Former Paratrooper Finds Relaxed Life as Elements Massage Owner

When Matt Messina’s commanding officer told him he was taking their group for a night out, the 82nd Airborne paratrooper imagined kicking back with a few beers at a local bar and hanging out with his fellow soldiers on a Friday night.

Instead, they found themselves at a nice spa, he says. “We all sat there, because we were in boots all day, and we got our first pedicures and our first massages. We all came out and were like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ But it really put the focus on if you take care of your body, it takes care of you.”

That first experience led the Army veteran and Minnesota transplant to eventually own his own Elements Massage® studio in Anthem, Arizona.

“A lot of people ask, “What are you doing running a spa or a massage studio?’ based off my background,” he says. “For five years, I was in the Army. I used to jump out of airplanes for a living.”

Messina is one of many veterans who joined the Elements Massage® system following his military service and took advantage of the company’s veteran incentive program.

“People get a different idea when they see my background when they apply,” Messina says. “They think they are going to come into this work environment and it’s all like a drill sergeant and this and that. But no, I just treat people like adults and with respect.”

That mentality and a gentle demeanor are what help sustain low employee turnover and what led his location into receiving a nomination for the WellBiz Brands’ Studio Culture of the Year award in 2021 – one of four across the nation. He also isn’t shy in admitting he knows his place when it comes to managing an effective and professional staff.

“Massage therapists are massage therapists,” he says. “While I’m their boss, they are the professionals, and you have to listen to what they need. Listen to your staff and people. I think that’s a big reason why we are still around right now.”

Messina joined the Army in 2008 and left in 2013 as a sergeant. When he wasn’t jumping into a South American jungle, he attended Army schools that taught him the skills he needed to run a business and lead.

“Having that kind of training and discipline and perspective certainly helps,” he says.

Moving from a role as a soldier to business owner was quite the transition, especially when it came to dealing with personnel.

“I was in an all-male unit, so this is a lot more listening and a lot more of being attentive to detail,” he says. “And that’s good, because that’s something we learn in the military – pay attention to the details.”

The biggest difference Messina found in his time as a franchise owner are the problems or issues that are brought to you as the manager and owner.

“Instead of me being worried about some guy partying too much, or flying off the handle or something like that, I’m dealing with something more along the line of a single mom who has a child and can’t necessarily be here all the time, even though she’s really trying hard,” he says. “Those are two really different situations. Of course, the child comes first, and what she’s going through comes first.”

Messina says his training in the military taught him to problem-solve, and he’s found he can assist in these situations, which can be sensitive.

“I have a wonderful group of ladies,” he says. “They know they can come to me with anything, and I’ll take care of it.”

Following his military stint, he didn’t find his business side immediately. He first took a quite common route for veterans; he went into law enforcement as a corrections officer.

While there, he served in several different roles – from working as a guard to reviewing inmate complaints and teacher for offenders.

“It was pretty intense some days, especially when you’re watching a dining room full of 200 men and it’s you and three other officers in there,” he says. “You really have to pick your battles, and sometimes the small stuff wasn’t really worth getting into. But that’s where the military training kicks in and staying cool-headed really helps.”

Tough working conditions and a few close calls had him thinking about other employment. But in 2017, his mother, Lisa, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that primarily affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. For almost two years, he was her primary caregiver.

Serving as her caregiver was a painful process, he says. Her diet was all liquid. Her pills had to be ground up.

“She was an intellectual,” he remembers. “She liked to write, watch TV, movies and to read. When someone like that isn’t able to do that, it is really heartbreaking to watch her go through.”

To help ease her frustration in communication, he bought boards, markers and shapes so she didn’t struggle to talk to indicate what she needed.

“Up until a point, we had our little routine,” he says. “I’d make her breakfast. We’d play a game every morning. I’d put on ‘Frasier,’ and we’d watch that all the time together. She’d laugh.”

They also worked in one last trip to Disneyland, where she was able to take photos with her favorite princesses. After she died, he left the corrections field and began looking at business opportunities with his father, Phil.

“It just got to be too much,” he says. “When she passed, I was still working, but I decided I needed to take a different path after that.”

By December 2019, he had opened his new location with his father in Anthem, Arizona. He also took advantage of the 20 percent off incentive that the Elements Massage brand offers military veterans.

Now, instead of starting the day with discipline reports and a general sense of dread, he has a more soothing morning routine as an Elements Massage franchise owner. He goes to the office, turns on the lights and then immediately heads to a locally owned café for breakfast, a quick workout and then opens the studio.

“I love having a little family here and a little culture,” he says. “I just turn on the spa music, the lights and diffuser … we (he and his father) wanted a place where we could come into that we knew was our home and that had a peaceful ambience where people could come in and have the feeling they were being taken care of.”

Messina made it clear he values those who serve in their community and country, like he and his mother. He now provides discounts for his customers who are fellow veterans, teachers and nurses.

Veterans are prevalent throughout the franchising industry. According to the International Franchise Association’s (IFA’s) VetFran program, 14 percent of U.S. franchise owners are veterans. That’s one in seven. VetFran focuses on educating veterans and facilitating their entry into franchising. The Elements Massage brand, which offers a 20% discount on the initial franchise fee or development fee if someone signs an Area Development Agreement, is a three-star member of VetFran. In addition to training videos, articles and downloadable resources, VetFran’s website features a directory of brands that discount their franchise fees for veterans.

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