The New Age of Wellness: Retailers, Listen Up!

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Amidst rising inflation, crippling student debt, unaffordable housing, rounds of layoffs, a lingering pandemic, and a looming recession, workers of all ages are reaching a breaking point. But these stains are most notably affecting our youngest workers, Gen Y and Gen Z.

According to LinkedIn, 66 percent of Generation Z wants a company culture built on mental health and wellness. Wellable Labs’ 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report found that 90 percent of employers reported increasing their investment in mental health programs, 76 percent increased investment in stress management and resilience programs, and 71 percent increased investment in mindfulness and meditation programs.

Wellness Trending Continues

Health and personal wellness, estimated to be worth $1.5 trillion, is definitely a lucrative market to tap into. It has been expanding at a rate of 5 percent to 10 percent a year with no sign of the post-pandemic slowdown as predicted by some analysts.

While wellness spending did slow from the 2020 surge seen during lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, it is still significantly higher than it was in 2019. Books on home gardening, fitness, food preparation, and cleaning, as well as hobbies and self-help continue to see double digit growth.

We have seen a confluence of Eastern and Western medicines in the last half century, and many of these new age wellness therapies are gaining increasing acceptance and popularity. This has been influenced by the popular zeitgeist moving from curative to preventative health measures influenced by our increasing life expectancy and changing attitudes around aging.

“This growth seems to indicate that health and wellness is an enduring post-pandemic trend, which could provide opportunities for continued consumer spending,” Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry advisor for NPD, said.

“U.S. consumer spending on wellness categories, including fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep, and mindfulness, is increasing, as about 40 percent of U.S. consumers consider these categories to be a high priority,” states a recent McKinsey report on health and wellness spending.

Expanding Retail Categories

Technology retailer Best Buy has been playing in the wellness category for years. As I reported in Forbes.com in early 2021. Best Buy’s first foray into wellness came in 2005 in a joint venture with a Minnesota-based healthcare provider and pharmacy. The prototype store, regrettably named EQ Life, was one of the first major destination health and wellness retail concepts. It featured a broad range of product and service offerings including a complete spa and salon, makeup consultations, aroma therapy, wellness programs, yoga, and Pilates. Also available were nurses and dieticians, a complete pharmacy, a Caribou Coffee shop, and even the tech services of the Geek Squad.

Unfortunately, beyond the plethora of health and wellness products, the concept included more than a few of Best Buy’s core technology products, which seemed to water down the concept. By April 2006, a little more than a year after opening, they pulled the plug, but never forgot the category.

Today, Best Buy’s wellness focus is on the home, promoting aging in place. Best Buy Health uses connected technology to “make home the center of better health.” It offers tech-enabled interactions with trained professionals to facilitate in homecare. And beyond its “aging in place” service efforts, they are doubling down on wearable technology, glucose monitoring, fitness equipment, baby monitoring, vision, hearing, and skincare products.

The Healthspan/Lifespan Gap

We are an aging society. Our life expectancy has increased by three decades since the middle of the 20th century, rising from 47 to 73 years of age in a mere seven decades. Unfortunately, our “healthspan,” the number of disease-free years lived, has not kept up. According to “Longevity Leap: Mind the Healthspan Gap,” published in Regenerative Medicine, that gap is currently 9.2 years.

Accordingly, we are now seeing a plethora of new retail concepts emerging, under the umbrella of “new-age wellness,” mostly within the franchising space. Some of these treatments are built around the modality of “biohacking,” a term coined by Upgrade Labs founder Dave Asprey in 2018.

According to Forbes colleague Bernard Marr “Biohacking, also known as human augmentation or human enhancement, is do-it-yourself biology aimed at improving performance, health, and wellbeing through strategic interventions.” You could lump these into such low-tech techniques as intermittent fasting, meditating or even taking cold showers. Many of these dates to ancient times.

However, the New Age Wellness practitioners such as Upgrade Labs’ Dave Aspry and Restore Hyper Wellness’s co-founder Jim Donnelly have employed innovative technologies to create new therapies and treatments aimed at helping our bodies better manage stress and increase resilience, while improving our overall wellbeing. And they are gaining avid followers.

