Max Muscle Sports Nutrition

written by BVM April 3, 2016
Max Muscle

Business View Magazine profiles Max Muscle Sports Nutrition, Premier franchise specializing in innovative nutritional supplements in California

 

Max muscle rolls out mm nutrition campaign

By his own admission, Joe Wells was never a superstar professional football player, even though his college gridiron exploits were accomplished and memorable. He bounced around a few teams in the NFL and USFL after graduation from Southern Utah State College in the early 1980s, and wound up signing with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1984. “While I was with the Raiders, they were giving us amino acids,” he remembers. “They’re, basically, pre-digested proteins – which are the hardest of all nutrients to digest. They were one of the first teams to ever go the amino acid route; they were cutting edge on that.”

A lifelong athlete, Wells was nonetheless aware that his professional playing days would end well before he was ready to retire from life. Luckily, his keen interest in proteins that could be pre-digested so that the body could assimilate them easier, provided the stimulus for a very productive post-football career. After leaving the Raiders, Wells began putting his own amino acid product together with the help of biochemist, Dr. K.H. William Lau, PhD. In 1985, he, his partner Dave Smith, with whom he parted ways a few years later, and a group of investors, founded the MegaPro Company to distribute his new line of innovative, high-quality, sports nutrition products. “That company went along until ’91, and then we started Max Muscle,” Wells says. “Shortly thereafter, I met Sean and brought him in as a partner.”

A Max Muscle employee stands next to a woman sitting at a station they have set up to get started with Max Muscle.Sean Greene is the President of Max Muscle Sports Nutrition. He recounts how Wells went on to design, not just the sports supplements they sold to their customers, but also an entirely original marketing scheme that would come to define the company’s business model and open its pathway to financial success. “MegaPro’s biggest account was with GNC – General Nutrition Center,” Greene begins. “And he learned, from doing business with them, that a majority of their sales were coming from sports nutrition. At the same time, Footlocker was doing very well as a specialized, niche retail outlet for shoes – as opposed to going into a large sporting goods store. He took that philosophy and developed a strategy that said, ‘Why don’t we just specialize in sports nutrition and go after that consumer, directly?’ At the time, it was one of the first specialty nutrition retail outlets that focused on sports nutrition and the more serious athlete.”

Over the first several years, Max Muscle opened ten different company-owned locations focusing on providing sports supplements for athletes and body builders. But, according to Greene, the company has evolved over the past 25 years, along with the public’s acceptance of the efficacy of amino acid products. “As we’ve gotten older, we’ve seen the market broaden, and protein becoming more understood by the mainstream consumer. You see it now in big-box retail; you see it much more frequently than it was before. 25 years ago, no one knew the importance of protein. Now, you see it on the shelves in grocery stores and drug stores.”
That shift in the marketplace is what prompted a recent rebranding of Max Muscle’s corporate identity; a process that Greene says the company began this past year. “We wanted to broaden our market. It’s not that we decided to move away from the more serious athlete,” he demurs, “we certainly do have serious athletes who still continue to come to our stores. But what we’ve seen over the years is, because of the internet, where the consumer can potentially get their products cheaper, those more serious athletes and body builders that already know what they’re doing choose that as a better option. That created the customer paradigm shift in our stores because the customer that we’re now seeing is the entry-level person, the person that doesn’t know what they’re doing, the person that’s frustrated because they can’t get results – they’re the ones coming in. So we’ve gone from ‘Max Muscle Sports Nutrition’ – which is much more of a niche market and specialized for the serious athlete or body builder – to ‘MM Nutrition by Max Muscle.’ The emphasis is much more now on our branding and our signage and the word ‘nutrition’ to show the more mainstream consumer what we have everything that they need.”
Greene continues: “As far as how we brand and market that, obviously, the big change was the rebranding of the store signage. So now, on the exterior of that store, instead of seeing ‘Max Muscle’ in big letters – which could cause intimidation to the regular person who thinks they aren’t good enough to go into a more ‘hardcore’ store like that – now, it’s much more inviting from that standpoint.”
Another aspect of Max Muscle’s rebranding is the updating of its self-published magazine. “We have a magazine that we publish every month called ‘Max Sports and Fitness,’ which we’re changing to ‘Max Health and Fitness,’” Greene says. “We just published our 200th issue. So, we’re very proud of that, and this magazine, over the years, has evolved with our customer. It used to be a very hardcore publication; now, it has a much more mainstream, broad-based approach. It has great fitness tips, great general information on health and nutrition. And that’s really what our company stands for and what we’ve become. The rebranding has just brought us in line with everything that we’ve already been doing, because we had already made the change a long time ago in terms of how we’re marketing.”
In addition to selling the quality supplements they manufacture themselves, Max Muscle has an in-house, chief product formulator, Dr. Phillip Harvey, who has decades of experience in product development, research, and compliance, and oversees the rigorous testing of all house brands. “We were one of the first companies to start testing products,” claims Wells. “And the reason was because we wanted to make sure what we put on the label was in the product. We were doing that 15 years ago, before there was ever a mandate by the FDA.”

MM Nutrition also offers a menu of significant value-added services that Wells and Greene believe make the 150 Max Muscle locations in some 40 states continually relevant to their customers and different from their competitors. “We were the first specialized nutrition outlet to come up with idea of having an actual, certified nutrition coach in the store,” says Greene. “Anybody on the floor has to be a certified fitness/nutrition coach. You can’t get that online; you can’t get that at a big-box retailer; you can’t get that anywhere else, other than going into a Max Muscle store, where our coaches are actually certified through a nationally-accredited organization. It’s very important because it gives us credibility, and, more importantly, it ensures that the coaches in our stores have the information and education that they need in order to help our customers get the very best results. So, it’s not just about taking the supplements, although that’s a part of it. It’s more about solving a problem; creating a solution for the customer.”

