King of office supplies takes HME to the Max

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michael Feuer isn’t a household name, but you may have heard of a company he started in 1988 called OfficeMax. He sold it for $1.5 billion in 2003. Now, Feuer is getting back into the retail game, this time with a health and wellness venture called Max-Wellness. Four prototype stores will launch in January 2010—two in Cleveland, and one each in Sarasota, Fla., and Naples, Fla. Feuer spoke with HME News recently about this “perfect storm” of opportunity.

HME News: What is Max-Wellness?

Michael Feuer: This is not a traditional DME store and it is not a drugstore. We will carry products from head to toe for people who want to live a better life and those products will fall into three categories: fulfillment, prevention and treatment. About 20% to 25% will be DME. We are going to be carrying the higher-end lines and many products that are not available in drugstores at all.

HME: Why include DME at all?

Feuer: We think there is a very significant absence in how the customer is serviced today. Before 1988, people bought office supplies in brown boxes. All we did at Office Max was take the goods out of the box, put it on the shelves, add information and add a sense of drama and theater. We let people touch it, smell it, feel it.

HME: What can customers expect from a Max-Wellness store?

Feuer: Our biggest expense is going to be training associates. At Max-Wellness Academy they will be certified as specialists in specific areas. They will be backed by an “artificial intelligence” system. They can input information based on questions the customer asks. For example, a customer comes in and says they played tennis last night and now their knee hurts. The system would give a checklist (of products) and we would direct them to possible things that might eliminate or ameliorate the symptoms. Similarly, we want to do no harm. If someone comes in with pain shooting down their arm and shortness of breath, we’ll call 911.

HME: How does Max-Wellness fit into the overall healthcare reform discussion?

Feuer: (During a speech I gave) I was asked for my No. 1 “health tip of the year.” The No. 1 health tip for everyone is that Americans must take responsibility for their own wellness. The government won’t do it.

HME: Has this venture been very different than OfficeMax?

Feuer: Not really. What I do is simply look through the eyes of the customer and fill the niche. In 1987, when I was planning OfficeMax, I was considering office supplies, pets and wellness. I didn’t do healthcare in 1987 because I didn’t think the demographics were right. Twenty years later, we have the perfect storm: the baby boomers, healthcare reform and the focus on health and wellness.