Franchises are “ready, with open arms, to help Canadians rebuild their physical, mental, and social health”
By Jordan Whitehouse
It’s no secret that the health and wellness industry was booming before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2019, Statistics Canada released a report that suggested the national health and wellness market size would grow from $14.9 billion in 2013 to $20.6 billion in 2022. And although COVID-19 may have temporarily slowed that growth, market analysts expect the industry to quickly regain its foothold as the country’s older demographic continues to increase.
It’s clear that Canadian health and wellness franchises expect the same. While the pandemic has impacted operations for the four franchises profiled in these pages, all are hopeful about the future and preparing for expansion. As one franchisee put it, “COVID-19 has made a lot of people look at the quality of their life and their health, so it could actually be a great time to be part of this industry.”
Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa
It wasn’t that long ago when the only places to get a good massage in Canada were luxury spas and chiropractic or physiotherapy clinics. But around 2009, that began to change. That’s when Hand & StoneMassage and Facial Spa came to Canada from the U.S. and introduced affordable and high-end massage, facial, and hair removal services.
Since then, the company has expanded to more than 500 locations, including 32 in Canada, all but one of which are in Ontario. Now the company wants to grow throughout Canada.
Canadian general manager Anita Wells says they’re looking for franchisees with good people skills, leadership ability, and business management experience. “They need to build a dedicated in-house sales-focused team around them so that everyone is contributing to the success of the business,” she says.
Two years ago, Hand & Stone found an excellent opportunity in registered massage therapist Elaine McSevney and certified esthetician Stephanie Santi, who are now franchisees of the Oakville, Ontario location.
When the Hand & Stone opportunity came about, both McSevney and Santi wanted to transition away from hands-on work. Both saw the upsides of what Hand & Stone was offering. “I loved the business model of bringing skincare esthetics and massage therapy together under one umbrella,” says McSevney.
The brand awareness is one of the biggest benefits the two have found at Hand & Stone. The support from corporate has also been huge, especially during the pandemic, they say. Like many other businesses, theirs has been continually impacted by provincial restrictions, particularly the esthetics segment. Government funding has certainly helped, they say, but the continuous support and communication from corporate about that funding as well as changing health and safety mandates and creating reopening protocols for the franchises has been important to being able to reopen safely for their clients and employees.
In fact, the support from the entire company, including franchisees, has been great throughout their journey. “We are a close-knit group,” says Santi. “We support and help each other. We know the people in our corporate office, and we can rely on them for help when needed; they’re not just names to us.”
LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic
About 10 years ago, Sara Hodson was working in a hospital setting as an exercise kinesiologist. Every day, she saw the huge gap between what traditional fitness offers and what people with medical concerns need: a place where they feel safe, supported, and part of a community without intimidation or judgement.
So, in 2011, she launched LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic in White Rock, British Columbia. The medical fitness clinic now has 15 clubs, with five more opening soon, each specializing in supervised exercise and healthy lifestyle coaching for people with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity or those wanting to prevent them.
“The members are one of the biggest rewards of owning LIVE WELL,” says Hodson. “Seeing people with diabetes get off their three-times-a-day insulin or be able to get down on the floor to play with their grandkids for the first time — the only word I can use to describe that feeling is magic.”
The other big reward is working with her team, says Hodson, including fellow franchisee Michelle Dunbar in Bowmanville, Ontario.
Although Dunbar didn’t come from a fitness background, she was desperately looking to open a business that would be community-oriented and that she could be proud of. “And what better concept than improving health?” she says. “Through the offerings at LIVE WELL — health and behaviour change, strong member relationships, and building a sense of community — it more than met all my must-haves in a business concept.”
However, as with the entire fitness industry, the pandemic has been a big challenge to overcome. LIVE WELL pivoted quickly, offering a live virtual program and on-demand workouts. It also dropped the initial franchisee investment fee by 60 per cent and is allowing franchisees to open in smaller spaces.
Hodson says this revised model will allow the brand to service smaller communities. The goal is to have a LIVE WELL in every Canadian city within three years.
The other COVID-19 silver lining is that Canadians are thinking more about their health than ever before. This creates a “massive opportunity” for LIVE WELL, says Hodson. “We are ready, with open arms, to help Canadians rebuild their physical, mental, and social health.”
When Fraser Clarke acquired Massage Addict in 2014, the company had just 20 locations across the country. Now, they have 100. Plus, instead of just massages, the brand also offers reflexology, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.
That kind of dynamism, coupled with its Canadian roots, are two big advantages of being part of Massage Addict, says Clarke. “Being Canadian-owned and -operated means that we have a firsthand understanding of regulated health care; it’s an important distinction versus other brands in the marketplace.”
Milton, Ontario franchisee and registered massage therapist Corey Henderson had never owned a business with employees when he joined Massage Addict in 2018. In fact, he found the whole idea a little intimidating. But having the backing of an entire company has certainly helped alleviate those fears, he says. “Having others — corporate and other owners — to talk to that have knowledge and experience is a very big benefit and has made my transition to business owner much more seamless.”
This has been especially true during the pandemic, says Henderson. Although the business has been deemed essential in Ontario, it’s been challenging to navigate changing government announcements and to deal with client uncertainty. But Massage Addict has been there for franchisees, he says, doing everything from implementing rigorous safety protocols to communicating with the public to let them know clinics are open and safe.
Post-pandemic, Clarke says Massage Addict will continue to expand its footprint — including 10 new clinics scheduled to open in 2021 — and strategically evolve the business model. “This may include additional therapeutic services, complementary products, [and] other ideas. The Massage Addict brand will continue to evolve and grow to meet the needs of the Canadian marketplace. It’s an exciting brand to be part of.”
Simply For Life
It’s been over 20 years since Claudine and Bruce Sweeney decided to leave their jobs in the airline industry and launch a nutrition company in Saint John, New Brunswick. Now, with 41 Simply For Life locations, they have zero regrets. “We just love to work together and love doing something that transforms people’s lives,” says Bruce.
Those transformations come from two streams: nutrition coaching and natural food market stores. The dual services make the brand unique, says Claudine, but so does the atmosphere. Stores are open, bright, and modern, often with lively music in the background. “It’s a fun and energetic place to be for both clients and franchisees.”
Thus, the Sweeneys are looking for franchisees who have energy and a passion for improving the quality of life for people in their communities.
Sussex, New Brunswick franchisees Rob and Kim Driscoll showed they had both when they joined Simply For Life in 2020. They also own a fitness centre in Sussex, so the two businesses complement each other. The brand awareness in eastern Canada, where most Simply For Life locations are currently found, was another plus.
Rob also likes the personalized approach to the business. “I like going through the store and talking to clients, finding out which products they like, telling them what we like. If you’re a people person, this business is great because you get to meet and spend time with your customers.”
The business also seems to be somewhat pandemic-proof, says Rob, because people appear more likely to spend money on their health.
Indeed, the Sweeneys say that in general, the company has seen “tremendous growth” over the past year and a half. Offering virtual coaching and e-commerce were crucial to that growth, but so was a change in messaging that focused on the importance of mental and physical health during the pandemic.
More growth across the country appears to be on the horizon. The goal is to expand to 150 locations mainly outside of the east because Atlantic Canada is quite saturated. “We can’t wait to give our maritime flavour to the rest of Canada!” says Claudine.