One day not long ago... as I was driving to St. Mary's Health & Fitness Center in Powell, TN. I overheard one of the top local radio stations in the area, B-97.5, an easy listening station talking about their upcoming guest for the morning. The guest was called, "Professor Do Nothing" and he was allegedly a PhD. from MIT. "Very impressive", I thought.
"When the fitness industry is put under a microscope, it's clear that its target market are those individuals whose primary desire is to change their physical appearance."
Here with a national tragedy of catastrophic illness and premature death directly related to a sedentary lifestyle was a presumed honorable colleague about to light up the local phone lines with some helpful information about overcoming obesity. Well…nothing could have been farther from the truth. "Professor Do Nothing", hailing from Houston, TX (America's fattest city) was about to embark on a crusade of profiteering. He was trying to hawk his personal program that encouraged to people to quite exercising, claiming that exercising was making them fat. He had an impressive blend of half-truths and embellished facts that sounded so seductive to the poor victims he was about to recruit for his own personal gain.
I called the station and was able to talk on the air with the "Professor". He was arrogant and totally disrespectful. I asked him how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U. S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, the Department of Health and Human Services and other health related agencies, task forces and concerned groups could be preaching the exact opposite of what he was advancing. He told me, live on the air that "They are a bunch of idiots."
Obviously I was more than amazed. I asked, rather incredulously, "Why would you call these people a bunch of idiots?" I mentioned the fact that they have conducted exhaustive studies that have proven that moderate exercise and nutritional reformation are the leading means to overcoming the ill effects of living a sedentary lifestyle.
"Professor Do Nothing" exploded into a diatribe about how "those idiots" conducted flawed studies and drew flawed conclusions from them. Then he went onto tell how he was going to file a class action lawsuit against all of them because they made his wife sick with diabetes. I had enough and politely bowed out of the conversation. I called the station afterward and the DJ's apologized for their guest as they felt badly about how obnoxious he had been to me. I was fine with the station. They do a lot of great community work in the Knox County area. It was "Professor Do Nothing" that was the problem.
What Separates Wellness from Fitness
"Professor Do Nothing" is a real life example of what separates wellness from fitness and every other cleverly disguised offering that claims to be in pursuit of turning the tide on a horrific state of ill health that is literally crippling the nation in so many ways. When the fitness market is put under a microscope the clear fact is that the primary target market revolves around individuals who primarily are making a decision to change their physical appearance. Hence the ads featuring scantily clad models with hot bodies. That is a great marketing theme for individuals who wish to make a decision that is a luxury.
Most of the prospects targeted in the ads are not obese and certainly very few are morbidly obese. Most do not fall into the pre-contemplative or contemplative categories (Transtheoretical Model - Dr. James Prochaska) of exercise adoption. This does not make the "fitness" business bad. It just makes it a decision of luxury rather than necessity for most "fitness" prospects.
The problem in the "fitness" business is when the "Professor Do Nothing" mentalities try to take advantage of the national crisis and try to create programs that may sound appealing to sedentary types, but really are just money making schemes. Most "fitness" business "lifestyle modification" offerings are really just a different slant designed to sell more memberships.
"Wellness" on the other hand should be summed up as the business that is designed to target individuals who are in need of lifestyle modification. The "wellness" business is typically, but not always associated with a medical component. The medical component is an important element for maximal success in the "wellness" arena.
Most sedentary types and especially the obese and morbidly obese are uncomfortable going into a "fitness" facility. They are typically much more comfortable going to a "wellness" facility, especially if it is medically based. The advantage for the "wellness" center is that specific programs can be custom designed for medical patients. In a hospital-based center, almost every department of the hospital has patients whose life expectancy or quality of life can be favorably impacted through moderate exercise and moderate to radical nutritional reform.
The "wellness" center may have many "fitness" members simply because it has "fitness" related equipment. The crossover is natural, especially for many "fitness" types who do not care for the atmosphere of many "fitness" operations. Many "fitness" operations, in keeping with their "physical beauty" advertising themes have a reputation for excessive sociability and that represents a threat to many people who are not looking to meet members of the opposite sex. Many "fitness" type exercisers and especially the more mature ones prefer a less intimidating environment in which to exercise and a "wellness" type of operation usually offers that "safe" feeling.
In a "fitness" center, the most common joining option is "membership sales" based. In other words, the prospect is expected to sign a contract for a specific period of time. There is nothing wrong with this approach as it relates to "fitness" types, because that is the way that the "fitness" business has always operated. However, most people who fall into the pre-contemplative and contemplative categories are more inclined to join a "program".
most people who fall into the pre-contemplative and contemplative categories are more inclined to join a program".
The future success for most "wellness" centers lies in offering both options. The "membership" option will appeal to many prospects and the "program" option will appeal to many more. The advantage of the "program" option in a "wellness" based environment is that it can be themed for scores of prospect types. The formats can be designed to accommodate diabetes patients, cancer patients, ortho patients, rehab patients, fibromialgia patients, arthritis sufferers and many more.
One method to highlight this advantage and encourage more doctors to refer their patients is to have a special pricing in effect for doctor-referred clients. The patient will be more inclined to participate and the doctor will be happy that his patients are being given a healthy opportunity at rate that is designed to for his/her patients.
A priority for the "wellness' center is be certain that the program is one that the referring doctor is comfortable having his/her patient participate in. It must offer affliction specific components and it must be a program that measure outcomes relevant to doctor's and patients expectations.
"[A wellness centers] must offer affliction specific components and it must be a program that measure outcomes relevant to doctor's and patients expectations."
A "wellness" center should also be easily differentiated from a "fitness" center through the available offerings to corporate clients. The "fitness" industry has historically presented "corporate" programs as a thinly veiled membership discount program. In other words, the "fitness" center typically presents a lot of facts and figures related to corporate losses related to sedentary employees. However, the "corporate" offering is usually designed very generically and is simply a discount membership that attracts the corporate employees who probably would have exercised anyway.