Healthy, Wealthy And Wise

10 great ideas for starting a health, beauty or fitness business.
Magazine Contributor
11 min read

This story appears in the May 1997 issue of . Subscribe »

Americans are increasingly concerned about staying well and looking good," says Deb Lundberg, owner of Health Solutions, a Mankato, Minnesota, fitness-consulting business. Service businesses that offer preventive or nontraditional health options or that pamper the customer offer entrepreneurs a variety of start-up opportunities. You can join a network marketing company like FreeLife or Jeunesse, or develop a unique service of your own.

Carlienne A. Frisch presented a look at in-store demonstration businesses in the February issue of Business Start-Ups.

On-Site Massage Therapist

Business managers who want to improve employee morale, reduce absenteeism, and prevent work-related injuries are providing on-site therapeutic massage as an employee perk, according to Elliot Greene, a Silver Spring, Maryland, massage therapist. "A therapeutic massage break--fully clothed, in a massage chair--fits into most employees' work schedules, reduces stress, and prevents repetitive motion injury," Greene says.

You can begin an on-site massage-therapy service from home without giving up a part-time job with a chiropractor or physician. To begin, explain the benefits and procedure of on-site therapeutic massage to the human-resources directors of the companies you're targeting.

Employees sign up for a 10- to 15-minute massage, for which the employer pays about $1 per minute. With the employee seated in a specially-designed 20-pound chair that folds to fit in most cars (and costs about $350), the therapist applies a combination of Swedish massage techniques and acupressure to the person's head, neck, arms and back.

Most message therapists have a degree from a certified massage-therapy school accredited by the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation Approval in Evanston, Illinois (see "Reader Resources" on pg. 78 for contact information). Some therapists take additional courses for seated massage. The District of Columbia and 24 states regulate massage therapy. Check with your state's professional licensing department or health department for specific information.

Mobile Childrens Gymnastics Program

Parents and day-care providers welcome a chance for kids to jump, roll, hang, climb and dance to music on someone else's turf. A mobile gymnastics bus brings that turf to the kids.

To promote a mobile gymnastics program, ask day-care providers and pre-school directors to distribute fliers to parents, then hold a bus "open house" and sign-up session. A typical fee is $24 per month per child for a weekly half-hour class of 12 children. Although certification is not required, you'll find experience in gymnastics, cheerleading, childhood development or physical education helpful. Ask the Department of Motor Vehicles if a commercial (bus) driver's license is required for a bus weighing less than 15,000 pounds, and check city and county ordinances if you plan to park the bus at your home.

Brenda and Larry Scharlow, of New Albany, Indiana, created just such a mobile gymnastics/fitness program. Refurbished school buses--each called a Tumblebus--"deliver" this activity to Montessori schools, pre-schools, day-care centers and weekend birthday parties. At no point do they drive with the children on the bus.

"More than 115 Tumblebuses are on the road nationwide, with a potential gross income of $75,000 to $125,000 the first year of full-time operation," Brenda Scharlow says. The Scharlows have not franchised the Tumblebus concept; instead, they offer fellow entrepreneurs a fully-outfitted Tumblebus for a one-time fee of $29,500, which includes equipment, advertising materials, themed lesson plans, and training in marketing and bus driving. If you already have a bus, you can get equipment, materials and training.

Medical-Information Service

When Janice Guthrie was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer, she looked beyond the usual radiation therapy and found other treatment options. Wanting to help others get the information they needed to make informed medical decisions, Guthrie launched The Health Resource Inc., a medical-information service in Conway, Arkansas. In 1984, she quit her administrative job at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, took $2,700 from the family savings account (for office equipment, letterhead and advertising), and placed classified ads in health magazines. She used direct mail to promote in-depth medical/legal research services to attorneys.

"When a new client calls, I take the person's medical history or ask for a fax of their medical records," Guthrie says. Each time a client requests information, Guthrie conducts new computer searches and draws on information stored in her extensive files.

"The client may have been diagnosed with breast cancer or with a rare blood disorder," says Guthrie. "We tailor each report to the client's education level. We provide reports--full texts of articles, not summaries--and send free updates throughout the year. I advise clients to take the information to a specialist and to set a time to decide about treatment."

