A Foot spa run buy the visually challenged

Deepa Krishnan
Nestling in the quaint bylanes of Pali Village in suburban Bandra is a special group of therapists who offer Mumbaikars nirvana at the end of a hard day. For 30 minutes, visually challenged young men and women at Metta Foot Spa ease one of the biggest pain points of living in this fast-paced metro – bone-crushing stress.
What you see is what you get
“The advantage of employing visually impaired therapists is that the loss of one sense heightens the other five senses. What better way to use this than in the practice of foot reflexology, which is all about touch and activating pressure points,” asks Joanita Figueiredo, a former nurse-turned-therapist who launched the niche wellness start-up in 2008.
Metta Foot Spa’s website, designed with soul, states its simple and sensible philosophy. “We never set out to be the biggest, most cutting-edge or hippest spa out there, because good business isn’t about those things – it’s about delivering outstanding solutions that are sensible and that drive profit.”
From Bangkok to Mumbai
Before this venture, Figueiredo was a full-time nurse who was also interested in yoga and pranic healing. A holiday to Bangkok a few years ago led her to seriously study the therapeutic effects of massage therapy. So she underwent a six-week teacher’s training course in Thai massages at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After returning to India, she began to teach massage therapy at the National Association of the Blind and volunteered first at Nashik.
Figueiredo confesses it was a challenge to teach visually impaired individuals and once she pulled it off, she realised to her dismay that no one wanted to employ blind people. So she decided to employ them herself! She is a practical entrepreneur and decided that offering only foot reflexology made better business sense than offering the whole range of therapies. Before throwing open the doors to nirvana, she also groomed her therapists, taught them to speak some English and basic etiquette on how to handle customers.
Revenue Model
Metta offers three simple services – a 30-minute foot massage, a 60-minute foot, back and neck massage, and add-ons. The price tags are a modest Rs 300, Rs 400 and Rs 200 per add-on, respectively. Most of the masseurs – the spa employs eight to nine therapists – have been part of the venture since its inception. While each one starts at a salary of Rs 5,000 a month, the senior-most employee earns Rs 8,000. The spa also offers a nominal raise of Rs 100 a month, initially.
Metta also conducts outdoor events for corporates, and has a steady following, which keeps the business thriving. "During special events, our therapists earn an extra Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 a day, which is a huge bonus for them," reveals Figueiredo. “We have two therapists who have low vision, which is handy when the team goes out for events.”
Lessons Learnt
Like all start-ups, Metta too had teething troubles – they invested heavily in the beginning. They bought a car to transport the therapists during events; they provided daily meals; and took care of a lot of the employees' financial needs. Running a business out of Bandra is also very expensive due to exorbitant real estate costs, and Metta has moved locations three times since its inception, all of them within Pali Village.
To date, Metta has not spent a penny on advertising. "Word of mouth has worked wonders for us," says Figueiredo, who adds that her clientele includes celebrities, and even doctors.
Metta Foot Spa is not the only start-up in the business employing visually challenged therapists and it won’t be long before many others follow suit. But for Figueiredo, her venture is more than a business. She hopes that, eventually, each one of her bacchas (as she refers to her young therapists), will start their own franchise. “That's how Metta's name will spread!”
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