Zeel on demand massages
Some things cannot wait. Like massages. And now they don't have to. Zeel, an on-demand massage service that promises to do for your aching muscles what Uber has done for your transportation needs, formally launches Monday in Chicago after several months of testing here. The service, available via mobile app or online, allows you to order a massage therapist to your doorstep — or office, or hotel, or wherever you may be — in as little as an hour or up to 30 days in advance. The company, which already operates in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, says it has a network of nearly 4,000 vetted and licensed therapists nationwide. It is not Chicago's only on-demand massage service. Los Angeles-based Soothe launched here last month, and Windy City Massage has been dispatching therapists to people's homes on short notice for two decades. Zeel bills itself as the first of its kind and the largest, ensuring there is almost always someone available when the knots in your neck are in need. CEO Samer Hamadeh said customers' requested appointments are fulfilled 98.5 percent of the time. Zeel launched in New York as a massage service in 2012 after initially being a booking engine for several wellness categories. Massages were half of the bookings, Hamadeh said. "Nobody realized it's really an on-demand business," he said. "About 60 percent of massage requests were within four hours." But certain challenges to in-home massage, including concerns about safety for both customer and therapist and the annoyance of carrying a massage table around, were holding the category back, he said. Zeel aims to address those issues and drive business to more professional therapists. As with other companies, Zeel users select their massage type (Swedish, deep tissue, sports or prenatal; and single, couples or back-to-back), the length of massage (60, 75 or 90 minutes), and therapist gender preference. Prices start at $99, plus an automatic 18 percent tip. Therapists, available 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., arrive with a massage table, music and lotion. Customers can also subscribe to an annual "Zeelot" membership for $79 a month, which gets them a 60-minute massage per month and a table they keep at home so the therapists don't have to carry it. Massage therapists must be licensed by the state and undergo in-person vetting and interviews. The company accepts about 50 percent of therapists who apply, and those are trained in customer service, Hamadeh said. Clients' identities are verified, he said. With 71 percent of massages being booked after 5 p.m. and 21 percent after 9 p.m., it's clear that people have massage needs after traditional spa hours, Hamadeh said. The massage therapists in the network see the data on where and when orders come in and plan their schedules to make themselves available, he said. In New York, for example, therapists drive to the Hamptons on weekends and wait for a booking, he said. Zeel's massage therapists are independent contractors who get 75 percent of the total price a customer pays, Hamadeh said.