The Health Resource Inc.'s gross revenues have increased from $700 in 1984 to $350,000 in 1996. Guthrie now employs four clerical staff members and seven researchers, some freelance. The researchers all have medical backgrounds and use medical school libraries, academic and public libraries, the Internet, and health and medical books purchased by Guthrie, who pays royalties for each use of copyrighted print or electronic information.

"You should enjoy digging into books and working on a computer," Guthrie says. "My science background helps me to understand medical terminology. Without a science education, I would need a partner with medical expertise, such as a nurse or medical transcriptionist."

Other potential clients for medical-information services can include hospitals, health-maintenance organizations, physicians, and industries concerned about health-care costs.

Image Consultant

The way others see us directly affects how successful we are. Image consulting is a growing field for people who project a professional, current image, enjoy public speaking, and are active in their community. An image consultant advises clients such as attorneys, sales representatives, television reporters--even retired people looking for a new direction--on clothing fashions, hair and makeup styles, mannerisms, and speaking.

This business can be started at home with basic office equipment and a steady supply of magazines and books on fashion, beauty and business topics. Study the local and regional corporate culture and get experience in public speaking, retail clothing sales, cosmetic sales, or modeling. Become active in community organizations and place ads in their newsletters. Offer free self-image sessions to students and free seminars to conventions, corporations and community organizations.

Fitness Vacations

"Vacations that fit a healthy lifestyle are popular among baby boomers," says Franklin Wolf, a guide with Bike Riders Tours, a Boston bicycle-tour company. "People 35 to 55 years old are the best customers for biking or hiking vacations. And a fitness-vacation service is ideal as a start-up homebased business, because its weekend and seasonal aspects permit starting up the company while keeping your day job."

To reach customers, place ads in national or regional travel magazines. Begin with a home office and a van (for transporting luggage and weary vacationers); for biking, add state-of-the-art bicycles. Get first-aid and CPR training from the Red Cross and an attorney's advice about liability.

The typical biking vacation covers 15 to 35 miles per day, depending on the terrain and the fitness level of tour participants, while hikers walk five to 15 miles daily. As a tour leader, you should be physically fit and detail-oriented. You should know the terrain, history and cultural background of the area, including restaurants, inns, campgrounds, and local points of interest.

Corporate Fitness Consultant

"For every dollar a company invests in a well-targeted preventive health program, the employer can expect an average return of $1.80," says Deb Lundberg, who founded Health Solutions in 1992 in her home in Mankato, Minnesota. Lundberg provides all-around health care as a fitness consultant for manufacturers, professionals and nonprofit organizations. As a fitness consultant, you should have an education in at least one of the following fields: health science, dietetics, physical education, coaching, sports medicine, or certified aerobics instruction. An advanced degree with an emphasis on corporate or community fitness and professional experience in a medical facility increase a consultant's credibility.

Lundberg recommends marketing to a company's human-resources director with a proposal for a program tailored to the company's needs. You can offer one-time seminars, annual contracts and self-teaching videos. Services may include a statistical assessment of the company's health risks, employee assessments, and education and training on diet, body composition, back fitness and stress. With a portable computer, you can offer individual stress inventories and nutritional analyses.

Most states do not have certification requirements. The American Council on Exercise has specifics on certification.

Nutritional And Weight-Loss Supplement Sales

While health-conscious people want to maintain vigor and vitality, more than half of all Americans are overweight, according to recent government statistics. "Nearly every person who crosses your path is a potential customer for nutritional or weight-loss supplements," says Thomas Carvell, a Louisville, Tennessee, marketing executive with FreeLife. Companies like FreeLife, Shaklee, Melaleuca and BodyWise offer network marketing opportunities, some with start-up costs as low as $70. Products vary from vitamin supplements to children's vitamins. Commissions on sales vary from 30 to 70 percent.

Customers and new distributors are recruited through ads in newspapers and free shopper publications, home-party plans, and personal referrals. Network marketing companies also pay distributors commissions on sales made by the new distributors they recruit. A distributor receives training about products and sales strategies through print materials, videos and local meetings. Typically, a distributor takes orders, collects payment, and receives the products for personal delivery to the customer. Established distributors usually carry an inventory of the most popular products for immediate delivery.

