Q&A: Wellness in progress

Max-Wellness, which initially debuted in January, represents the latest thinking in health-and-wellness retailing. Drug Store News visited creator and CEO Michael Feuer—original founder of the office supply chain OfficeMax—in early June to check out the company’s fourth store opening.

Drug Store News: Max-Wellness has opened four stores in the first half of 2010. What has been your experience thus far?

Feuer: We have only been in business five months, [and] we’ve already made major modifications. If we do our jobs correctly, we will never be done, because it is an evolving work in progress. I am shocked today of what we know five months after we started, and that’s just listening to the customer…. We’ve made many merchandise changes from the first store to this store…. There are three categories: to enhance your life, to prevent illness and, when you have issues, to treat them. When you get down to wellness, it really gets down to a couple of simple things: People have to exercise, they have to eat right and they have to sleep a little bit.

DSN: How is Max-Wellness different from a drug store or Walmart?

Feuer: I don’t know anything about the drug store business, and God bless. I mean I shop at CVS. I think they’re one of the best out there, but we’re not a drug store. We’re more of a lifestyle store. We’re targeting middle- and high-income people. The truth of the matter is, low-income or middle, if they can go to Walmart, they’re not going to buy the stuff we have. They’ll pay the rent first…. What we’re finding is there are many more opportunities than we envisioned. We have to think outside the box from the standpoint of, we’re in this wellness business. Wellness can mean many things to many people…. Our theme line is ‘Answers for Healthy Living,’ and that means exactly what it says: When you come through the doors at Max-Wellness, we will find you the answers for better life.

DSN: What is Max-Wellness’ point of differentiation?

Feuer: I look for positioning difference between us and everybody else. Why are we different, and how do we complement? I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we have a deal with one of the big drug chains to do prescriptions or something like that. [Wellness] is a really exciting business…. Here, you get people that really get excited about feeling better. It’s not even just getting [solutions] to treat illness. It’s about getting in shape, sleeping better, eating better. Life is short.

DSN: How is each Max-Wellness location typically staffed?

Feuer: Typically in a store, we have a wellness director, a wellness manager and then two or three full-time people; the rest are part time.… What I really love about this business: People that work in this business of wellness are really into it. [For example], we have a lot of physical trainers, we have a couple of nurses, we have a couple of pharmacists… What we want No. 1 is people that care.

DSN: With regard to the store-level work force, you noted that your employees will actively engage the shopper. What’s the training like?

Feuer: Training’s pretty expensive. We’re spending 60 to 70 hours in professional classroom training for the wellness advocate [i.e., the sales associate], because we teach them their job isn’t taking care of the company but taking care of the customer. That’s what it’s all about…. Then the training is ongoing. The vendors who do business with us have to sign up for the training program, and then we put it all together.

DSN: What are your expansion plans moving forward?

Feuer: The second half of this year in the fourth quarter we’ll add four or five more stores, and next year, we’ll add between 15 and 20. We will also be launching very shortly an international website, which is a very important part of this business. That’s in the works now. That’ll probably be up in 45 days and fully operational.

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