High priest of power

Motiva Robbins says he wants to ‘own’ the wellness business

He has sold millions of books and tapes exhorting people to “Unleash the Power Within,” “Get the Edge” and “Live With Passion!” He claims his infomercials have been running every 30 minutes nonstop in North America since April 1989.

And every year, legions of people pay thousands of dollars each for the privilege of declaring, along with him and stadiums full of like-minded followers: “I will lead, not follow! I will believe, not doubt! I will create, not destroy!”

If it seems the world cannot get enough of Anthony Robbins, the high priest of human potential, the feeling is mutual.

Although he has built an empowerment empire estimated to be worth at least $80 million by selling nothing but himself, Robbins is no longer content just to influence the emotional and financial lives of his devotees.

“My driving force is to create a deep impact,” he said last week during a phone conversation from Fiji between seminar sessions for business leaders. “I want to change the quality of people’s lives.”

To that end, he aims to be in his followers’ kitchen cupboards, medicine chests and gym bags, as well as their heads, coaching them to peak performance, 24/7.

Robbins and other titans in the field may preach self-reliance, but the self-help industry thrives on repeat business. That means selling the faithful a steady stream of products and services that promises to teach them to take control of their lives and to realize their full potential.

From the wellness guru Deepak Chopra to the television psychologist Dr. Phil, a host of self-empowerment powerhouses are branching into new areas of business to keep the revenues — and the karma — flowing.

Chopra, for instance, is opening several Chopra Centers at spas and resorts around the country for spiritual and holistic healing. He is also making his particular brand of inspiration available to cell-phone users as “wallpaper” on their screens, or they can sign up to receive daily, even hourly, tidbits from “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” his best-selling book.

For his part, Dr. Phil is busy putting his brand on everything from weight-loss products to relationship kits.

But no one is going after the much larger “wellness” business, a broad term for the multibillion-dollar arena that includes things like vitamins and Pilates exercises, with quite the fervor of Robbins.

“I want to own it,” Robbins said.

In a new book, “The Next Trillion,” Paul Zane Pilzer, the Reagan administration economist turned wellness guru, estimates that the industry is worth $200 billion in sales a year and will expand fivefold over the next seven years as baby boomers splurge on products and services that they hope will make them feel healthier, look better and slow the effects of aging.

Robbins, 43, is positioning himself to be right there with the goods. He is a principal and vice chairman of IdeaSphere Inc., which manufactures natural and organic food and health products. IdeaSphere also has a controlling stake in Rebus Publishing, which prints health newsletters for Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Recently, IdeaSphere said it had reached a deal to buy the Twinlab Corp., one of the nation’s largest makers of nutritional supplements. The acquisition is valued at upward of $70 million, according to someone close to the deal.

Twinlab, with sales of $138 million last year, has a strong and recognizable brand in a fragmented industry. But it has also had problems. Some products contained ephedra, an ingredient in weight-loss products that has been linked to health problems.

The company has removed ephedra from its products, and its sales have been declining steadily in recent months. And as the IdeaSphere deal unfolds, Twinlab may be on the verge of filing for bankruptcy protection.

Still, Twinlab could help IdeaSphere gain a global presence with a line of sports drinks, bars, teas and other products. The deal is part of a strategy that Robbins said would transform IdeaSphere into a fully integrated wellness company.

Soon, according to Robbins, the company is set to join forces with one of the nation’s largest athletic shoe and apparel makers, as well as a national chain of health food stores. But he declined to identify the companies.

The sports deal will involve products from athletic wear to energy drinks to motivational tools, like what Robbins calls a “digital life trainer,” an MP3 player that arrives loaded with a 30-day supply of life-changing motivation, he said.

The partnership will also be used to promote Robbins’ coming personal development book, “Emotional Fitness,” due in April, as well as “Pure Energy,” also to be published in 2004. Robbins said the health food chain would sell IdeaSphere’s nutritional supplements and food-based nutraceuticals, which are foods or drinks with added vitamins, herbs or nutrients.

“Consumers are looking for a partner, someone they can trust to tell them what to do on a daily basis,” said Mark A. Fox, the president of IdeaSphere. “Tony is here to make the emotional connection between the consumer and those products.”

Robbins, who stands 6 feet 7 inches tall, routinely takes the stage for hours at a time during his seminars, stirring up a motivational frenzy and reducing crowds of thousands to tears one minute and laughter the next.

His growing arsenal of products makes it clear that he considers helping people pursue happiness to be a full-time job. And if he pulls off all the deals he says he has in the works, he will be with his followers every step of the way.

The Twinlab deal alone could be a huge challenge, industry analysts said. After spectacular growth in the mid- and late 1990s, the supplement business has cooled substantially, with revenue up only 4 percent in 2002, compared with 14 percent a year in the late 1990s, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. It says the nutrition industry has $18.7 billion in sales annually.

“We’re entering a period of strong uncertainty and consolidation,” said the journal’s head of research, Patrick D. Rea, adding that negative publicity about supplements could also continue to hurt the industry.

But Rea added: “If you’re good marketers, there’s still an opportunity for your company to do well. And I think these guys think they can market their way to success.”

That may not be the case for Robbins’ core business of motivation, which could be headed into some down times as well. Robbins would not release figures for his Anthony Robbins Companies, which includes his motivational book, tape and seminar businesses.

But the self-help industry suffered after the economic downturn and has not fully recovered. MarketData, which tracks the industry, estimates that it will continue to grow slightly, over all, through 2005, but that most of that growth will be among Spanish speakers, who are not Robbins’ core followers.

Slow industry growth has caused many motivational speakers, including Robbins, to cut back on their appearances as they branch into other areas. With his movie-star good looks, and his cameo in the movie “Shallow Hal,” Robbins has let it be known he would be happy to do more work in Hollywood.

But for now, he will concentrate on being what he calls “this generation’s ultimate peak-performance coach.”

Possibly Related Products


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The New York Times, via L.A. Daily News, USA
Sep. 7, 2003
Betsy Streisand

More About This Subject

This post was last updated: Nov. 30, -0001