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Butch Phelps of The Muscle Repair Shop: “Never stop learning”

Never stop learning- Understand that no matter what you do, there is always something to learn. Over the last year and a half, I have read 62 books on topics about self-development, muscles, and marketing. Learning is great for the brain, but it gives you great ideas for improving your life. No one knows it […]

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Never stop learning- Understand that no matter what you do, there is always something to learn. Over the last year and a half, I have read 62 books on topics about self-development, muscles, and marketing. Learning is great for the brain, but it gives you great ideas for improving your life. No one knows it all, so tap into the minds of some great thinkers. When I was driving an hour each day to school, I would listen to a book and would listen to a book every 3 days. Then I discovered I could listen to classes at other universities that were like the class I was taking. It was free! By the time I got to class, I had already listened to the class and had questions to ask. Today I am closer to a book a week. I read the actual book and/or listen in my car. Rarely do I listen to music except when I want to relax.


Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Butch Phelps.

Butch Phelps owns The Muscle Repair Shop in Sarasota, Florida. He is a Functional Massage Therapist with a degree in Aging Sciences. He created the Stretch n’ Release Technique by combining neuromuscular massage therapy, Active Isolated Stretching, and the role the brain plays in releasing the muscles from emotion Held in the muscles.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am a back pain sufferer like most of my clients. At age 36, I weighed 315 lbs and my blood tests were off the charts. In fact, my doctor said that if I didn’t change my life, I would be lucky to be alive by 40. Over the next 18 months, with the help of my doctor, I lost 105 lbs and looked great! The problem was, I was in pain. Years before I had been a trainer and knew how to work out, but did not understand how working out could actually lead to pain. At 40, I was forced to retire from my corporate job. I decided to do something with my life to help other people. I decided to go to school and earn a degree in Neuromuscular and Sports massage. When I walked into my first class on muscles, it was like someone had dropped a CD in my head with the anatomy of the muscle system. Once I completed my degree, my instructors referred me to Aaron Mattes, founder of Active Isolated Stretching. Aaron offered me the chance to study with him for 6 months to learn his craft. Finally, by accident, I took a class on brain health that focused on dementia. When the doctor talked about the brain’s role with our muscles, I knew I had found the missing link to my back problem. I stopped my back pain and have been pain-free for 18 years. At 61 I feel better than I did at 41.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Even though I had helped myself, I still did not think this would work for others. I volunteered at a local Senior Friendship Center. I thought where else could I find people in pain? At first, the doctors were not sure about what I did. When they heard I was a massage therapist, they thought I would be doing only massages. Then one day at lunch, 2 doctors approached me and ask me what I was doing in the treatment room. They said, whatever you are doing people are changing for the good. They are moving better and their pain is diminishing. Then when the chief physician asks me to speak at the next doctor’s meeting, I was blown away. Talk about a scary moment, I was talking about muscles and how they affect pain in front of 38 physicians. I felt intimidated to say the least. When I finished, there was a line of doctors asking me for my opinion of the cause of their pain. Talk about an Aha Moment!

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

I think being an entrepreneur didn’t scare me as my father and his brothers were all self-employed, so working on my own didn’t feel scary, but I wouldn’t call it being an entrepreneur. Many people create a company and they are the only ones working in the company. If they take a day off, the company is closed. Being an entrepreneur is looking beyond just me. When I started this company, I just was self-employed, but today, what I started has changed the lives of a few people. I am building my business more online which will allow me to reach more people who need help. I am hiring more internet and tech-oriented people at this point. Later I will add more therapists for local work and research about what is actually happening to a person’s body when doing the Stretch n’ Release Technique.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

There have been many. My parents always told me I could anything I wanted when I learned what that was. My wife, Susan, has supported me through my education journey for 3 degrees and starting a business from scratch not knowing if anyone would come.

