I grew a multi-million dollar massage business by practicing “servant leadership” – this is how it works

Business owner Rachel Beider says service leadership has made her company a happy and confident place to work.
  • Rachel Beider, 38, is a registered massage therapist and founder of PRESS Modern Massage.
  • She says “servant leadership” has been the key to the success and growth of her business.
  • Servant leadership encourages business leaders to meet the needs of their employees before their own.

As a young adult I worked as a nanny, waitress, dog walker and photo assistant. Trying so many different things I always felt a bit lost in my career pursuit.

When I was 21, I decided to do some soul-searching on a backpacking trip through India and Southeast Asia. One day I ended up at WatPo Thai massage school, not least because after sleeping on so many hostel floors, I needed a good massage. I grew up with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that left me with chronic pain and discomfort, and the massages really helped.

After a week of Thai massage class I was addicted

I loved the fluidity of movement, the calm rhythm, the feeling of connection and grounding that it provided during the massage, and how rewarding it was to interact with people in this healing and helpful way. To this day, I still love working with my hands.

Upon returning from my trip, I enrolled at the Swedish Institute in New York and became a registered massage therapist. I started working in different contexts: for a chiropractor, a yoga studio and a high-end spa.

I loved the chiropractor’s clinic site specific clinical work, but the cold sheet of paper and bright lights wasn’t exactly a relaxing work environment. I tried working for a high-end spa, but the low pay and the accompanying hectic pace didn’t do me any good. I enjoyed the yoga studio, but found it to be disorganized, chaotic, and often dirty, which is a deadly sin for me.

I desperately wanted my own studio where I could do clinical style work in a warm and inviting setting, but couldn’t afford to rent space.

Three months after getting my license, I found a physiotherapy clinic in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I walked in and asked the owner if he offered massage therapy to his physiotherapy patients; they didn’t, so I offered to massage their patients for free two mornings a week in exchange for using a treatment room. To my surprise, they accepted. I started my private practice, Tap Modern Massage, and grew from there.

Since opening our doors, we’ve had over $ 11 million in lifetime sales, but it sure didn’t start that way. My first year in business in 2008, I barely exceeded $ 20,000 in sales. Slowly, I went from a solo practice to hiring my first employee, then my first dozen employees. From there I moved on to a second location followed by several more.

As the business grew, I often felt exhausted, exhausted and too stretched among so many responsibilities

Rachel Beider PRESS Modern Massage
Beider says she turned to servant leadership while dealing with burnout.

I constantly felt like I was failing, which is scary. I knew I had to learn to ask for help and delegate effectively, but it was a painful and agonizing process for me. When you’re used to doing it all on your own and not relying on others, it can feel a bit like taking your hands off the wheel to trust someone else with your business.

To help, I discovered an operational style called servant leadership. This concept has been around for decades and was invented by Robert Greenleaf, a senior at AT&T in the mid-1900s. He eschewed the traditional model of top-down authoritarian leadership for an employee-centered approach.

Servant leaders recommend that the business owner ensure that the needs of their employees are met first

With this, my role as an owner is to make sure my team has everything they need to be successful, thrive and feel good about their job.

I have found that servant leadership creates a warm work environment that results in high employee retention, a phenomenal company culture, and a happier workplace. Our managers are responsible for the happiness and needs of their direct reports. I strive to make my business a business where everyone feels impactful and never like a spectator in their own career.

Servant leadership allows my employees to make certain decisions without needing to seek permission from a manager.

For example, if there is a problem that costs less than $ 200 to resolve, our front desk is empowered to handle the situation without any monitoring or prior authorization. This number increases as we move up the chain of command. It prevents bottlenecks from occurring on the management side and conveys confidence and builds confidence.

Another way to implement servant leadership is by holding open feedback sessions where employees are encouraged to provide information, advice, concerns, and ask questions. These sessions are all about making sure our team has everything they want and need in the studios.

When COVID hit, we had to close two of our four locations, which was devastating. I used my own resilience and resourcefulness to hang in there and do my best to get through it. After being cleared to reopen, in July 2021, we opened a new location in Union Square, an area we had never been able to afford before. We just signed a lease at Columbus Circle, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s great to know that, even in the midst of the pandemic, I can continue to build a business in the wellness space that is both successful and a fulfilling place to work.


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