In-Store Water-Purification Systems

Americans soaked up an average of 11 gallons of bottled water apiece in 1995--up from 10.4 gallons in 1994, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. (see "Reader Resources" on pg. 78 for contact information). Water-vending machines offer an environmentally friendly start-up opportunity that can be run from home.

You can purchase a vending machine for between $3,000 and $6,000, depending on the water vended, from any manufacturer listed with the National Automatic Merchandising Association in Chicago (see "Reader Resources" on pg. 78 for contact information). Service for the machine is based on the condition of the water in the area and the machine's usage. A machine should net between $100 and $400 per month, depending on its location.

Look for a supermarket with no water-vending machine and at least 15 feet of shelf space featuring bottled water, which shows the product sells well in this location. Explain the advantages of a vending system--no ordering, no stocking, a larger profit margin--to the store manager, and offer a six-month pilot program, making it clear you will own the machine. The store gets 20 to 40 percent of gross sales and provides electricity, a drain, and a source of water from the public water system.

Jerry Soost, owner of Clear Choice, a Mankato, Minnesota, water-dispensing machine business, says, "To develop a market, offer free water to a super-market's customers for several weeks. Some will develop a taste for water with no organic matter and virtually no natural salts or other minerals, and will be willing to pay about 35 cents to a dollar per gallon for water from your dispenser."

Personal Trainer

Americans are willing to pay $25 to $50 an hour, two to four times a week, for a personal trainer's guidance. As a trainer, you instruct a client on proper exercise technique and a regimen based on his or her goals, and analyze progress in body weight, muscle development and weight training. You may train clients in their home gyms, work with health-club members who pay additional fees for your service, or operate a small gym with a full range of equipment (with a start-up cost of $7,000 to $10,000), developing a clientele over several years by working with or for an established trainer.

Most personal trainers have a college degree in physical therapy, physical education, exercise physiology, sports medicine, health or related specialties. Many trainers add muscle to their credentials with nonmandatory certification by the American College of Sports Medicine (see "Reader Resources" on pg. 78 for contact information).

In-Home Facial Classes

In-home facials offer an opportunity to make people feel good while making up to a 50 percent profit on sales of skin-care products and cosmetics with network marketing companies like Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc. (800-MARY-KAY) and Jeunesse Cosmetics Inc. (800-SPARTY-0). Because many states permit only a licensed cosmetologist to handle a customer's skin, a skin-care consultant usually instructs customers how to do their own facials at in-home "classes," or "parties," held by hostesses who receive free products for inviting guests.

A consultant uses a questionnaire to determine each guest's skin type, and provides samples of the appropriate formulas of skin cleanser, exfoliant, toner, moisturizer and foundation. Some consultants also demonstrate cosmetics such as lip, eye and cheek colors. Most guests purchase products; some also sign up to host a session or become a consultant.

Reader Resources:

The Association of Image Consultants International

1000 Connecticut Ave. N.W., #9, Washington, DC 20036-5032, (301) 371-9021

The American Council on Exercise

5820 Oberlin Dr., #102, San Diego, CA 92121-3787, (800) 825-3636

American Massage Therapy Association

820 Davis St., #100, Evanston, IL 60201-444, (708) 864-0123

American College of Sports Medicine

P.O. Box 1440 , Indianapolis, IN 46206-1440, (317) 637-9200

Beverage Marketing Corp.

850 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022, (212) 688-7640

National Automatic Merchandising Association

20 N. Wacker Dr. #3500, Chicago, IL 60606, (312) 346-0370

Contact Sources

Bike Riders Tours, P.O. Box 254, Boston, MA 02113, (800) 473-7040.

Clear Choice, 712 S. Broad St., Mankato, MN 56001, (507) 345-7738.

Health Solutions, 414 S. Front St., Ste. B, Mankato, MN 56001, (507) 625-7462.

Tami Davis, RR 1, Box 139, Eagle Lake, MN 56024, (507) 388-4482.

The Health Resource Inc., 564 Locust St., Conway, AR 72032, (800) 949-0090.

Thomas Carvell, 3711-A Ambassador Ln., Louisville, TN 37777, (800) 525-7710.

Tumblebus, 601 W. Main St., New Albany, IN 47150, (812) 945-6866.

Uri Ben-Ari, 342 Madison Ave., #823, New York, NY 10173-0899, (212) 682-7282.

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