New and innovative ideas are happening around us all the time especially in the health and fitness industry. However, having an idea and actually going through with it are two very different things. For an idea to make the jump from your head to reality, sometimes all you need is a little push, according to Dr. Mark Schmall, a chiropractor in Rock Island, Illinois.

            Dr. Schmall has operated a successful chiropractic clinic in northwestern Illinois along the Mississippi River for 14 years. Having been into weight lifting and body building since the age of 15, he knows the benefits of fitness. For years, he had seen his clients grow overweight and ill by continuing unhealthy lifestyle habits. "Over the years, I was thinking that I need to do more to motivate my patients to do fitness training and keep an appropriate body weight and make lifestyle changes," he says. After reading the premier issue of Wellness & Fitness Entrepreneur last October, the idea of a wellness center that had been bouncing around his head for the last few years finally got its chance. "After I got the magazine, I read it about 10 times cover to cover," he says. "When I woke up in the morning, I basically said 'That's it. I'm going to do it.' I have a great chiropractic business but this was like I had just graduated from school and everything was in front of me."

 

If You Build It, Will They Come?

            And so Dr. Schmall, along with his partner Dr. Chris Molck, opened the Weight Loss & Wellness Center in March 2005. The almost 4,000-square-foot facility houses a chiropractic clinic and a personal training studio. Dr. Schmall bought top-of-the-line equipment from The Core Spinal Fitness System by MedX, PowerBlock, HOIST Fitness Systems, Power Systems as well as the entire line from a local supplier "Doc" Greer of Doc's Sports Products.

            "I opened the facility with the idea that 'If I built it, they will come,'" he says. "I had the concept that if I built a really nice facility, people will want to use it and be there. I had no members, but I opened it up like I had 100 members." Dr. Schmall, over the years, had talked to his patients about why they weren't exercising regularly and what was getting in their way. He found that people needed to be held accountable, know specifically what to do, find the time and feel comfortable. When creating the fitness programs in his wellness center, Dr. Schmall took all of this into consideration. "We figured that the patients are in a doctor's office, we might as well have clients make appointments to exercise," he says. "We hold them accountable, and if they don't show up, we call and say, 'When are you going to reschedule?'" This technique is proving to be successful with only about 20% not continuing the program after the first month.

            After being open for seven months, the Weight Loss & Wellness Center has about 80 members ranging from eight-years-old to 88-years-old. The facility offers targeted interval training, ab and core conditioning, flexibility training and aerobic conditioning, which is all done under the supervision of personal trainers. According to Schmall, he had no idea who his facility would attract, but it turns out the niche market is 50- to 55-year-old women. The demographic makes up more than half of his entire membership and most have never participated in a fitness program before. The rest of the membership is made up of adult and high school athletes, children, teenagers and seniors. And everyone is seeing fabulous results, Schmall says. "We are especially getting unbelievable results with our diabetic patients right now," he explains. "It is all done under a doctor's supervision. Their insulin levels have been cut to a third since beginning the program and that is with only an average 20-pound weight loss."

            There has also been a lot of success with senior patients. "Our senior population doesn't want to compete in body building contests," Schmall explains. "They want to go shopping and take four heavy grocery bags up a flight of stairs. We have one man who has used a cane for two years, who, after two weeks, is leaving his cane in the car."

 

The Price Is Right

            Getting clients and patients has been left mainly to referrals and word-of-mouth. An ad was run in the local paper without much success, but Schmall believes the increase in membership is due mainly from the buzz of current members as well as appropriate pricing. "We have tried different price points because I couldn't find a model out there," he says. Schmall explains they started out at the higher end but found people were unwilling to pay. So they switched the price three times in the first two months, finally resting at $99 a month. "You have to look at membership volume versus the charge as well as the demographic area you are in," he says. "Do you want 20 people paying $400 or 80 people paying $100? We have found that from a referral base, bringing the price down and bringing more people in is increasing the membership. You have to surf the membership versus price curve and figure out where your business is going."

 

What's Next?

            As well as surfing the ups and downs of a new business, Schmall is continuing to study in order to keep up with all aspects of his new wellness center. He is working on completing the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. "Anybody who is getting involved in this area, besides the credentials of being a doctor or a physical therapist, should have a fitness certification," Schmall says. "Just because I am a chiropractor doesn't mean I know all of this stuff." Schmall traveled to Ft. Lauderdale in June 2005 to attend the Personal Trainer Business Forum to learn from fitness greats Phil Kaplan and Juan Carlos Santana about the business of personal training, marketing and functional training. Schmall is also looking to increase his business by marketing to medical doctors in the area to get their patients involved.

            The facility is continuing to have great success with increases in membership and results for its members. The facility is also opening a new division called the Center for Athletic Potential. Altogether, this idea is turning out to be a great business decision and career move for Schmall. "I am working about 65 hours a week now and it doesn't even seem like work anymore," he says. "I know [the facility] is working when I see people that, for years, were getting benefits from the chiropractic care, but now combined with fitness, are leaps and bounds above what their level of health was."

 

            Alicia Hammond is the Managing Editor of Wellness & Fitness Entrepreneur and Personal Fitness Professional. For more information about the Weight Loss & Wellness Center, contact Dr. Mark Schmall at 309.786.3536 or visit www.healthylifeandwellness.com.

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