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Back on His Feet: Tony Mazlish [Georgetown Magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Georgetown Magazine
Fall 1996

TONY MAZLISH (G ’81) DIDN’T SET OUT to be in the back business. Quite literally, he fell into it. During a move in 1986, he leapt from the bed of a Ryder truck with a boxed television set in his arms.

“I heard something snap,” says Mazlish, 31. “It didn’t really hurt at first. It started as a twinge, but the pain kept getting worse and worse. Within six months I had gone to several doctors, but none of them could really help me.”

Finding little consolation within medical community, Mazlish became intrigued by the idea of a store that catered to back pain sufferers. He started researching similar stores across the nation. “No one was doing it the way I would do it,” he said.

Using the skills he gained as a student in Georgetown’s MBA program, Mazlish put together a business plan and started looking for investors. By late 1993, he had gathered $184,000 from 12 interested parties. Six months later, he opened the first HealthyBack Store in Rockville, Md. Soon after, he opened stores in Tyson’s Corner, Va., and downtown Washington, D.C.

Mazlish developed a business that focuses on cultivating healthier lifestyles as well as selling products. Customers entering a HealthyBack store face seven signs that ask: How do you relax? How do you sleep? How do you sit? How do you work? How do you lift? How do you travel? How do you care for your back?

“A lot of our customers don’t really think about these things,” Mazlish says. “We get them to think about how they move, how they live.”

HealthyBack Stores feature back remedies ranging from traditional cures to space age supports. Strategically placed throughout each store are ergonomic desk chairs, recliners and several beds. Against one wall is the Temper-medic mattress, designed by NASA to reduce pressure on astronauts during takeoff. In the corner of the store is a display of self-help-your-back books and videos that teach stretching, posture and back exercises.

There are also balls (those heavy ones children play with in gym class), massage tools, such as the Flexor Massager, the Thermotex Infrared Pad, and the Happy Massager. And while this is a back store, feet are not excluded. The Sole Salvation Ultra envelops your lowest extremities in synthetic sheepskin while heat and vibrations soothe the soles.

The single element that lures many shoppers to Mazlish’s stores is the seated massage, performed by certified massage therapists. For periods of 10, 15 or 20 minutes, a therapist will ease back tension for a cost of about $1 per minute.
“It has really caught on,” says Mazlish. “We were only going to have the massage at store openings, but it was so popular, we decided to keep it on as a permanent fixture at the stores.”

The high stress levels in Washington, D.C., inspired the HealthyBack Store’s Corporate HealthyBack Rub Service, which allows companies to hire the store’s massage therapists to come into their offices and give seated massages to employees.

This fall, Blue Cross/Blue Shield invited the therapists to their open enrollment sessions. Other companies that have used the service include Ray Block Productions, the Washington Business Journal, and the Navy Federal Credit Union.

Mazlish’s company continues to grow. The store’s catalog is now mailed to 25,000 addresses. Future plans include opening stores in Raleigh, N.C., and another in Northern Virginia. Mazlish’s ultimate goal, he says, is to have a HealthyBack Store in every major U.S. city.

“It is all really exciting,” Mazlish says. “It seems only natural. Nearly everyone I know has back problems. These products, plus the therapists on staff, help ease that pain. It’s a lot of fun being in a business where I help people feel better.”

For more information: www.HealthyBack.com.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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