by Angie Patrick
Reprinted with permission from the January, 2010 issue of Massage Today. Complete issue archives and other resources available at www.massagetoday.com
Did you know a great way to market yourself as a Massage Therapist and become known in your community to those interested in massage is to work charity events or volunteer performing chair massage? Did you know this is an incredibly effective way to give people an opportunity to appreciate your talent as a therapist as well as afford you a pocket of time to develop a rapport in order to better your opportunity of retaining them as a client for further services? Did you know that there are professional massage chairs on the market ranging from under $200 to over $600? How do you know what you need? How can you be sure the chair you buy will best suit your needs? Let’s take a look at the different uses for a massage chair, and use that information to determine how much chair you need to fulfill your specific needs.
There are many reasons a therapist will buy a massage chair. Some make the purchase for occasional charity events and promotional opportunities. Others purchase a chair to utilize as an adjunct to their regular table. Some opt to buy to add additional services to their spa or salon waiting room, and then there are those who utilize their chair for their full time practice and use it several times a day 5-6 days a week. Each of these needs differ in that they require different performance from the chair that has been chosen. In this article, I would like to explore some of the options available on massage chairs and provide information that will enable you to make the appropriate choice for your own individualized purposes.
I think a great place to begin is at the beginning. You have made a decision to purchase a chair. Now begins the research…Which chairs offer the greatest adjustability, which offer a sternum pad, how do I adjust the seat, which is the lightest, which comes with a case with wheels, do I need wheels? How can I find a package deal, what IS a package deal? Do I buy on Ebay? Is a Craigslist chair good enough? Should I really buy firsthand at all, because I saw one cheap at the garage sale up the street…
Ok, Ok… Stop stressing already!
Let’s take it one step at a time….
First establish your need.
Let’s just say your intended use is for marketing yourself, your talents and your practice. Your goal is to obtain new clients for your regular practice. With this chair, you plan to attend charity events, fun runs, craft shows, etc. The primary use will not be for everyday use, and it is not your single source of income. Your potential clients will likely spend no more than 10-20 minutes total in the chair. All this being said, it stands to reason you may not wish to spend your next months rent or mortgage payment on this chair. Luckily, there are some very economical options on the market that can fit this niche nicely, while still not requiring a credit line increase on the old charge card.
You will likely find a chair that fits your needs in the $150-$250 price point. Usually, chairs in this area are not filled with a ton of bells and whistles, nor do they offer a wide array of customization and adjustment, however; for the purposes listed above, these chairs fit the bill! Light, (usually made of light weight aluminum) economical, and generally workable in functionality, these chairs will make it easy for you to start networking. Look for chairs in this price range to offer adjustable heights on the seat, adjustable slide sternum plates, and a dual adjustable headrest. These should also come with a carry case.
Now, let’s look at the chair you need for more regular and rigorous work, as a primary source of income.
Some therapists make a very nice living offering mobile chair massage. Many gain entire office buildings as their “turf” and can spend an entire day simply working in a single location. Clients do not often have the time they would like to visit a therapist, and they are oh-so-happy to have one come by the office for a half hour to an hour. Some forward thinking companies even hire the therapist for a block of time or per client in order to provide this wonderful benefit for their employees. If you take this theory and apply it to five days a week, you can easily see how the income can grow. Even if you do not cater to office buildings, there are other venues that have proven successful as well. If you live near a conference center, perhaps you could contract to provide chair massage for the trade shows that come into town. Additionally, many hospitals will allow Therapists in at the request of a Doctor, OT or PT. Perhaps you just open a kiosk at the mall, and work on passers by. You are only limited by your own ingenuity, and no matter how you slice it, you need a chair that can stand up to the daily repeated use you will be giving it.
These chairs, built with long term, repeated usage in mind range in price from $250 and up. The mean average for a stoutly made chair is around $350.00 and can go as high as over $600. These chairs have far greater flexibility in the adjustments, providing greater comfort for the client and also allowing you greater access. Typically these chairs are made of rolled steel, carbonized fiber, and aircraft grade aluminum. The padding is better in that it is softer and more pliable, while providing elasticity and bounce back. The weight allowances are a bit greater in this price range, and can allow you greater flexibility in clientele. These chairs may also weigh a bit more than the more economy chair largely due to their being built to withstand far greater and repeated usage. In most cases, the mid and high end chairs have a virtually endless color choice, while economy chairs are typically limited to only five or six.
Some details to consider before making your decision:
First, consider the foam systems and the density they offer. Economy chairs often have a foam system consisting of two ply. One at the base is very dense while a softer and plusher layer is affixed atop. While this provides comfort for its intended use, it can begin to break down if it is in a constant daily use scenario. Conversely, the higher end chairs have taken into consideration the need for the padding to withstand constant use, and are typically three ply deep. Using this same principal of layering, the layer closest to the base if the most dense, while the middle layer is a bit more flexible. The top layer is often quite plush and provides a luxurious feel to the client.
Second, consider the frame. How much weight will it withstand? Can you easily go from working on children to working on larger clients? Consider who your target market may be, and make your choices with this in mind.
Third, think about adjustability. If you are using this chair for everyday use, you will likely opt for a chair with considerable adjustment capability. Some chairs are adjustable down to the knee pads, and I find chairs offering greater options are a stronger choice for the full time Seated Massage Therapist. You have a greater capability of customizing the massage experience directly to your client’s weight, height and build. If your use is for occasional usage only, then the economy chair would still be a good fit.
Fourth, contemplate ease of use. Some higher end chairs are like trying to fold origami. Too many levers and complicated sequences can make a chair cumbersome, (albeit comfortable for the client.) The hope is you find something perfect for both of you! The economy chairs are not quite so complicated, and can offer great ease when you are on the road. Less adjustment means less knobs and levers. Determine your level of patience, and explore manufacturer’s websites to get a better picture of the adjustments chairs can offer.
Fifth, does my chair come with a package? Most do. Most chairs on the market are paired with a carry case for the protection of the chair and for ease in mobility.
And lastly, we come and vinyl options. Most manufacturers are going “greener” in their offerings and provide vinyl with less noxious gas emissions. PVC FREE vinyl will not expose you or your client to health risks such as exposure to Phthalate DEHP and Dioxin pollution.
One thing I would like to share, (and I cannot stress this enough) always be sure to buy from a reputable dealer of professional grade massage products. DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS. In the short term, it seems you will be able to save a few bucks and buy a chair secondhand. However, let there be an issue with breakage, or malfunction and you are wholly stuck with a broken and dilapidated used chair. This can set you back to square one, and you are out your initial investment in substandard equipment. When you choose a reputable dealer, you have the advantage of the resellers warranty as well as the manufacturer’s warranty. Both are invaluable to you if your chair ever has an issue.
Chair massage can be a tremendous value to those looking for an add-on therapy, a means to market, or a way to earn a little extra money on the weekends. It can also be a lucrative full time career. Just be sure to do your homework, visit the web, check out and compare features, and then make your informed decision. Everyone has a different need, and I hope some of these tips can help you better define your own and give you a head start in finding the perfect chair for your individual needs.