[Warning: this post contains spoilers. If you DVR’d this, turn away. If you missed Bradenton in "Undercover Boss" on Friday, you can read here and watch the Bradenton-only clips in lieu of fast forwarding.]
Bradenton was in the spotlight, at least for a few minutes, on national TV when “Undercover Boss” followed the journey of Massage Heights co-founder Shane Evans. The episode aired Friday on CBS.
Evans, disguised perhaps as an extra in “Hairspray,” visited four spas including one here in Manatee County. She met retreat director Tori Balzer, 21, who I talked to for a preview story that ran Friday. Above is a deleted scene provided by Undercover Boss with Tori and her boss.
Before I get into the meat of the segment, I have to point out how the location is introduced. The footage and the boss Evans calls it Bradenton, as the water tower is shown along with a shot of downtown and Twin Dolphin Marina in a blink-and-you-miss-it sequence.
Calling the area north of University Parkway as Bradenton is technically right. That’s what the post office recognizes with the 34239 ZIP code. I hear more people call it Sarasota though, but to set it apart from both cities, it’s University Park, named after the neighborhoods and developments that Benderson helped create around the area.
We hear Balzer say University Park, and the show’s news release says it, too. It’s just another example that nobody can agree what to call that area that’s not really Bradenton, Sarasota or Lakewood Ranch.
Now, to drop the cover off of the rest of the segment.
Compared to the rest of the episode, this one is relatively tame as the boss is doing basic backroom prep work. In Rockville, Md., she saw how she couldn’t massage all that well. In Houston, she was horrified that the company’s massage lotions weren’t being used on customers and in Jacksonville, her hands shook as she was attempting to do a facial.
Here in Manatee County, Balzer shared with Evans how she transferred to Florida from Michigan and became retreat director and didn’t receive the promised training, so she feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing in all situations and has to call other retreat directors for help.
Balzer appeared to have a good grasp on professionalism and customer service despite the struggles, encouraging Balzer to move along quickly with the prep work so they can help the massage therapists start on time and get guests checked in.
Checking guests out was a challenge though. The computer system crashed, which Balzer said happens too often, and customers had to wait longer than they should to pay and move on with their day. Good news is that Evans promised during the reveal that her company will invest in a brand new computer system for the retreat, and also said the systems do need updated.
As the lunch break starts, we meet Balzer’s boyfriend Alex who is picking them up for lunch. It turns out Alex used to work at Massage Heights for about two years and introduced Balzer to the company before they moved to Florida. Alex shares how they dated for three years, are going to get married and are considering going back to Michigan.
They ate at Square 1 Burgers & Bar in the same shopping center where some waterworks begin. Evans asked Balzer about her family and she becomes emotional, part homesick but really the thoughts are with her 43-year-old mother who is fighting health issues after being diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.
She recently had heart surgery, Balzer said, and the cancer has been in remission for two years.
During the reveal, Balzer receives some great news. We also see Alex accompany Balzer at the reveal, which we typically don’t see boyfriends and spouses at these reveals in “Undercover Boss.” Balzer received some great marks from the boss.
“I was so impressed with you,” Evans told Balzer. “You were absolutely amazing.”
While setting in a Zen garden in Washington, D.C., Evans connects with Balzer’s family and her mother, and allows Balzer to transfer back to a Michigan Massage Heights, pay for expenses to get back home and to receive the proper training at corporate headquarters in San Antonio.
Oh yeah, the couple gets $10,000 to start a new life, and Balzer has some tears of joy.
“I can’t wait to call my mom. I know she’s going cry. I know she wants me to have the experience, but I know she’s going to be even more proud that I’m going to be coming home and that I can still stay with the company,” Balzer says to the camera.
How did other employees fare? One employee received $25,000 to pay off student loans, another employee inspired a new company hardship fund for employees and received $30,000 for being the first person to be part of the program. Another employee wanted to be a child psychologist because he was in child protective services when he was younger and was given $10,000 toward a college fund.
At the end, we find out that the family decided to stay in Florida, which isn’t a total surprise because I talked to Balzer on the phone from the University Park spa, but we didn’t know the rest of the story. She did get to go back to Michigan and visit her family since the episode aired in October. I hope in lieu of paying for expenses for moving back to Michigan that the company paid for her trip back to visit the family or provide help if they want a new home in Florida.
Scanning reader comments from my preview story, folks didn’t seem to be a fan of either Massage Heights or the episode itself. Some of the criticism included how the co-founder of a massage company never massaged anyone before, and wasn’t a licensed massage therapist and some thought she was self-centered instead of customer centered.
Several employees in the episode complained about low pay and being overworked, as they have one or two other part-time jobs to make ends meet. This is apparently a big issue in the massage therapist community. I received an email from a group called Licensed Massage Therapists Against Massage Envy and Like Franchises, with Massage Heights falling under that “like” category. The group also has a petition on Change.org.
The University Park Massage Heights was in the news previously for one of its employees. An employee, in 2010, who was terminated James Winters was charged for sexually battering a female customer. Winters entered a plea deal and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and two years of probation, which expired in March.
The employee was newly licensed at the time and the company did a background check on him, a former
Massage Heights franchisee told the Herald at the time. His background check ought to have discovered a child abuse charge in 2009, which was later dropped.
What did you think of the episode and the company? Leave comments below.