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Hands-On Training - Next Generation Massage Therapists

Couple Opens School In Greenville To Train Next Generation Of Massage Therapists.

What happens when the Upstate needs more programs to graduate massage therapists? If you are Caroline and Don Taylor, you open a school.

The first class of students seeking massage therapy certification is underway at their school, Urban River Massage Institute, in Greenville. The next classes begin in January and June.

The inaugural class will graduate in May after 650 hours – six and a half months – of full-time study and clinical work.


Depending on the needs of students, upcoming classes could be full time or part time, days or evenings, Caroline Taylor says. A part-time course would take about 11 months to complete.

The Taylors say they can accommodate 30 participants per class.


“It is a great career,” Caroline says. “A new massage therapist can make $30 to $40 or more an hour, and there are many avenues for employment. It’s rewarding work that helps people.”

The Taylors own three Massage Envy franchises in Greenville and served on the advisory board for the massage therapy program at Greenville Technical College. Caroline says the college ended its program and graduated its last class in May.


“They had a good program,” she says. “We were disappointed when they decided to close it. Luckily, we knew in advance. We knew we needed a pipeline for massage therapists because we were growing as a business and did not have enough massage therapists.”

Massage therapists must complete a program approved by the State of South Carolina. So, soon after learning about Greenville Tech’s decision, Don Taylor started working on a business plan to open a school. More than a year later, Urban River Massage Institute received its license.


The process was daunting, Caroline says.

“We must meet standards set by the state to operate a school so that we can grant a higher education vocational program certificate,” Don explains.

As the Taylors worked through their application package, they networked with local and national spa owners.


“Given that we only have three locations, and we can potentially graduate 120 massage therapists a year, we could never employ that many people,” Don says.

“We need to be employer agnostic.”

The school is designed so that therapists will be able to work at any spa, Don says. He and Caroline seek out spa owners and other professionals to participate in the curriculum and, later, hire graduates.

“We're not just a Massage Envy mill,” Don says.

Caroline says potential employers have mentored students and will participate in mock interviews and a career fair.

“Those are the things that make it a well-rounded program,” she says.

Neither of the Taylors teaches at the institute, though Caroline taught school for five years after graduating from Clemson University. The institute has a full-time program director, a full-time lead instructor, an enrollment specialist, two adjunct instructors and an office manager.


Don is a military veteran and lifelong learner with bachelor's degrees in Electrical Engineering and General Studies Pre-Med, and master's degrees in Electrical Engineering and Business Administration. He’s working on a doctorate in Advanced Educational Leadership.

After five years with Motorola in Arizona and in Silicon Valley in California, Don worked in technology during the dot.com era.

The couple returned to South Carolina in 2007 – where they met 34 years ago – and opened a Massage Envy clinic on Verdae Boulevard, another on Pelham Road, and another in Downtown Greenville.

“It was an interesting membership-based business model,” Caroline says. “Massage Envy makes massage affordable but professional and convenient."

As for the school, Don says it's essential that students are prepared to pass a state exam, obtain their licenses, and be ready to work in any kind of massage therapy setting starting Day 1.

“They won’t need more training when they get their first job. They're ready to roll as soon as they get their license," Don says.


“Since we work in the business and partner with other employers, we know what we need from graduates.”

Techniques include Swedish relaxation massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, prenatal massage, hot stone massage, neuromuscular massage and reflexology, Caroline says.

“We want to make sure that our students graduate with a good basic understanding of all of those and are prepared to work wherever they want,” she says.

Graduates can work in a luxury spa, with a chiropractor or physical therapist, or at a practice that helps athletes or people with injuries. Some may start their own businesses.

The massage therapy program is physically and academically rigorous, Don says.

Students study anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology, massage theory and technique, business, ethics, safety, stretching, basic CPR and first aid.

Students practice massage on each other and spend about 100 hours giving massages to actual clients.


The clinical work is essential, Caroline says. The first class of students will begin working on clients in January. Anyone can schedule a massage by calling the school. The cost is $30. Clients complete questionnaires that will be reviewed by the students and instructors.

"We've started a list of interested people. We know it will be popular," Caroline says.



The cost of Urban River Massage Institute’s certification program is $10,100, which includes everything students need for classwork and the equipment they will need to begin working, Caroline says. “That’s their tuition as well as the starter kit.” Financial assistance is available.

Students must be at least 18 years old. But Don says people of all ages, including retirees, have become massage therapists.

Potential applicants who are eligible and interested in the program at Urban River can take a short quiz on the school’s website to determine whether massage therapy might be a good fit for them. A staff member queries applicants and invites them to tour the school and speak with instructors and students.


Continuing education programs also are available.

“It’s part science, part art. We're looking for people who want to help people,” Caroline says.

"We want to do this for the industry. We're excited to partner with other spas, franchises, and employers to provide more avenues for massage therapists.”



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