We get a lot of questions on how to figure out if there is a market for the modality you want to learn so you can be sure that you will have paying customers after you graduate. Marketing and market research is a huge part of any business, and one that many struggle with, and we are going to focus several of the upcoming posts on this subject. Is there a particular part of marketing you have questions about or find challenging? Let us know!
It is not only a smart move, it is a necessity, to research your potential future customers before you start any new business venture; study after study has shown that the “build it and they will come” approach rarely works, and many new businesses have to call it quits because they focus more on their products than their potential customers.
Having said that, don’t let fear or not knowing what to do paralyze you – just make sure you are diligent in doing your research, and prepare be flexible with both your business idea and marketing efforts.
In this first marketing post, I reached out to several of our experts to get their responses to one question in particular that we received:
Q: I’m very interested in working with dogs and was considering a course of study in canine massage. However after asking a friend involved in Equine Massage, I’m sort of concerned that there may not be an interest or need yet in my area. How can I know for sure if there is a market for this before investing in an education?
Lisa Ruthig, Bancroft School of Massage Therapy
Is your community (or those within your travel range) supporting high-end pet stores, specialty boarding establishments (with extra services) or spa-like groomers? Talk to them and see if they think their clients would be interested in massage. They may be willing to survey their clients. One correlation I noticed when moving my business from one community that could support it to one that unfortunately couldn’t, was prices for dog daycare and pet sitting. My old, wealthier community was paying almost twice as much for those services than my new one. (With the slight uptick in the economy, I’m now getting more business closer to home.) Be certain that animal massage is legal in your state before you commit to a program. Look at your state’s veterinary practice act.
Lola Michelin, Northwest School of Animal Massage
This is a question we get frequently from prospective students and anyone considering a career in animal massage is wise to consider it. I am happy to say that we have seen strong growth in the animal industry even since the economic downturn in 2008. The pet industry in particular, including massage, has seen over 5% growth year over year. That said, different regions of the country do have different levels of interest. Taking time before you choose a program to collect some information about the pet owner’s habits in your area can help a lot toward determining your opportunities. What does the average pet owning household in your area spend per month on pet related expenses? What types of pet-related businesses are prominent in your community? Are boutique-type pet stores selling high grade specialty foods to your population or do the majority of pet owners get their pet food from a feedstore or grocer? Are people currently offering massage in your area. What do they see as challenges or opportunity for growth?
Armed with this information, you can choose a program that will focus best on the needs of your community or interest. If you want to work with agility dogs, a program rich in sport massage techniques would be best. Want to work with geriatric dogs or injured dogs? You will need training in advanced rehabilitation massage skills. All that said, if the outlook in your area is not as sunny as you had hoped, do not despair. I have countless stories of graduates who started a practice in an area where animal massage was unknown. With education, exposure and enthusiasm, many of them turned their neighborhoods into massage-savvy pet havens and are now highly regarding in their communities. For one such great example, check out Rubi Sullivan of Heal Animal Massage (www.healnw.com).
Veronica Boutelle, dog*tec
One surefire way to judge demand for a service is to look for others in the area doing a brisk business. But in the case of an unusual service like canine massage, you’re more likely to be the first in your area to offer it, which offers unique marketing challenges and opportunities both. In this case, I’d urge you to explore these questions:
Are there many dog owners in your area? What kind of dog owners are they? Are they spending money on other perceived high-end, therapeutic, or holistic services for their animals? Are there holistic veterinarians in your area offering non-Western therapies such as acupuncture, for example? Existence of such services may make selling yours easier, as potential clients will already be accustomed to non-traditional approaches to animal care, and to paying for them. Absent these positive signs, you’re likely to have a larger challenge on your hands. But if you’re the type to lead the charge, you might enjoy being first on the scene – that has its advantages, too.