Michael Feuer Is at It Again

Max-Wellness is at the forefront of the 21st century’s trillion-dollar health and wellness industry

By Richard J. Anthony, Sr.

In 1988, low on funds but catapulted by a big idea, Michael Feuer launched OfficeMax, a brand that went on to transform the retail office supply industry and made its founder an iconic multimillionaire. OfficeMax sold in 2003 for $1.5 billion. Not bad for a man who subscribes to the motto “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Fact is, the man is both.

Michael Feuer, Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Michael Feuer, Photo by Roger Mastroianni

This time Michael has set his sights on changing the rules of what many believe is the trillion-dollar industry of this century. In 2010 he launched Max-Wellness, which he originally envisioned as a chain of retail health and wellness stores modeled after his OfficeMax success. Instead, Max-Wellness has become a movement led by a disruptive entrepreneur with a very big vision.

In a recent interview with GRAND, Michael described the scope of his strategy for Max-Wellness and shared some of his old-fashioned ideas about business, wellness, health care and grandchildren.

GRAND: How did you come up with the idea for OfficeMax in 1988?

Feuer: I was born with a severe birth defect: no money. And it annoyed me. So I decided I had to make it the old-fashioned way by coming up with that “special something” idea. I knew I couldn’t get rich working for somebody else, even though I did very well as a young executive in a company I ultimately tried to buy from a reluctant family. That didn’t work out, so I started my own company. I had the Frank Sinatra syndrome — you know, his song “My Way.”

At the time, most of the players in the office supply business were mom-and-pop operations that weren’t putting their customers first, a lesson I learned early in my career and believe in very strongly. I saw the opportunity as low-hanging fruit. I didn’t have a lot of capital, so I had to be better, faster. We did it by building our business around the needs and preferences of our customers, mostly small businesses. We stocked OfficeMax with products they needed and expanded the elasticity of our pricing so they could buy more. The market was growing rapidly, and we rode it to the point where we had over 1,000 stores, all operating on the customer-centered principle of outstanding service, affordable pricing and huge selection.

GRAND: You had the idea for Max-Wellness back in the late ’80s when you launched OfficeMax. Why did you wait so long to enter the health and wellness industry?

Feuer: Simple. The demographics weren’t right in the1980s. More important, the psyche of the baby boomers hadn’t developed to the point where they understood the importance of staying healthy — that there are many things people can do to stay healthy at any age and any stage of life. Today, with 10,000 people turning 65 every day, Max-Wellness is catching the tide of a huge market opportunity to provide products and services that keep people healthy, make them look and feel better, slow down the effects of aging, and even help prevent diseases from developing in the first place.

GRAND: Do you think you can build Max-Wellness the same way you built OfficeMax?

Feuer: Absolutely not. Operating over 1,000 retail stores throughout the country helped dominate the market. However, that bricks-and-mortar strategy doesn’t work anymore. Today, you have to take the product to the customer, where and when they choose to get it. And you have to take the time to explain why the product or service is good for them. We’re in the business of enhancing people’s health, treating illness and preventing sickness.

GRAND: So what is the growth plan for Max-Wellness?

Feuer: It’s a four-legged stool. First, a limited number of retail stores featuring great variety and expert service which in effect become our test laboratories. Second, smaller mini-Max stores in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Third, Wellness-in-a-Box retail automated unattended dispensing machines at the point of need, such as airports or wherever people get headaches and upset stomachs and need convenient access to remedies. Fourth, the internet — the wild west of retailing — where we offer thousands of products for healthy, happy living. And that’s just the beginning. The possibilities are limited only by our capacity to imagine what could be. One of my favorite quotations is from George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

GRAND: Do you consider yourself a pioneer in the health and wellness industry?

Feuer: A pioneer is the guy in the movies who too many times find his end with an arrow in the back. No, I’m not a pioneer. Conversely, we are making history in a market that has needed a fresh approach. I don’t like the way older people are treated in health care. Our first rule is to treat everybody with respect. You know the old saying: “Before people care what you know, they have to know that you care.”

GRAND: What life lessons do you want to pass on to your grandchildren?

Feuer: I grew up believing I could do anything I set my mind to, and I’ve enjoyed the journey, both the successes and even in hindsight the things that didn’t go so well. Today’s kids aren’t being given the time to be kids. There’s no spontaneity or unscripted discovery in their lives. Everything is programmed for them. They’re expected to only win, every time. That’s not the way life is. Life is a succession of closed doors and exciting possibilities. I hope my grandchildren’s generation has the inquisitiveness and courage to want to open the doors, then the knowledge, skills and drive to make the most of whatever is on the other side. My advice: Dare, dream, do. And, of course, enjoy life and stay healthy.

Richard J. Anthony, Sr., is Executive Vice President of GRAND Media and author of Organizations, People & Effective Communication.

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