Eric Joppy is an independent in-home, on-location massage therapist, bringing his business, SenseFuel Massage, wherever his powerful hands are needed. Since becoming independent, Joppy’s constant companion is his massage table. He carries it down New York City streets and onto the subway trains. It travels with him to clients’ homes and even to night clubs to soothe the muscles of dance floor enthusiasts. Joppy travels wherever his massage skills are needed, and his massage table is sure to be there as well.
Joppy, 36, is a Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences graduate. He has worked at luxury bathhouses, massaged high-profile clientele, and even found himself on Impractical Jokers, a popular pranking television show. Using techniques that highlight mind, body, and soul, Joppy stands out as a successful independent massage therapist – an accomplishment that he admits is still in progress.
How It Began
Although he's now building his independent business, it wasn’t always this simple. In 2002, an 18-year-old Joppy packed his belongings into a U-Haul and drove from his hometown of Gaithersburg, MD to New York City. He began city life as a dance major at Marymount Manhattan College, however, dance soon required too much, both in time and money. To stay afloat, he worked in retail, fine dining, hotels, welfare-to-work programs, and at Mac Cosmetics.
“There were points where I was homeless or I could have given up, and for some reason, none of that was enough to make me want to leave [New York],” says Joppy.
The career move to massage therapy was deeply personal and very unexpected. Joppy explained that four years ago, he nearly lost his sanity.
“It was relationship stress, it was career stress, and it was just personal growth,” Joppy said. “I feel like everything just hit me at once. The old way of thinking and doing things just wasn’t working for me anymore.”
Everything came to a head, and according to Joppy, he snapped. Of all the things that could have saved him, a television commercial might seem unexpected. But when a Swedish Institute commercial played on his screen, Joppy was inspired: massage therapy was calling him.
Although he had originally moved to New York City to pursue dance, Joppy described massage as his new, different way of performing.
Fast forward to post-graduate life, and Joppy still dealt with the highs and lows of career changes. Despite employment at luxury bathhouse Aire Ancient Baths, he didn’t feel like he fit the mold of most massage therapists. So, he decided to forge his own way forward. After leaving Aire Ancient Baths, Joppy laid the foundation of his independent work using online tools like Instagram and Thumbtack. Since then, he has taught himself how to grow his business, finding that the process of learning is never-ending.
Joppy isn’t alone in his field of work. According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), 59 percent of massage therapists work in their clients’ home or office and 42 percent wanted to work more hours of massage than they currently did. Despite this possibility of steep competition, Joppy remains undeterred.
“I know it will get better and I know it’s not exactly where I wanted to be, but the only way I know how to get there is to do what I can do right now, and watch it evolve,” Joppy says. “If you tell me it’s going to be a challenge, I’m going to prove to you that it’s not going to be a challenge.”
The Key to Growing a Business
In the world of massage, going independent is appealing, but the reality can be difficult. According to Tania Ogullukian, Swedish Institute’s director of continuing education and alumni services, Joppy’s personality is what sets him apart.
“He just had a beautiful personality, hard to explain with certain people, but there’s just something about them,” Ogullukian said, remembering Joppy’s time as a student. “Just a good energy.”
She explained that many Swedish Institute alumni would like to work independently, but success stories are not the norm. Independent massage therapy is highly demanding—building a clientele and filling multiple roles at once. It’s a process of education, one that continues long after graduation. Ogullukian explains that independent massage therapists must learn skills in public relations, Google algorithms, online review systems, and much more. How does Joppy do it?
“He just had that entrepreneurial spirit, and a work ethic that you don’t always see,” Ogullukian said, “He knows what he needs to do, and he teaches himself.”
From Then to Now
A delicate tattoo on the inside of Joppy’s forearm, just below the crease of his elbow, reads “wonderful creature.” Back when Joppy was a 19-year-old Mac Cosmetics employee, he said that a fellow makeup artist and Iranian transgender woman used those two words to describe him. The very same day, he had the words permanently written in black ink – a constant reminder of who he is.
In the last 17 years, Joppy said he has been jobless, homeless, and penniless. Despite that, he was never hopeless. Today, he works at a wellness center two days a week, supplementing his income while his independent business grows, encouraging him to push forward.
“I’m going to do it in my own way. I’m not going to change who I am.”
He wonders, what about next year? What will life look like then?
“I haven’t gotten to the finish line of anything,” Joppy said.
He’s just getting started. And wherever he goes, he’ll bring his massage table with him.