Dr Graeme massagers were started by Australian Chiropractor Dr Graeme Blennerhassett, who was looking for something to help his patients. Most patients needed more massage type therapy than they could afford or had time for. Without this they didn’t improved as they should and had continual relapses. Practitioners often use professional vibration massagers to apply this therapy, but prescribing vibration massagers for home use was impossible because the professional machines were very expensive and unsuitable for home use, and as a UK study (1) found massagers designed for personal use were ineffective. Frustrated with not being able to give patients what they needed Dr Graeme had his own machines built.
A few of those original machines were given to colleagues. They all had patients with similar needs, so the colleagues started ordering cartons of massagers at a time. Entirely by word of mouth with no advertising the use of these massagers has spread to colleagues across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Europe. Colleagues happily use the machines themselves and recommended them to their patients. The bulk of DrGraeme massagers are sold directly to professionals who often on sell them to patients and clients, but there is also a direct online sales facility. Logistics wise, the massagers are stored and sent out from a warehouse in England and one in Australia.
The massagers are highly effective tools, but the results you get still depended on how you use them, so a big part of the DrGraeme service has been to supply top quality researched based usage information. This ranges from a 85 page Practitioners Guide though to a large number of guides, website articles and YouTube videos.
The massagers are custom built, so it has been a challenge to have them originally designed and built, then to maintain a consistent supply of quality product. At the start the massagers were only being built for Dr Graeme’s patients. Even 500 machines was a very big order, but that is a very small number for a factory to do as a custom order. The way it was done was an existing massager with a reasonably shaped body and a strong mechanism, but poor quality parts as the wiring, motor and switch was found. The factory was sold on the potential of selling to professionals as a new market so they agreed to make 500 of those machines using commercial grade parts. They were the first DrGraeme massagers.
One issue was that the factory was used to making larger numbers of consumer goods for price conscious customers. The export manager confided that their customers continually tried to screw them on price. They were promised that if they wanted to build something that they could be proud of they would only be screwed on quality, but never on price as long as they were fair. It took a while with continually larger orders to build trust, but now the factory has a core of experienced workers that builds the DrGraeme Massagers, and for a nice bonus the export manager’s relative personally inspects and tests each machine.
Developing a good relationship with the factory over time has been extremely important. Their quality is excellent, and at times times they have been very busy working overtime filling large orders, but still managed to build a couple of container loads of DrGraeme massagers when needed. Also, in 2012 under Dr Graeme’s guidance the factory had a completely new machine designed and tooled. That is the General Purpose Massager. They had their own technical people working on it, plus good relations with others so they were able to have project done very efficiently and at a more than reasonable price. They were even able to have the motor factory build custom motors with better bearings and that developed a lot more grunt at lower speed like a diesel engine. This machine has been the main DrGraeme massager for almost a decade, selling over 100,000 units. More recently the factory tackled an even more ambitious project, developing and tooling an amazing new quad head massager. Again their technical people worked on it, getting in engineers to help, and building prototypes. It turned out great, and at a very reasonable cost.
Logistic wise the business started storing the massagers at home, packing and taking the machines to the post office. That was eventually outgrown, and now the massagers are stored and sent from a fulfillment warehouse in Australia and in England. After a while the logistics became very simple. Basically all it took was an email to the factory with an order, then an email the customs brokers in Australia and the UK, who would have their freight forwarder agents liaise with the factory. Between them they organised transport from the factory through to the warehouses.
The pandemic changed things though. The factory had to shut down for a while early 2020, but had just finished building three container loads of DrGraeme massagers so the timing was OK. Since then there has been no problem, but it has always been a worry that they may have to shut down again. Also, there are always concerns that external influences might affect the supply. For example, the relationship with the factory is excellent, built over 15 years of working together. On the other hand the Australian and Chinese governments haven’t exactly been getting on well lately.
