- Brittany Driscoll is Drybar’s former VP of marketing and the current CEO of Squeeze massage studios.
- Squeeze borrowed some ideas from Drybar’s playbook, including extremely selective partner selection.
- Squeeze also mirrors Drybar’s standardized pricing model and whimsical branding.
When Alli Webb opened the first Drybar location in Brentwood, California, in 2010, her plan was to focus on a single storefront while remaining close enough to home that she could pick her kids up from school. Twelve years and more than 140 shops later, it’s clear that Webb’s blowouts-only concept had a lot more potential than she anticipated originally.
With her Drybar learnings, Webb and her cofounder, Michael Landau, began taking action on a new massage studio concept in 2017, and they tapped Drybar’s former VP of marketing Brittany Driscoll to help make it happen. As a Drybar insider, Driscoll was already aware of Webb and Landau’s next idea, which they’d been considering for a few years: a massage franchise with people-first technology and whimsical branding. When Webb and Landau asked Driscoll to become CEO, Squeeze was born, with Webb still on board as an advisor.
This time around, there was no doubt that expansion would be part of the plan.
“We started with the intention of building this brand to 300 to 500 units,” Driscoll told Insider. “Every decision that we made — again, with the learnings from scaling Drybar — we really questioned ourselves. If operating partner 287 isn’t going to be as successful as we are now or be able to do what we are doing now as easily, then we need to find a better way to do it.”
Squeeze’s flagship location in Studio City, California, opened in March 2019 and racked up nearly 1,000 members in its first year, during which it brought in $1.6 million, according to Driscoll. Even after a year of pandemic-related closures starting in March 2020, 40 additional storefronts are currently in development. According to Driscoll, the brand remains on track to scale to 300 to 500 units in the next seven years.
While Squeeze aims to disrupt the massage and wellness industries with its all-inclusive pricing and technology that allows customers to do everything from booking and tipping to setting preferences for massage pressure and music in a single app, the company is also on a mission to disrupt the traditional model of franchising.
At the time of Squeeze’s founding, Drybar was approximately 40% franchised and 60% corporate-owned, Driscoll said. After considering their experience on the Drybar side and diving into research about other franchising models, the team decided that the massage chain would be fully franchised from the beginning. Here’s how the Squeeze team is doing it.
It rolled out the franchising red carpet for its operating partners
Squeeze franchisees — referred to internally as “operating partners” — make a total investment of anywhere from $493,623 to $662,728 and receive, in return, a 475-page operating manual, extensive direction from Squeeze’s head of franchise development, and an hour face-to-face with Driscoll herself.
“It’s a very personal experience,” Driscoll said of the onboarding for a new operating partner. “There are other systems that might take you through the entire discovery process, which is how you decide whether you’re going to move forward, without a lot of personal interaction. Even in the discovery process, we try to make them feel the way that we want them to eventually make their teams and guests feel. We try to start from a really authentic place.”
A digital-learning-management system and in-person training both on-site and in Studio City are designed to maintain those supportive, connected feelings beyond onboarding. While the Drybar franchising team also prides itself on making “thoughtful connections” with its partners, Driscoll said, that strategy is even more front and center with Squeeze.
Squeeze also borrowed from Drybar’s playbook in terms of the partner selection process, which is extremely competitive. The chain’s current team of franchisees includes individuals with management experience from Amazon, Walmart, Disney, Coca-Cola, Target, and Planet Fitness.
“These are long-lasting partnerships, and we want to make sure we’re finding the very best fit for both Squeeze and the franchisees,” Driscoll said.
It streamlined customer service and sales so franchisees can focus on their real expertise: massage therapy
Squeeze’s efforts to make franchising a positive experience extend to the logistics as well. Massage customers make all of their buying decisions within the store’s app, eliminating the need for a dedicated sales team at individual franchise locations. Even Squeeze memberships — which were responsible for half of the flagship storefront’s revenue in its first year, Driscoll said — are sold this way.
“There’s no pushing a membership on people when they’re in the location itself,” Driscoll said. “There’s no paperwork being passed back and forth. It’s all seamless and built in so that the operating partner and their team can focus on creating a great experience.”
There are no upcharges for things like aromatherapy and deep-tissue massage when booking services at Squeeze. The decision to standardize pricing — much like its Drybar counterparts, where the cost of a blowout is the same across the board — was also made with franchisees and their local teams in mind.
“The guest feels good, but on the flip side, massage therapists don’t want to be pushing those things,” Driscoll said. “They’re just there to help and heal and make it a great experience. They’re able to hire people who want to do their best work and focus on why they’re in this industry to begin with.”
It leaned into a pandemic-proof model: accessible and personalized self-care
Launching a brick-and-mortar brand just one year before COVID-19 forced closures — followed shortly after by safety protocols — proved challenging, but Squeeze is confident that the growing interest in self-care and wellness will bring even more customers to its doors for exactly the healing work that its massage therapists are trained to provide.
“Aside from the actual touching, we joked that we created a pandemic-friendly concept before the pandemic because everything was through your phone,” Driscoll said. “Plus, we really felt like people were going to want to focus more on their self-care. We all need human connection and physical touch.”
Combined with the state of the wellness industry and its “people-first” approach to franchising, it’s Squeeze’s attention to detail that Driscoll believes will keep the brand tracking toward its growth goals in the coming years. Customers have access to a variety of curated playlists during their massages. A dedicated guest area in each massage room offers a space for guests to charge their phones and hang up their belongings, rather than tossing them on a bench.
By making these details standard across Squeeze locations and keeping operating partners at the center of their growth strategy, Driscoll sees Drybar-level success for the future of the franchise.
“Franchising requires so much forward thinking and thoughtfulness in the design of the system,” she said. “You can’t build a plane while you’re flying it. You have to do the hard work in the beginning and make sure that you’ve got all your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted.”