Massage MNL was already beginning to make a name for itself in the wellness industry as a specialized home care massage provider when the COVID-19 pandemic hit early last year.
Like most companies, the then one-and-a-half-year-old company had to shut down operations when the country was put under a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. What Janine Khazaie, Massage MNL founder, thought would last for just two weeks dragged on for more than two months.
And when they were finally able to reopen in June last year, business was so bad as people were still afraid to do anything that involved physical contact with other people, and access to villages and condominiums remained restrained. For several more months, Massage MNL remained in the red. It took the company another three months or so to get back on its feet.
This month, the Enhanced Social Quarantine (ECQ) was reintroduced in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas for two weeks, with the possibility of extension. This meant that Massage MNL again had to shut down operations. But unlike the first time, Janine and her team, which has grown to 115 today from 65 pre-pandemic, now know exactly what to do during the break and will be ready when they reopen after the current lockdown.
Gone for a moment
Massage MNL, which was started by the then 28-year-old new mother with only four therapists in October 2018, is the first and now one of the very few specialized home care providers in Metro Manila. It offers prenatal, postnatal, breastfeeding, lymphatic drainage, sports, myofascial, signature, baby and baby massage. It also offers first-class massage services, but 80 percent of its business comes from “mommy services”, which Janine calls pre- and postpartum massage and breastfeeding. Before the pandemic, the brand was mostly fully booked with clients referred by their obstetricians and by existing and former customers themselves. And this was suddenly gone when ECQ was imposed.
While striving to stay afloat during the lockdown and survive the “very bad” business situation for the first few months after reopening, exacerbated by another round of lockdown in August, Janine and husband Bobby realized that the pandemic did not go away anytime soon. so they could decided to see it face to face and live with it.
Janine got busy improving her knowledge in the wellness industry by attending online workshops while helping to meet the needs of her staff. She worked on the brand’s development plan and planned the steps Massage MNL would take under the “new normal”.
It was not easy, but Janine was no stranger to challenges. The very reason for her decision to set up Massage MNL and make it work was the need to raise additional money and increase their regular income to support her son’s special needs and repay their debts. Three years ago, Janine gave birth to her son long before her full period, and there were many complications that required special treatments, which eventually killed the couple’s resources (Her son is now doing well). During the first days of the business, Janine had to face issues like being thrown out of what she considers their first headquarters, a 25-square-foot condominium, due to complaints from other unit owners. It started with four therapists, but the number had grown steadily and it did not go unnoticed by other occupants of the apartment. She had to personally do door-to-door marketing and drive the therapists to and from their tasks. Another challenge was to prevent the therapists they trained from being pirated by other massage service providers. But Janine and her team were determined to do just that, so they kept refining their skills and systems. So when the company started to take off in October last year, they were ready. Another good thing was that the market was ready for it, as people were no longer as ignorant about COVID-19 as before. They were already well aware of the risks and ways to protect themselves, and like Massage MNL, they have also embraced the realities of today.
“Compared to 2020, there have been changes and shifts in consumer behavior this year. As the quarantine restrictions ease, more people become more open to getting massages at home, ”according to Janine. “The months after September were among the best times for us. We reached several milestones and are now ready with a concrete development plan, ”she says.
Janine says the brand has created its own “new normal” protocols that comply with government regulations. All of its therapists and front-line staff are fully vaccinated, and they continue to undergo regular antigen sticks. They wear personal protective equipment, wear updated medical certificates and stay in the safety of staff housing coming from the company, and only go to their own home once a week. Therapists, especially those treating pregnant and new mothers, are approved by the Department of Health and have undergone special training. Customers of such services are screened and are required to secure approval from their doctors as Massage MNL does not accept them with complicated pregnancies.
The company grew by more than 120 percent this year from October last year, now with five branches in key cities in Metro Manila and 115 people and growing under its wing. The pandemic fatigue has actually created a new market for Massage MNL, these are the people who are looking for ways to relax and unwind in the safety and comfort of their own home. There is also the pandemic baby boom that gave the company an extra boost.
It introduced new offerings, including what it calls the Massage Bar, aimed at people looking for ways to celebrate birthdays or bridal showers, or simply bond with family members safely at home. The massage bar has a special setup that makes people feel like they are in an actual spa without leaving their home.
Next big step
“Of course, we’re still in a pandemic, so we make sure our people are all fully vaccinated, tested before massage bar reservation, tested weekly and closely monitored in their staff housing,” says Janine.
Janine and her team are now ready to implement the next big plan, which is the opening of Massage MNL’s own spa. Prior to the recent lockdown, she expected to close a deal on a property in San Juan that will house the spa and serve as the company’s headquarters and operations center. But it may have to wait until after the current lockdown.
With all the preparations and adjustments it made, Massage MNL is convinced that once the lockdown is over, it will be ready to pick up where it left off.
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