Shipping is another challenge. For a long time it took four weeks from when the factory delivered to the dock to when the massagers arrived in the Australian warehouse, and 6 weeks to get to the UK. However, shipping and even getting the massagers from the port to the warehouse became a nightmare with ships being canceled, huge delays at ports, and even not being able to get truck drivers in the UK. The UK warehouse ran out of stock twice since the pandemic, but stock was eventually built up to a higher levels as a buffer in case of delays.
The final major challenge is that there are are many areas where the DrGraeme massagers would be extraordinarily useful, but apart from maintaining the website and handing out a few samples there is no marketing budget. This is because the business was started by just having the machines built then on selling to colleagues, just adding a fair margin. Because of this the massagers are excellent value and the business will always be profitable, but there is no extra margin to cover advertising, people getting commissions for recommending them, sales people, or intermediate distributors taking their cut, or anything else like that. There is now a very good network of professionals such as Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Physiotherapist and Massage Therapists helping their patients/clients using the machines, but that is only the tip of the iceberg for this type of usage. There is also tremendous potential in the areas of health and wellness, plus sports and post exercise recovery. However, expansions into new areas means relying only on minimal or no cost solutions to compete against manufacturers who do all those things.
The opportunity now is to build on what has been established. The factory is producing excellent quality solution enabling professionals to prescribe effective self massage. Even with the shipping issues there is still an efficient distribution system and a large network of professionals prescribing the massagers and creating a reliable stream of sales. Those professionals will continue to tell their colleagues, so this network will continue to grow. All that is needed is to help this process along by providing quality usage advice and sample massagers for those new colleagues to trial.
Having almost no marketing budget is challenge, but being able to do that means that the massagers are extraordinary value, and there are ways to expand to the new markets mentioned above without spending a lot of money.
Health care professionals are a tremendous asset. Their primary obligation is to always do what’s best for their patients or clients, and in most cases it is considered unethical or even illegal to take any sort of kickback for making recommendations. They are also usually very happy to share information with colleagues. So, if one provides a good solution at a fair price professionals will recommend it and tell colleagues. The opportunity is to make that as easy as possible for them by providing quality advice plus a sample massager for appropriately qualified professionals to trial.
The opportunity to expand into other markets without the expense was found almost by accident. Whereas most sources of information are heavily influenced by the desire for commissions or continuing advertising revenue, it appears that Google is mainly interested in providing the best possible information for users. All you need to do is provide quality useful information and Google will show people. This was discovered when noticing that one article on the DrGraeme website was getting viewed a large number of times. It is called “The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications”. It was only ever written as a resource for users of the massagers, but without doing any special SEO voodoo Google had recognised it and had it as the number one search result for most searches relating to vibration massage. That’s the opportunity: to write valuable, well researched articles related to the massagers and the potential usage areas.
As an example, one area of potential usage is sports massage and post exercise recovery. The DrGraeme are an excellent solution, and the new quad head massager can do the equivalent of a full body massage in a matter of minutes, but the market is heavily dominated by manufacturers of overpriced and less effective massage guns. The manufacturers have massive budgets to advertise, sponsor sports clubs and buy celebrity endorsements. There’s also a line up of publications that like advertising revenue and websites keen to get affiliate commissions happy say nice things about them and overlook their issues. However, it’s taken time to build a reputation with Google, but a lot of searches related to massage guns, percussion massagers and massage for various conditions bring up DrGraeme articles, often at the top.
Rather looking for products or services to create a business around, we found a specific need that was not being met and developed a business around sharing that solution.
As Geoff Bezos from Amazon once said it can be an advantage having limited funds because you have to work out ways of doing things without the funds.
Also, business is a team effort. You need to gradually bring in others to help. Our business is managed to do this using independent consultants and businesses rather than employees. You need to choose these well, treat them with respect and pay them properly.
Lastly, if we go back to the beginnings of the business the original customers were personal patients and close colleagues. That has formed the basis of how the business deals with people. Every professional or clinic that uses and sells the massagers is seen a colleague rather than a client or customer. Everyone who uses the machines is treated like a patient and gets the best possible advice based on their needs.
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