New Age Wellness

Dave Aspry has been on a 20-year journey to health and thinks he has cracked the code. He told Franchise Times Magazine “Our bodies are elegantly designed to respond to a signal to change. We are using AI and machine learning to get a very pure signal” sent to your body so it heals faster, or to your brain so your thinking is clearer, or to your skin so it looks smooth.” He went on to report that it took them about seven years to build the Upgrade Labs business around it.

The franchise includes machines to address such common health issues as energy levels, brain power, muscle building, recovery, and resilience. Upgrade Labs now has three franchise agreements signed.

The apparent leader, by sheer numbers in this arena is Restore Hyper Wellness. And while you will not find the term “biohacking” associated with their messaging, they have managed to trademark the term “hyper wellness.” Launched in 2015, Restore has managed to snatch Entrepreneur Magazines #1 wellness franchise in both 2021 and 2022. Bloomberg reported in December that Restore is valued at more than $500 million.

Co-founded by new age wellness veteran Jim Donnelly and Steven Welch, Restore focuses on whole body cryotherapy, IV drips and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Jim Donnelly’s original goal was to “democratize” wellness by making it more affordable and accessible. His background is in building technology and software companies. He believes the factors that have opened the door to the acceptance of these innovative technologies includes Obamacare, the opioid crisis, and disillusionment with pharmaceutical companies, all influencing how we are thinking about health and wellness.

I spoke with Restore’s Chief Marketing Officer, David Fossas early last year about the company’s growth, and how he was dealing with the pandemic. Despite Covid-19 they were able to increase revenue a stunning 141 percent year-over-year in 2020. The company has expanded to 138 locations, in 34 states. They now list photo biomodulation (red light) therapy, intramuscular shots, and Cryoskin treatments on their menu.

When I checked back with David for an update, I learned they are still experiencing about 73 percent year-over-year growth as a maturing company. They plan to have around 200 locations open by the end of 2022 and have commitments from franchisees to develop over 700 territories. In Southern California alone, they are planning for 28 new stores by the end of 2023. David noted that “there is still an opportunity for new franchisees to join our brand.”

When asking about treatment trends David indicated IV drip therapy and cryotherapy are still their two most popular services. He added that mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy has grown in awareness and popularity.

Down Aging

Many more new-age wellness concepts are flooding the franchise space, including Drip bars, such as Liquivida Lounge, Reviv, DripBar, and Hydralive Franchises. They offer an array of IV cocktails intended to remove toxins, add nutrients and recover from everything from jetlag to hangovers, along with your basis stressful day. Serotonin Centers also address the phenomenon of “down aging.” They bill themselves as “the nation’s first human longevity franchise” aiming to “slow down the human biological clock.”

Another franchise player is QC Kinetix, which promotes the term “regenerative medicine.” According to Mayo Clinic, the term “goes beyond disease management to therapies that support the body in repairing, regenerating and restoring itself to a state of wellbeing.”

QC claims to use all-natural biologic protocols to stimulate the body to repair or heal its own damaged tissues and joints. The company claims that many aging baby boomers are sidestepping joint surgeries and getting relief through their treatments, as well as bypassing pain pills, in favor of regenerative procedures, believed to be the next frontier for treatment.

FDA Lag

Naturally few if any of these treatments are FDA approved, as has been the case for decades of other alternative therapies. However, just as we have seen a confluence of Eastern and Western medicines in the last half century, many of these new age wellness therapies are gaining increasing acceptance and popularity. This has been influenced by the popular zeitgeist moving from curative to preventative health measures influenced by our increasing life expectancy and changing attitudes around aging.

Even the Mayo Clinic, a bastion of traditional Western healthcare, launched Mayo Clinic Integrative Medicine and Health in Scottsdale, Arizona. It includes practices “not traditionally part of conventional medicine” such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, dietary supplements, wellness coaching and meditation. I, for one, have been meditator for over 40 years and I can attest to its validity. I would not ever miss my late afternoon routine of going to that “place between thoughts” to recharge and rejuvenate. I am a believer.

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