Click photo to enlarge
Heather Schlachter, owner of Somatic Therapy Associates Massage and Wellness Center in Lafayette, Calif. at the center on Thursday, May 27, 2010.

LAFAYETTE — If dollars and cents were the measure of success for a small business, then Heather Schlachter's massage therapy business might be considered less than stellar.

A good year for Somatic Therapy Associates might bring in just $40,000 in revenue. The business at 3420 Mt. Diablo Blvd., which specializes in massage therapy, is hardly a cash cow. But for its owner, it's far from a failure either.

For Schlachter, 42, being able to keep the doors open and deliver a service she believes boosts the quality of life for many is what being successful is all about.

"This is all just a labor of love," Schlachter said. "It means the world to me when I can help improve someone's life."

And compared with other massage businesses, just staying open is doing better than most, she said.

"The massage industry has been really hurt by the economy," she said. "I think the reason we're still around is because we offer something a little bit different."

Traditionally, a massage is seen as more of a luxury than a necessity. One of Schlachter's goals is to make massages feel more necessary. The hope is that when household budgets are trimmed, Somatic Therapy is a bit further down the cut list.

Rates range from $45 for a 30-minute session to $135 for two hours.

Before therapy, each client is given an evaluation that includes a health history. Besides a massage, the therapists might help clients figure out ways to improve their sleep patterns or lower their stress levels.

"We check into what they need and build the sessions around them," she said.

Karen Johnson, who suffered whiplash, has been going to Somatic Therapy off and on for the past seven years. She likes that each therapist has their own way to do the bodywork.

"It's really nice, because it feels like you're doing something therapeutic, but it also feels like you're on a mini-vacation," Johnson said.

Schlachter tries to make her business a comfortable environment for customers, as well as those who work for her.

Instead of having a full-time staff, she has hired five independent contractors. Each is a certified massage therapist who has his or her own specialties. One is proficient in yoga techniques, while another specializes in injury recovery.

Schlachter, who has been doing massage therapy for 21 years, occasionally will work with a client. But mostly she manages the office and books the clients.

"I'm the janitor, the secretary and the owner, all in one," she said. "They treat all the patients while I do all the work in the background."

The business model is set up so that the therapists and Somatic Therapy split the costs. The advantage for the therapists is that they only have to pay when they have clients. Also, Schlachter does the marketing and most of the booking for them.

"I think it's an awesome setup, because she handles the tasks that would be pretty time-consuming for us," said Erin Nolan, who has worked at Somatic Therapy for about a year. "She speaks with the clients, gauges their needs and pairs us up with them."

Her studio in Lafayette has only one bed, but Schlachter has been able to outsource her services as well.

Schlachter has also worked out arrangements with chiropractors who have patients that need massage therapy. Instead of having an in-house therapist, the chiropractors will schedule one of her therapists in their offices.

Because revenue is limited, she has to be a creative marketer. Using incentives such as referral discounts, much of her business is built through word-of-mouth. She also uses social media sites such as Facebook, and donates gift certificates to school fundraisers.

"I'm always looking for new and different ways of doing things," she said. "We have a staff and system in place; now we just need to spread the word out and let people know that we are here."

Contact David Morrill at 925-977-8534.

Name: Somatic Therapy Associates
Owner: Heather Schlachter
Employees: One
Independent contractors: Five
Address: 3420 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
Phone: 925-818-1555
Web site: www.somatictherapyassociates.com