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Success Story: Georgia Massage School

We recently caught up with Laurie Craig and Rick Garbowski, founders of Georgia Massage School in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. We were interested in the story of how they founded their massage therapy school. Here is what they told us.

How did you get your start in the spa industry?
Laurie - Georgia Massage School got its start in 2009. We both had previously been employed as massage educators, with over 40 years of combined service, and had left those positions in order to pursue opportunities outside of the industry. Rick had been visiting colleges and took entrance exams to pursue a degree. I resigned my position several months later, so I could spend more time with my grandchildren. It had appeared that our time in the spa industry was coming to an end.

Rick - Our motivation to start GMS came directly from our graduates. We soon began hearing from many who enjoyed our teaching styles, and they encouraged us to start up a school of our own. After nearly a year of deliberation and research, we decided to take a chance on starting a small massage therapy school and Georgia Massage School was born. Had we not seriously listened to the feedback and encouragement from those therapists our professional lives would look very different today.

What's the hardest challenge you've had in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Rick - Georgia Massage School’s hardest challenge came early on, getting our first program off the ground to avoid going of business. We incorporated in April of 2009, began paying rent on a 6-year lease in May, and then promptly failed to enroll students in June, July and August. Had we not enrolled those first 6 students in September we would have run out of money before we even got our first class started. Laurie was diagnosed with cancer one month before that first program started and underwent a double mastectomy 3 weeks before the first day of school. To top it all off, we had an epic rainstorm that day and our inaugural students walked into a brand new, but partially flooded facility where the carpet in the massage room was soaking wet.

Laurie - This was the first business venture that either of us had ever undertaken. We quickly learned that success would be determined by our ability to overcome adversity. We have continued to face challenges over the past 7 years, but none have come close to surpassing what we faced when we first opened our doors. All business owners get knocked down sometimes and the successful ones are those who decide to get back up and forge ahead.

What professional achievement are you most proud of and why?
Laurie - Georgia Massage School is most proud of the recognition we’ve received from our industry leaders. We have been recipients of the following awards:
2007 American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) National Teacher of the Year Award
2011 American Massage Conference (AMC) Educator of the Year Award
2013 Florida State Massage Therapy Association (FSMTA) President's Award for industry service
2013 American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) National Teacher of the Year Award

Rick - There are many talented educators in our profession. We recognize that it’s special when a group of them get together, review your accomplishments and acknowledge your work. Being recognized by your peers, people who do what you do and fully understand the challenges that you face, might just be the greatest honor there is.

Is there someone in the industry who has had a profound impact on your career? Why?
Rick - Georgia Massage School has been fortunate to have the support of three distinguished individuals, Whitney Lowe, Benny Vaughn and Lloyd List, and each of them has had a profound impact on the school since it’s inception. In the beginning, they provided us with testimonials that helped us distinguish GMS from our competitors. Benny owns and operates the Benny Vaughn Athletic Therapy Center in Ft. Worth, TX. GMS has received calls from out-of-state students thanks to referrals from Benny. He’s not only helped us place graduates with local professional athletic teams, he’s hired multiple GMS grads and given them the opportunity to move to Texas and work him in the country’s premier athletic massage facility.

Laurie - Lloyd is the CEO of CryoDerm, one of the world's leading topical analgesics. Lloyd’s business advice has been invaluable. He’s not only willing to openly share strategy with us, he’s flown to Atlanta specifically to teach a business class for our students. Lloyd supports GMS at industry conventions and has given us numerous networking opportunities. He continues to hire our graduates and give them the opportunity to travel the country as CryoDerm representatives.

Rick - The support we’ve received from these three industry leaders has been invaluable. Their willingness to stand by our side provided a brand new school with instant credibility and for that we are forever grateful. One of the most important things we did when we decided to start this new business was seek out the advice of successful people.

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