring the possibility of offering a premium quality massage lotion or crème.