Massage on the beach: yes please!

Mark Vella, MASSAGE ON THE BEACH, 2011 finalist

A simple but effective menu of massage on the beach: 20, 40 and 60 minutes – back neck and shoulders, and 20 minute legs. Dr Mark Vella, owner and founder of MASSAGE ON THE BEACH (MOTB), situated in Camps Bay, will give you one more reason besides the mountain to visit Cape Town.

Mark VellaAlso contracted for corporate, destination management and home-based massages, MOTB has been operational since 2002, and was started by Mark who has a health and fitness professional background before becoming a registered Doctor of Natural Medicine with the Allied Health Practitioners Council of South Africa. He also has his Honours in Business Management from the UCT Graduate School of Business and is currently completely a programme in Functional Medicine.

“I have been involved in smaller business ventures prior to MOTB but this is the first of its kind,” he says.

“You could say that MOTB became my ‘MBA’ in social entrepreneurship. The name was chosen to simply reflect the core service and our unique selling point (USP).”

MOTB was bought out of a combination of critical circumstance and opportunity.

“We had a five year delay in our registrations with the AHPCSA and I needed to earn income just to survive and keep my property. It was tough times,” Mark explains.

“A friend –a beach trader – recommended me to an opportunity through the Cape Town city council to trade massage on the beach. Honestly, at first I thought it was below me, but this was just a temporary stop gap.”

Within a couple of years, the business model completely shifted his paradigm and became a vehicle of personal transformation. “I began to see the vision for something much greater than myself. Now, I am grateful for the events that led me on this path.”

Unique business model

MOTB is internationally-renowned, having served over 8 000 clients from over 72 countries. In turn, the company supports the Hand-up Hands-on Apprenticeship Opportunity (HuHo) – a unique, free skills development programme that affords students working at MOTB the opportunity to earn while learning, through a 4-module training programme. One might assume that the company’s USP is simply that they are based on a beach. But MOTB has taken that one step further.

“First,” explains Mark, “our massage is often said to be the best you will get in South Africa. People often think that a beach massage cannot be as good as a luxury spa one. And we use that exception to our advantage. Our house protocols are trained weekly with a focus on the client-centered experience and needs. This leads to a massage brand style that is different and unique. Spas offer a luxury we cannot. But we offer a massage that you will not forget.”

But what really makes MOTB particularly special is the business model it uses. The joint venture between MOTB and HuHo is a symbiotic relationship – HuHo facilitates the apprenticeship and formal lessons at no charge to successful applicants.

This year the programme runs from roughly September 2011 to May 2012, commencing with a two month training orientation, followed by modules in self-development, business acumen and personal strategy. The programme includes in-service training, reading lists, weekly lessons, assignments, and small business projects. In turn, students gain practical work experience at MOTB – earning as they work. The revenue generated by the students allows MOTB to fund and facilitate their apprenticeships.

“It is a one-of-a-kind, rare, sometimes crazy and beautiful opportunity that will change their lives,” says Mark.

“We don’t contribute to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Rather CSR is at the heart of our business model. And yet we don’t trade on it. Instead we focus on the quality and value we offer through MOTB. Visit us and we challenge you to find a better beach massage experience – anywhere in the world.”

Mark believes that his business model can be a socially innovative one, adopted by all companies in South Africa. This means that South African business can contribute to developing young South Africans who are responsible, critical thinkers, compassionate, emotionally intelligent, and effective – going far beyond the traditional SETA apprenticeships.

“We are a boot-strapped business. With virtually no assets, we generate over R250 000 in just 150 days. Additionally, we give ten people free education and skills transfer; creating value for more than ten stakeholders – all at no cost to the city or government,” Mark explains.

“If the business could go national, in five years, we could have 30 installations nationwide, graduating over 400 apprentices.”

Coping with the stresses

But running any business, even if it is based on a beautiful beach in Cape Town, is always a challenge. MOTB and the HuHo programme operate in a dynamic, physical environment, and the business is still in its developmental stages. Despite the pressures that trying to kick-start a business in a recession can bring to the home-front, Mark still holds family and personal health on his list of top three priorities.

“I have a fiancé and a 5-month old daughter who mean the world to me. Spending time with them, letting them know how important they are, is essential. Their love and support makes all the difference to me. Living within your means and appreciating what you have rather than bemoaning what I don’t, has helped me tremendously. I always keep the communication lines open with fellow business mentors, colleagues, friends and loved ones.

“So many people have been down the path you want to go,” he says, “so meet with them, speak to them, and ask their input or advice. Apart from the fact they could save you much time and money, you may find opportunities arising.”

Forget the ‘lone ranger’ notions about entrepreneurship, Mark says, as no entrepreneur is self-made – it’s an illusion.

“You achieve success by leveraging the skills and resources of other people. At the same time, there’s no substitute for basic business acumen. Get some!”

Subscribe to our newsletter