Beginning with massage school, I was told I may have to wait for my student loan approval, then they called 2 days later for me to begin immediately. Then during my last year my teachers and the dean of the school referred me to Aaron Mattes, the founder of Active Isolated Stretching, to a student with him. My first experience was given to me by a chiropractor who rents me a room. I had rent to pay and no clients. The chiropractor trusted me enough to begin feeding me some people that later became clients. Later when I went back to school for Aging Sciences, everything again fell into place just as I needed it. It has been like doors opening automatically along the journey. It was like I was meant to do this in my life. There have been so many people that has played a role and I feel very lucky. Since 2003, everything and everyone I needed has arrived just at the right time.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

It is very different from any other massage therapy business. When it is your business you like to think it is very different, but in the back of your mind, you are thinking, surely someone else is doing the same thing or at least have the same idea. I see clients that come to Florida from all over the world and they are always looking for someone like me back in their home town with little success. My clients are my biggest fans and some have brought their friends to my office and paid for the visit just so their friends would try it. The success of their friends remaining a client is very high. Many if my clients, in-person and online, have all gone to doctors, PT, massage therapists, Chiropractors, and trainers trying to stop their aches and pains with little success. What I find amazing is, most health care practitioners were trained to treat just the symptom and never look for the actual cause. This causes the pains to re-occur and that leads to frustration of the patient.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I believe there are many traits common to successful business leaders. My top 3 are live in service to others, step into the shoes of your clients/customers, and never stop learning how to improve the experience for your customer.

  1. Living in service- As a leader, your job is take care of your staff and customers. You are there for them and not the other way around. When you can give your staff the time and tools they need, your customers benefit greatly. Listen to your staff and your customers for positive and negative things about your company. As you stay in touch of their needs, the company will grow and thrive for the long-term.
  2. Step into the shoes of your customers- many times we think we know what our clients/customers want and that can be a deadly mistake. You want your staff and clients to feel safe expressing what they need from the company. I am always open to discussing how I can make it better. If I don’t, I will be the only loser.
  3. Never stop learning- Business is changing so fast and that means technology is also changing. Even though I work with older people, many are very tech-oriented and I need to be able to reach them on their terms. We need to be learning about how to improve the clients’ experience by making it easier for them to meet their goals of being more pain-free.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Thinking I needed to know everything. Yes, I am a muscle expert and yes I have studied the muscles and aging a lot, unfortunately, what I know I could put on the head of a pin. Never think you know it all and you don’t have to. I remember working with an older woman with back pain. I was so busy telling her what was wrong that I never heard her speak about her life. She had lost her husband and felt her life had turned upside down. She was in a terrible emotional state. I am thinking in physical terms and she was talking in emotional terms. The most important thing she needed was to be heard. Besides needing to know everything was stressful for me as well. When I started listening to my clients is when I fully realized that the muscles are more emotional than physical.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

As a leader of a business, it is your job to set an example for your staff. We all want to make as much money as we can, however, in the health care field, when you are not at your best, you cannot give your best. This can cost you money and staff. I believe in practicing what I preach whether I am with a client or staff member. Look at it from their point of view and not just the bottom. Happy staff means a better bottom line.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

I know it is a cliché, be authentic. When you are passionate about what you do, being authentic is easy. However, keep in mind the concerns of the person you are working with. I have had times when my passion got the better of me and I forgot that the person I was working with was afraid. In my industry we are touching a person’s body which makes most people feel unsafe. You must be present and attentive at all times. Trust comes from building a relationship with your client/customer. In massage we are taught to not talk very much or all. For the person laying on the table, they do not know anything about you and you are touching their body. Without trust, there is no relaxation. Being able to discuss their problems in terms they can understand is important. I can’t tell you how many clients bring in scans, tests, and paperwork from other health care professionals that tried to explain but the patient did not understand their jargon.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