Another solution that Wells and Greene came up with is Max Muscle’s customized meal planning program that integrates its brand of products into a customer’s overall dietary regimen. “And then we also have a unique body composition analysis tool that our coaches can use to measure the consumer and come up with a plan in terms of what their goals are and how we’re going to help them achieve those goals,” Greene adds. “So these are all very unique differentiators that are in the store, that you can’t get anywhere else that give the consumer the motivation and reason to come in and to continue to come back to get measured, to review their meal plan, and make sure that they’re all on point with their supplements.”

Today, all Max Muscle stores are franchised. “At one time, when I first started out,” says Wells, “we had ten corporate stores and we decided to move in the direction of franchising. It’s an easier fit for small retail to be a franchise, in my opinion, based on the fact that when you’re dealing with ten stores that have three and four employees in each store, and when one person is sick, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s hard to get somebody in those stores. As a franchisor, we found that you don’t have absentee owners. Owners make sure their stores open, even when they’re sick or for whatever reason. The model worked better for us. And at this point, we’re 100 percent franchise. We’re looking at possibly opening a corporate store that would be a showcase store. We think it’s a good idea to help us understand the customer and the market.”

Two Max Muscle employees talk to a group of people with a board behind them and product in hand.

Greene elaborates: “It’s important to understand that when we had the ten corporate stores, we were much smaller on the franchising side. When we made a decision to go 100 percent franchising, we knew that if we were going to go that route, we needed to put 100 percent of our attention and focus into the franchise system and supporting the franchises. So we made a decision to sell off those stores. Fast forward, twenty-some-odd years later and we’re in a much different position. Now we’re revisiting the idea of opening up a corporate store or more, based on the fact that now, operationally, we’re in a better position to handle that without taking away from the franchises. And also, as Joe said, it’s important for us to know what’s going on in these stores to help make better decisions for our franchisees.”

In 2015, Max Muscle awarded 14 new franchises. While not setting a specific goal for this year, Greene says that he expects the number to increase “pretty significantly” in 2016. Wells is clear, though, about the company’s priorities. “For us, it’s more important to have 150 successful stores than 300 stores that weren’t all successful,” he asserts. Aiding Max Muscle for over 15 years has been BB&T Insurance Services, Inc., which has provided unique strategies that have reduced the company’s cost of risk and helped make a favorable impact on its overall financial strength.
In order to line up new owners, the company’s franchise development team utilizes an extensive network of franchise brokers in addition to actively pursuing potential candidates, itself. “But really, our biggest lead source comes from customers that have been in stores,” Greene says. “That’s something that validates your system and validates your model. When we look at the more successful franchises in our system, that’s where we tend to see the most leads coming from, because these stores are doing very well, and I think customers sense that – they see the excitement and they want to be a part of it.”

Greene talks further about Max Muscle’s vetting criteria: “Joe meets every potential candidate during confirmation day, making sure we’re getting the right people in our system. We don’t necessarily require someone to have any type of service skills or education, but we do look for people who are passionate about the fitness lifestyle – who live the lifestyle – because that’s important. We know that the best recipe for a franchisee is that they are passionate about what they’re doing. That’s certainly true when we look at the top performers.”

In celebration of its 25th year, as well as its rebranding program, Max Muscle has decided to waive its new franchise fees for a limited time. “We wanted to do something that was super aggressive, super exciting to generate interest,” says Greene. “We feel that, from an operational standpoint and everything we’re doing on the corporate side, we’re in a very good position now to support the growth of the system from a franchise standpoint. Now, we’re ready to get stores open and expand our distribution.”

With its new look and expansive business strategy, Greene believes that Max Muscle is truly poised to build upon its history of product integrity and innovative marketing. “We’ve always focused on quality,” he says. “First, to make sure that our customers get results, and, second, that we’re not about just selling products; we’re about offering solutions. We educate – we don’t just sell. And that’s important. We want our customers to know that the stores are a place for them to come in to learn – not just about taking supplements, but the whole approach to get them the very best results.”

“We think that we are more different and unique than any of our competitors,” he asserts. “Certainly, there are the GNCs and the Vitamin Shoppes, and there are smaller chains that we compete with. But, we’ve always tried to lead and innovate. And we are seeing our competitors copying us and imitating us, so we continue to always look to what we can do differently; what can we do that’s more unique.

From a product side, we feel that we don’t have any competition. I know we’re biased, but this also comes from feedback that we’ve received from customers over the years and what we see written on blogs and unsolicited testimonials about Max Muscle products in terms of their quality and their efficacy – testimonials from customers who say they used to use a different brand, and when they switched to the Max Muscle brand, they saw better results. That’s directly related to our focus on quality.”

AT A GLANCE

WHO: Max Muscle Sports Nutrition
WHAT: Premier franchise specializing in innovative nutritional supplements
WHERE: : Headquarters in Orange, California
WEBSITE: www.maxmuscle.com

PREFERRED VENDORS

BB&T Insurance Services – BB&T Insurance Holdings, Inc. was established in 1922, and is an integral part of BB&T Corporation, one of the largest and best-managed financial services holding companies in the country. Today, BB&T Insurance is the fifth largest agency in the nation and sixth largest in the world, with more than $1.6 billion in revenue in 2015. The company has the knowledge, resources, and expertise to solve any number of brokerage, risk management, and employee benefits challenges. – SDenisac@bbandt.com

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