When you think “therapeutic” massage, a busy airport departure lounge is probably not the first place that comes to mind. But two MH Vicars grads are defying expectations of how and where clinical massage services can be delivered.
Holly Gibson and Monique McCardle founded Escape Massage and Wellness last year at Edmonton International Airport. They offer therapeutic massage, reflexology, and reiki—all in a chair.
“It’s a very effective form of relaxation for someone in a short amount of time,” explains McCardle.
“We have some clients who have almost a grumpy demeanor when they come in, and within 10 or 15 minutes their whole personality just changes.”
But relaxation isn’t the only thing on offer: first-time clients are often taken aback by the therapeutic benefits that Escape’s RMTs are able to pack into a short 10-15 minute treatment.
“A man last night said to me ‘Boy, for an airport massage that was a really good massage!’” says Gibson. “We get that a lot; they’re amazed that it was such a high-quality massage. We’re giving them remedial exercise to do; we’re doing therapeutic techniques.”
Holly Gibson, left, and Monique McCardle of Escape Massage.
It’s those techniques that keep clients coming back. Despite the inherently transient nature of their location, Escape attracts many regular clients.
“I had one guy, an oilfield worker, who started coming to see us on the way in and on the way out of camp, for about three months solid,” says Gibson. “And as his job was ending, he said to me one day, ‘I won’t be seeing you guys anymore, but I have to say that you have changed my life. I don’t have pain anymore.’ It’s very rewarding and very gratifying.”
White-collar business travelers and oilfield workers on regular rotation make up a large proportion of their client base. For many of them, it’s the only time they’re able to fit a massage into their schedules.
Gibson and McCardle began Escape while still students at MH Vicars; they conceived of the business the first day they were introduced to chair massage in class. They were paired together for the hands-on portion, and were impressed by its effectiveness.
“It was mindblowing – in 10 minutes, you can feel this great? We were like, ‘Holy smokes, this is amazing!” remembers Gibson. “And also, in the Salvo textbook, it did talk about different places that chair massage could be, and the airport was listed. At tea break time, we met up in the kitchen and looked at each other and went ‘We need to do this.’”
They began planning immediately, contacting the airport, getting insurance, designing a website, and hiring contract employees. Escape formally opened in November 2014—less than three months into their second year of the program.
“I remember the first day of second year, [instructor] Nicole said ‘Don’t go starting anything new this year, guys’ and I’m sitting there going, ‘Uh oh, do I tell her?’” laughs Gibson.
“The school was incredibly supportive of our venture,” explains McCardle. “The instructors bent over backwards for me.”
Nonetheless, balancing a new business with the workload of second year was a big task.
“We used every moment of our time, because second year is challenging enough. We always had our books at the airport with us; any time we had a lull between clients we were studying and quizzing each other,” say Gibson. “There wasn’t a lot of downtime and it was pretty exhausting, but we’d pick each other up and push each other forward.”
All of that hard work has paid off for the pair. They now have four therapists working for them as contract employees, and their chairs are always full. They’re also expanding the business to cover corporate wellness beyond the airport.
“I feel very fortunate that I get to do all the things that I love, have fun at the same time, and work with great people,” says Gibson.
To learn more about Escape Massage and Wellness, visit gatetoescape.com