95% of the people I see every day suffer from not being able to relax their minds. They are bombarded with news, usually bad, the pandemic, unemployment, and now the deaths of loved ones. Laying down and allowing your mind to relax is very difficult today. When a person is in this state, the muscles tighten heart rate increases, and breathing increases. They may feel on edge or nervous. Most aches and pains are the result of this state. On top of that, the actual pain can cause additional stress. It is amazing to watch a person in pain come in, speak very little, and once I can begin talking with them, I can feel their muscles relax. Once the muscles relax and begin to elongate, their conversation will increase and by the time they leave, it is like they are a different person. You may know how to help them, but if they don’t know that, their muscles will tighten and prevent you from helping them.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I equate growing a business to growing a garden. When I grow vegetables at my home, there is a process. Planting the seeds in the right soil, having the temperature and lighting set correctly, then know when to reduce the heat when the seeds begin to germinate. Once the seeds germinate you must go through the hardening stage to prepare the plant for living outside. This means hardening the skin of the leaves so they do not sunburn. Finally, you must feed and water the plant properly for it to bear fruit. A business works the same. My business has been a slow start as I needed to gather the knowledge which takes time. I didn’t have a book to read or class to take to learn my business. I am a massage therapist and I did go to school for that, but what I am doing today is very different from what I learned. Like medical schools, massage schools teach technique and chasing symptoms. We are not taught to ask the bigger questions like what caused those symptoms to happen. That, like the germination of a plant, takes time. If you rush the germination of a plant, the plant can get leggy and may not produce the desired fruit. The same is true in gaining my knowledge about causes versus symptoms. Am I missing something? Am I sure this is causing the pain? These are questions I needed to answer and that takes lots of trial and error to see the consistency. Today, I can speak with people and share knowledge based on my experience. One of my new clients told me that what gained her trust in me was my willingness to listen and then explain to her why her past treatments did not work and why my treatments would. She felt I was sincere and knowledgeable.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

As an entrepreneur life is filled with highs and lows. A good example is me designing a new style headrest for a massage table. It began in my head over 2 years ago. I drew it out on paper as what I saw in my head. I spent weeks to months thinking about how to make it more comfortable and why did the traditional headrest fail. Then I began working with someone that could make my dream a reality. Believe me, what was in my head is not what we see today. My idea was correct, but the design has changed. You are excited to see the new design, test it, and then you are disappointed when it fails. We have been failing for over a year. Today I feel we are at 90% toward success, but now we have focused on the cushion and not just the frame. Life goes on. My point is, you have an idea, realize it is just the beginning. That idea may be the right direction, but you need to tweak it to make it work for your company. Other times, the idea sounded great, but in reality, it just won’t work. No one has a great idea after a great idea with no failure. If you are an entrepreneur, you understand failure and live for it because you are one step closer to success. The difference between an entrepreneur versus someone with a job is the entrepreneur understands failure. Both the entrepreneur and the employee are needed to make the business thrive, however, the employee fears failure because they may lose their job. There are many self-employed people who are not entrepreneurs as they fear failure too much and their business never grows beyond a one-person show. I believe our education style promotes this. Every parent wants their child to get all A’s in school. If the child gets a B or C, they have deemed a failure. What if that child saw things differently than what they were being taught? Are they wrong to think differently or maybe they have a better idea of how to do it? This is what happened to me. I would get great grades because I understood how the system worked, however, the traditional way of doing massage didn’t make sense in helping people get out of pain. People who have a regular job are told to keep their heads down and have no ideas. Maybe one of those employees has a million-dollar idea that we are suppressing. This is why we need to be able to ask why but prepared for failure as most of our ideas are failures. These failures can lead us to success, but getting past a failure can be devastating if we are not prepared.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

I have had many of these times. When you can help someone out of pain that has been suffering for many years, that is an all-time high. Years ago I received a phone call from a woman with Plantar Fasciitis, pain in her heel. We spoke for a moment about what causes this pain and why most treatments fail. I invited her to my office so I could take a look at her leg. She said she could not come in as she was in Sidney, Australia and was a nurse in a hospital there. I suggested we should Skype or FaceTime, which we did. I taught her and a few friends how to properly stretch out their calves and soften their feet. She emailed me a week later to say her pain had completely stopped for her and her friends. That was a rush for me that I could help someone without even touching them. I often work with people from around the world over the phone or Zoom.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

