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Rejuvenating a wellness venture amid COVID-19

By: - Business Editor / @CNarismaINQ
/ 05:20 AM August 15, 2021

PREPARING FOR A REBOUND Janine and her therapists are ready to take Massage MNL to the next level. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

Massage MNL was already starting to make a name for itself in the wellness business as a specialized home service massage provider when the COVID-19 pandemic struck early last year.

Like most businesses, the then one-and-a-half year-old company had to shut down operations when the country was placed under a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. What Janine Khazaie, Massage MNL founder, thought would last for only two weeks dragged on for more than two months.

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And when they were finally able to reopen in June last year, business was so bad as people were still scared to do anything that involved physical contact with other people, and entry into villages and condominiums remained restrained. For several months more, Massage MNL stayed in the red. It took the company another three months or so to get back on its feet.

This month, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was reimposed in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas for two weeks, with the possibility of an extension. This meant Massage MNL had to shut down operations once again. But unlike the first time, Janine and her team, which has grown to 115 today from 65 prepandemic, now know exactly what to do during the break and will be ready when they reopen after the current lockdown.

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Gone in an instant

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 service massage providers in Metro Manila. It offers prenatal, postnatal, lactation, lympathic drainage, sports, myofascial, signature, baby and kiddie massage. It also provides premium massage services but 80 percent of its business comes from “mommy services,” as Janine calls prenatal, postnatal and lactation massages. Before the pandemic, the brand was most of the time fully booked with clients referred by their obstetricians and by existing and past clients 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 in the first few months after reopening, made worse by another round of lockdown in August, Janine and husband Bobby realized the pandemic was not going away anytime soon so they decided to face it head-on and live with it.

Janine got herself busy improving her knowledge in the wellness industry by attending online workshops, while also helping address the needs of her staff. She worked on the brand’s development plan and plotted the steps Massage MNL would be taking under the “new normal.”

Janine Khazaie

Out of necessity

It wasn’t easy but Janine was no stranger to challenges. The very reason for her decision to put up Massage MNL and make it work was the need to raise additional money and augment their regular income to support the special needs of her son and repay their debts. Three years ago, Janine gave birth to her son way before her full term and there were many complications that required special treatments which eventually drained the couple’s resources (Her son is now  doing well). During the early days of the business, Janine had to face problems like being kicked out from what she considers their first HQ, a 25-square-meter condominium unit, due to complaints from other unit owners. It started with four therapists but the number had grown steadily and that did not go unnoticed by other residents in the condo. She had to personally do door-to-door marketing and drive the therapists to and from their assignments. Another challenge was keeping the therapists they trained from getting pirated by other massage service providers. But Janine and her team were determined to make it, so they persevered in honing their skills and their systems. So when the business started picking up in October last year, they were ready. Another good thing was that the market was also ready for it by then as people were no longer as clueless about COVID-19 as before. They were already well aware of the risks and the ways to protect themselves and, just like Massage MNL, they have also embraced today’s realities.

“Compared to 2020, this year has seen changes and shifts in consumer behavior. As quarantine restrictions ease, more people become more open to getting massage at home,” according to Janine. “The months after September were among the best times for us. We accomplished several milestones and are now ready with a concrete development plan,” she says.

Own protocols

Janine says the brand has created its own “new normal” protocols that adhere to government rules. All of its therapists and front line employees are fully vaccinated and they continue undergoing regular antigen swabs. They wear personal protective equipment, carry updated medical certificates and stay in the safety of company-provided staff houses, going to their own homes only once a week. Therapists, particularly those attending to pregnant women and new moms, are Department of Health-licensed and have undergone special training. Clients for such services are screened and are required to secure clearance from their doctors as Massage MNL doesn’t accept those with complicated pregnancies.

The business 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, in fact, created a new market for Massage MNL, they are the people who look for ways to relax and unwind in the safety and comfort of their own homes. There’s also the pandemic baby boom that gave the business an added boost.

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It introduced new offerings, including what it calls the Massage Bar which caters to people who are looking for ways to celebrate birthdays or bridal showers, or to simply bond with family members safely at home. The massage bar has a special setup that makes people feel they are at an actual spa without leaving their homes.

Next big step

“Of course, we are still in a pandemic so we ensure that our people are all fully vaccinated, tested prior to massage bar booking, tested weekly and closely monitored at their staff houses,” Janine says.

Janine and her team are now ready to implement the next big plan, that is the opening of Massage MNL’s own spa. Prior to the latest lockdown, she was expecting to close a deal for a property in San Juan that will house the spa and serve as the company’s headquarters and operations center. But that may have to wait until after the current lockdown.

With all the preparations and adjustments it made, Massage MNL is confident that when the lockdown is over, it will be ready to pick up where it left off.

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TAGS: COVID-19 pandemic, Massage MNL
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