Interview with Christine
- How did you come to live in Cedar Rapids?
After a troubled marriage in Charlotte, NC, I wanted a fresh start in
my life. My cousin happened to live in Cedar Rapids, so I decided to come
here with my son to begin again. It turned out to be a good move, because
that’s how I became involved with Slender World.
- How is Slender World’s approach to weight loss different than other programs?
Let me count the ways! A number of things server to make us unique. The
Slender World program is quite unique because it combines the disciplines
of nutrition, health, behavioral psychology, biochemistry and aesthetics to
deliver a service available nowhere else. The philosophy of Slender World’s
program is that clients begin on maintenance, to avoid a difficult
behavioral change later. When a client graduates from Slender World’s program,
they simply continue to practice what they learned on their program. Since
regular grocery store food is central to the program, there is really no transition
once they reach their goals. Another way our program is unique is that our
staff members are all trained nutritionists. We don’t allow new staff members
to diet-counsel our clients until they have passed a stringent examination
of their knowledge of human nutrition. Another way Slender World stands out
is through its high-quality products. Our in-salon as well as our home products
are all patented formulas and contain special ingredients from France and
around the world. The program is tailored to each client, making each client’s
experience quite unique. Each client is unique, so our program aims to fit
each client’s individual needs. I view my mission is more about raising the
self-confidence of women than it is about making money. On the one hand, a
woman’s self-worth is not measured by the size of her thigh! On the other
hand, although an overweight mother can be very successful, she may not be
happy with herself. This dichotomy is what makes my business very challenging
and rewarding at the same time. Although the media places much value on concepts
that can be sold, my own belief is that finding personal value is never for
sale. In fact, there have been times that I have turned away potential clients
from Slender World, because their goals were based upon unrealistic expectations.
Many times, my clients feel desperate, unmotivated, depressed and need to
change their thinking about food. After finishing a successful program, many
women report experiencing a whole new outlook on life. Many get new jobs,
do things they always wanted to do, or just feel great about themselves.
- What changes in the program did you make when you bought the business?
Really, no immediate changes were made, because the business was built on
sound principles and was already a success. My arrival at Slender World marked
a management and ownership change, but the underlying philosophy was one that
I shared from the start. Before becoming the owner of Slender World, I worked
as a counselor for 3 months, so I had a good understanding of how Slender
World’s services were delivered. I learned quickly how the business portion
was run after taking over as owner and president.
- What gave you the courage to ask for a loan from that first banker?
When I arrived in Cedar Rapids, I had a child to feed and no money, so that
alone would give anyone with a little self-respect the courage to take drastic
measures. On top of that, I had a strong belief in the business and knew I
could continue to make it work. I suppose my conviction came across to the
bankers, because when Henry Royer (president of then Merchant’s Bank – now
Firstar Bank) came to interview me about the loan request, he said: "If
you can take a chance on us, we’ll take a chance on you, too."
- What do you consider to be realistic goals for your clients?
Since our program is tailored to each client, we don’t focus on a specific
rate of weight loss. Instead, each client is encouraged by our staff to set
goals that result in a comfortable, maintainable size. That being said, most
of our clients’ programs result in a weight loss rate of 1-2 pounds per week.
This is the rate that has been suggested by the Mayo Clinic as a sensible
plan. Slender World believes that slower is better, when it comes to a long-term,
rational weight-loss program.
- Why hire a biochemist?
Our biochemist, Dr. Whittle, establishes the individualized meal plans for
our clients. A biochemist is needed to ensure that each client receives a
balanced meal plan from her food selections. Diets that ignore differences
between each client’s health status, weight goals, activity level and food
preferences are likely to be out of balance from a nutritional standpoint
or worse, not even followed. A weight loss client typically needs to establish
a new way of life for herself in order to achieve her goals. Slender World’s
meal plan allows her to select her favorite foods, while the biochemist establishes
the proper portion sizes and our staff provides the behavior modification
and motivation to change. After her program ends, our clients find it easy
to take over, once they realize their goals with us.
- How is each woman’s vision for life connected to weight loss and healthy
Slender World believes that mind, spirit and body are all ultimately connected.