There are a few of these too. Usually when helping someone in pain, when it works it is great, when it doesn’t is it terrible. You learn to realize that you cannot help everyone, although my success rate has been above 95%, which I am very grateful. My toughest lows are usually in marketing of the business. I have worked with several marketing people, who are good at what they do. My business is not a cookie-cutter-style business. I am like a typical massage shop or physical therapy clinic, so it is difficult for a marketer to place me in the right space for attention. In one instance we had spent over 10,000 dollars in marketing on a plan that sounded awesome in the planning stage but was a total flop in the end. We had all worked tirelessly to put together this plan. I thought everyone understood what I did, only to find out that the marketing company staff didn’t have a clue about what I did. As one of my local Economic Development counselor said, “There is a sandbox for massage therapists, there is a sandbox for physical therapists, and I am in a sandbox all by myself.” While simple, it explained my failures in marketing. Working with marketers that have no clue about what I do, costs me a lot of money, and no one did business with me as a result. I stopped working with out of town marketing companies and required local marketing people to experience what I do to help them reach the correct people for the business.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

I had to face the truth that the business is difficult to describe to people who have never experienced what I do. If I said, I am a massage therapist, which is my licensure, you would think of a small massage shop that gives typical massages. If I said, I do stretching, you think of a gym or a stretching store that ties you down and forces you to stretch. Neither would be true. In my business, we are like the chiropractor for muscles. A chiropractor adjusts your bones and puts them in place when they pop out. Since muscles make the bones move, I manipulate the muscles to take the pressure off the bones and nerves. Then we teach the client how to maintain the result. Unlike bones, muscles get stiff daily and the client needs to be a part of the process to living pain-free. It is difficult as most people are not used to be a part of the process so this can be a marketing nightmare. Each year my explanation evolves and gets better and better to help people understand. Even for me, thinking so few people see what I see with muscles is amazing. To understand that muscles are more emotional than physical is a foreign concept in the training of most health care practitioners.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be Authentic- Realize that before anyone can believe in your business, you must believe in what you are doing. It is not just about making money, but living in service of others. When I began my journey, I volunteered at a senior center for 5 years. To see people 65+ that have been suffering from common aches and pains suddenly stop having to deal with the pain was inspiring. When you think something will work, but you are not sure, and then you see the smile come on someone’s face from the relief you provided, it is an incredible feeling that money cannot buy.
  2. Be Humble– You are never as good as you think in the good times and you are never as bad as you think in the bad times. When I began my career, I felt like I was special. My school gave me their highest award to a graduate, my mentor had already heard of me before I talked to him, and I felt I saw something no one else was seeing. Then I went after my first job. I was turned down because I was a male therapist and they needed a female therapist. In fact, I was turned down by 5 companies, talk about discouraging. My first job came from a chiropractor that offered me a room to rent. I had no clients, little money, and didn’t know if what ii was doing even worked. That is how it started.
  3. Never give up– Once you have an idea to improve, realize that idea will morph into something very unlike what you thought in the beginning. Working on my new headrest for instance. What I was in my head is totally different from what it looks like now. You have to swallow your pride and realize that very few people have an idea that is great from start to finish. Think of it like detours. You take the first detour and the GPS adjust for the new plan. Then the next detour, it adjusts again. After a few adjustments, you arrive at your destination. You didn’t know how you got there, but you did.
  4. Never stop learning- Understand that no matter what you do, there is always something to learn. Over the last year and a half, I have read 62 books on topics about self-development, muscles, and marketing. Learning is great for the brain, but it gives you great ideas for improving your life. No one knows it all, so tap into the minds of some great thinkers. When I was driving an hour each day to school, I would listen to a book and would listen to a book every 3 days. Then I discovered I could listen to classes at other universities that were like the class I was taking. It was free! By the time I got to class, I had already listened to the class and had questions to ask. Today I am closer to a book a week. I read the actual book and/or listen in my car. Rarely do I listen to music except when I want to relax.
  5. Love what you do– Business is tough and if you don’t love it, it can beat you down. I read about entrepreneurs that begin with the end in mind. In other words, they are planning how to sell it when they began the business. These businesses have little value for their customers. If my plan was to sell the business when I started, then I only care about success with my clients purely from a monetary position so I could find a buyer for it. Sure, some people may gain from it, but the real work would not be there as I would not have the desire to seek out the information. Some of my colleagues cannot believe I teach my clients how to do the massage and stretching at home for fear that if they did that, no one would come back to them. The truth is, my clients, return and are singing my praise to all their friends. Many times one of my clients has brought a friend who wasn’t sure about coming to see me, and then my client paid for the visit. One of my clients’ guarantees they will love it and promising to reimburse them if they don’t like it after one visit.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

To me, resilience is about never giving up in the face of adversity. It is good to course correct when you see a better path, but stay focused on your goal. Resilient people are people who have locked in on a goal or dream while knowing they will face obstacles along the way. Resilient people will practice possible future objections, will prepare for failure, and are willing to shift their plan to meet their desired goals.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story? At 18, I was in a head-on automobile collision that left me with a pelvis broken in multiple locations and a broken left arm. For 6 months I had little to no use of my left side. I had graduated from high school and was an athlete in top shape heading to college. I was 6’4”, 220 lbs of muscle and in a blink of an eye, I was reduced to being in a wheelchair unable to do most things for myself. My parents had to bathe me and dress me. It was humbling and embarrassing at 18. It was the best lesson of my life too. I realized the value of life. No matter where you are today, your life can change dramatically in an instance. I learned the value of friends. People that I really didn’t know very well, came to visit me almost daily. They would bring me books to read, sit and talk with me, and later took me to movies and the park. My new friends took time out of their day to help me. Most importantly, I learned the value of helping others. That accident allowed me to see what it was like to need help and what it was like to feel helpless. A girl, my age, suffering with CP came to see me every day on her 3 wheel bike. We would sit outside and talk. Then one day she laughed and said, “You know what, you are just like me now!” that was a wake-up call I never forgot and I carry that with me every day working with my clients.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated. When times are tough, I look to see what the universe is telling me. Earlier I talked about detours and GPS and that is how I view my difficult times. When I am in a difficult time I look for options and many times those options takes me on a detour. Not quite in the direction I wanted, but just a little off from where I wanted to be. When I go down that path, I begin to see why I was sent that way and it usually works out. Sometimes there can be many detours on that path. I remember when I went back to school, my plan was to be a doctor. As I got closer to making the decision on medical school, I realized I had the grades, but the residency would be a problem as I would need to move, close my business and my wife’s business. It was too much. Then my school advisor told me about a degree in Aging Sciences that used to be called Gerontology. The focus on the new degree was to include people at a younger age to better prepare for old age. That turned out to be the better decision for me and my business. As Guy Finley once said, it is like a man sitting in front of a mountain waiting for the mountain to move so he could pass when there is a clear path just to the side of it.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Having a positive attitude gives everyone a can-do feeling. I worked with a woman just the other day who had been suffering from back pain. Several doctors and therapists said she would probably have this problem for the rest of her life. She had tried everything she could find and only got temporary relief. She was in her early fifties and could not imagine living with back pain forever. I showed her that her back was not the problem. She couldn’t believe it as everyone else only focused on the back or strength training. Her problem was coming from the front of her thighs and calves. After 3 weeks of working with her, she played the sports she had not played in years without pain that day or the next. She said to me that on our first visit, I gave her so much hope, she felt inspired to do the work that now has her pain-free.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

Harv Eker said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Everything I do reflects on who I am. If I am late all the time or barely make it on time, am I not valuing the person’s time I am meeting. Secondly, I need to be fully focused at the time I am meeting them. I always arrive 30–45 minutes before my first client of the day. I want the room prepared properly for them, I want to be focused on their needs from the very first moment, and I want to prepare myself to be free from distracting thoughts of what I may have experienced on the way to my office. Some people have suffered for so long that they may have a feeling of hopelessness and they are hoping or dreaming, I will have the answer to their problem. I cannot be fully present for them and will most likely leave them in a hopeless state. Many times a client will express what they are feeling in several ways. I need to be able to listen to all of it and piece it together to better understand their emotional state which may be causing problems in their physical state.

How can our readers further follow you online?

There are several ways to follow me. My Youtube channel, The Muscle Repair Shop, Facebook @MuscleRepairShop, LinkedIn @ButchPhelps, and of course my website, www.musclerepairshop.com. You can join my blog on the website.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you, it was enjoyable.

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