Every person’s vision for life, attitude, reason for losing weight and self-image
all play a significant role when it comes to achieving goals of all kinds
in their life. A weight problem is complicated by the fact that it is rarely
about food. Food is involved, sure. But a weight problem goes way beyond the
rational mindset. A healthy mind and spirit go a long way towards a healthy
body. That’s why Slender World supplements the meal plan and exercise (body)
with our motivational atmosphere (spirit) and instructional training classes
(mind). The other connection that is vital to our clients’ success is the
state of their personal lives. If a client leaves Slender World motivated,
educated and exercised, but goes home to a spouse who can’t wait to criticize,
her success will be limited. On the positive side, when most of our clients
begin preparing meals at home following their meal plan, many husbands have
reported losing weight right along with their wives!
- Where or how did you learn self-confidence, and how do you define that
Definition first: Self-confidence means feeling good in your skin, being
the best you can be while setting and achieving realistic goals. I began learning
about self-confidence at an early age. Many people know that I am the daughter
of a French father and a German mother. That alone would give any child a
reason to assert herself. What few people know, however, is that when I was
growing up as a small child in France, there was a lot of discrimination between
the French and the Germans on account of the war. While attending French school,
I knew very little French at first, since I lived in Germany up until that
time. This experience sensitized me to discrimination and forced me to become
more self-confident. American women can achieve this same level of self-confidence
by realizing that they are in charge of their happiness and focus on those
parts of their person that bring them happiness.
- What support from the medical community do you receive?
This is an area of which I am very proud. As many people close to me know,
I have several health challenges I struggle with every day. As a result, I
have the dubious distinction of frequently visiting with doctors of various
specializations. Over the years, these doctors have come to know me, the nature
of my business and my dedication to healthy living. They know that I practice
what I preach. Some of these doctors have developed a certain respect for
the way I carry this philosophy into my business to assist my clients. So
to answer your question, the type of support I receive from the medical community
comes in the form of these same doctors privately recommending some of their
women clients to visit me at Slender World.
- How did you develop this particular approach to weight loss?
Back when I was a child growing up in Paris, my mother owned a health
food store, where she offered her clients fresh, healthy food. We didn’t snack
between meals and got plenty of exercise roller-skating up and down the hilly
neighborhood where we lived. In addition, as a ballerina, I would frequently
have body treatments of various types. They are more common in France, as
people tend to be more concerned with skin tone and body health than in America.
With these influences, the Slender World concept was a natural way for me
to help other women with similar concerns.
- Are there special products to buy?
No - Slender World’s basic program includes everything needed to reach your
weight-loss and size goals. The program includes the patented body-wrap treatments,
individualized meal plan, behavior modification classes, diet counseling,
access to exercise equipment, and the motivation from our staff and other
successful clients. For those of our clients seeking to solve special skin
or weight problems, however, we do offer a series of additional products and
services designed to enhance their experience at Slender World. These additional
offerings help with conditions such as sagging skin, stretch marks, bags under
the eyes, wrinkles, hands and feet, and other areas. In addition, several
home products are offered to enhance our client’s experience and results.
- How do you teach poise & confidence to your clients?
Confidence comes from two sources. First, we try to teach our clients to think
of all their qualities and skills in a positive light. Sometimes it’s difficult
to convince the stay-at-home mom that she has skills to be proud of. If you
think of all the skill and work it takes to be a good stay-at-home mom, however,
you might be surprised yourself. Organization, logistics, sanitation, nutrition,
delegation, coaching, counseling and teaching are only some of the skills
required. In the marketplace, these skills are highly sought. Try to use this
knowledge to build your self-confidence. The second way we encourage poise
and confidence is through the fashion shows we hold on the first Wednesday
of each month at the Collins Plaza Hotel. These fashion shows are like those
in Paris and New York, except that the models are Slender World success stories!
Women who achieve success with our program are frequently invited to participate
in the fashion show. We partner with a local women’s clothing store (currently,
Talbot’s) to showcase fashions of the season on women of average size. We
don’t necessarily seek our thinnest clients for this show. We want to make
a statement through our fashion shows that every woman can look her best in
whatever size clothing she wears.
- What communities does your company participate in?
Slender World has been involved in many Cedar Rapids and Marion community
events over the years. From Walk-a-thons, to free blood glucose testing at
Hy-Vee, to school lectures and seminars for Firstar Bank executives, we have
tried to communicate our message to the entire community.
- Tell me about your cookbook. Are you planning on publishing anything
The cookbook was a project we tackled several years ago and is another
way we are trying to get our message to the people. Each month at Slender
World, we hold a little contest we call the bake-off. This is a chance for
our clients to share their wealth of knowledge about nutrition and good taste
in a friendly, yet competitive environment. Participating clients bring one
dish to share that embodies what we teach at Slender World. The dish should
be low calorie, low fat and easy to prepare in order to win a prize. Over
the years, we started to collect quite a number of these "prize-winning
recipes." We then assembled the best of our monthly bake-off winning
recipes to make the book. In addition, we’ve sprinkled a few client success
stories and helpful hints throughout the book as well. As far as publishing
more, I would like to publish my memoirs someday. People have always told
me that it would make a fascinating story, but I have never taken the time
necessary away from my clients to write it down. If there are any biographers
out there who are interested, please let me know!
- What challenges has this particular business presented to you?
The weight-loss business tends to be a relatively stable business from a physiological
point of view. The human body needs certain nutrients in certain quantities
to function at its best, so when it comes to business challenges, the greatest
one so far has been to stick to our knitting. By maintaining our focus on
what we do best, we have outlasted most of the competition. We are committed
to the long-term success of our clients, so we cannot afford to jump around
from one fad to the next in search of greater revenues and profits. This would
simply dilute our effectiveness. As an interesting side-note, have you noticed
how many of the drugs and vitamins designed to help you lose weight have either
been taken off the market for safety concerns or have been shown to be only
marginally effective? It just reinforces to me that we are doing the right
thing, and that we should keep doing it. It works – what else can I say? One
other thought comes to mind here. My staff at Slender World has been trained
to make our clients successful. This training is not a one-time thing – we
are constantly providing them with the latest information from the nutritional
and medical fields so they can be prepared to deal with the various needs
of our clients.
- How difficult was/is it to be a woman in a male-dominated work world?
Do women typically own this kind of business?
Since Slender World has chosen to deal with strictly women, it is not particularly
difficult for me. We maintain a focus on women and the rest seems to fall
into place by itself.
- What services, specifically, do you offer?
Slender World offers weight-loss and skin-tone related services for women
of all ages. Other than those mentioned above, we offer algae wraps (to enhance
elasticity), cellulite treatments, spot reduction, paraffin treatments, hot
oil, tanning, aerobics, and moral support! Our clients range from business
executives to factory workers to housewives to truck drivers (and everything
in between). To remain dedicated to each of these types of women, we need
to be somewhat flexible in the services and products we offer. Our basic program
is designed around two one-hour visits per week. Combine that with our flexible
hours (M-F, 9AM – 8 PM) and you have a program that just about anyone can
do. As I like to tell my clients, "It doesn’t take any more time to eat
wrong than it does to eat right!"
- Are there men as concerned about weight loss as women?
I would have to assume that the answer to that question is yes, but since
we deal with women only, I’d only be guessing. I do know that women are more
vulnerable than men are when it comes to their looks. Therefore, it’s more
important to a woman to look her best.
- How many staff members do you employ?
Right now, I have two full-time staff members and two part-timers. The full-time
staff members (Melanie and Sara) are fully trained to handle every kind of
need our clients have, and are very capable. Melanie is my assistant manager
and helps me out a great deal. Sara is relatively new to Slender World, and
is showing lots of promise. I’m very excited about my staff, as you can tell!
- Has the business grown from when you first bought it?
The longevity of Slender World is somewhat unusual for a weight loss business.
Over the past five years or so, for example, there have sadly been several
weight loss businesses close in this area. Additionally, since Slender World
is a locally owned and operated business (we are not a franchise), the vast
majority of our revenue remains in the local economy. Slender World has remained
a strong business over the 25 years of its existence in the local community.
Although we have chosen not to expand to other cities, we remain committed
to serve our clients with our unique brand of customer service. We have expanded
our product and service offerings over the years, however, but only to the
extent that these changes enhance our clients’ experience with us.
- What future do you envision for Slender World?
In the product area, I have considered supplying our products to related
businesses that are outside of this local area. A business owner from Denver
Colorado recently contacted me, for example, to inquire about the cellulite
and firming cremes for her clients. This was a health club that was looking
to expand their offerings into the skin care area. Another business in Paris
has requested information about our algae concentrate, which is very popular
in France. As mentioned above, we will remain committed to our core service
business for as long as possible. We’re specialists and want to ensure that
we don’t get diluted with lots of ancillary products and services that do
little to enhance our clients’ lives. Some of our clients drive from as far
away as the Quad Cities and Kalona to receive our services. These committed
women surely find value at Slender World that far outweighs the inconvenience
of their drive. With this in mind, I would like to continue to work hard to
remain focused, enhance customer value and remain an affordable solution for
women of all walks of life.