Wednesday 18 September 2019

Motivated to make a difference

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium sized businesses and shares the lessons they’ve learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Paul Connolly. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher with Paul Connolly. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Set up in 1995 by husband-and-wife team, Paul and Aisling Connolly, Motivation Weight Management operates 26 weight-management clinics throughout Ireland. Ten of the clinics are owned and run by the company while the remainder are run by franchisees. Together, they employ 110 staff and have an annual turnover of more than €6m.

"We help people with weight-related issues to improve the quality of their lives by helping them achieve and, more importantly, to maintain their desired weight. In a nutshell - we change lives," Paul explains.

"Most conventional programmes merely put a band-aid on the problem by only treating the physical aspects of weight loss."

That, he says, explains why 95pc of dieters regain the weight they initially lose.

"We, on the other hand, address the psychological and emotional reasons that cause people to overeat in the first place as well as providing them with the tools to maintain their weight long-term.

"We believe 70pc of overeating is for emotional reasons, so this needs to be addressed; otherwise the client will never get off the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster."

Clinical studies show the Motivation programme has an 82pc weight-maintenance rate, and the company has treated more than 200,000 people since launching in Ireland over 22 years ago, Paul says.

"Our maxim is 'it's not just what you eat, it's why you eat'," he adds.

It's an approach that seems to be working, with clients losing anything from a stone in weight right up to one client who lost 23 stone. Programmes and consultations are tailor made to suit each individual and delivered on a one-to-one basis, which Paul believes is important given that many people are uncomfortable about being weighed in front of others.

"Our clients include children as young as nine years of age right up to adults of 80-plus years," he adds.

Most programmes include one session every week for between 10 to 20 weeks, starting with a one-hour consultation the first week, a second 30-minute consultation the following week and 15-minute consultations each week thereafter. At an average price of between €25 and €27 per consultation, it appears an affordable approach given that research has proven that most people save much more than this on the reduced weekly shopping spend.

"Losing weight is definitely cheaper than gaining weight," Paul insists.

Paul grew up in Arklow, Co Wicklow. His father, Dr Declan Connolly, worked as a local GP before heading to London where he specialised in the area of weight loss in the famous Harley Street medical district.

He later returned to Ireland in the early 1990s where he set up a dedicated weight loss clinic in Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin.

Having completed a course in motor management in DIT and having spent a time working in the motor industry, Paul later joined his father in the clinic.

"The approach to weight loss at the time was a mix of dieting and medication. While the clinic results were good initially, the long-term ability of clients to maintain their weight, was quite poor," Paul admits.

Paul began researching the psychology of weight management and, having attended a seminar on obesity, he met Dr Maurice Larocque, a world-renowned expert in the treatment of obesity and weight management.

Larocque had developed a behavioural questionnaire that helped change patients' behaviour with regard to food. Straight away, Paul knew that this was the missing link he had been searching for and, in 1995, he set up the first Motivation Clinic, in Dublin's Dawson Street.

Raising the capital to start his new business proved a challenge. When the bank wouldn't fund the venture, Paul made the courageous decision to sell his house in Sandyford to raise the capital needed. His wife Aisling, from Terenure in Dublin, had been working in Sherry FitzGerald up to this point. She then began working part time in the clinic and liked it so much that she joined full time. Both Paul and Aisling have since gone on to study psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

By the time they had grown to three company-owned clinics in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, Paul and Aisling found themselves travelling extensively and doing everything themselves - from accounts and marketing to logistics and training.

This experience led them to choose the franchising model as a way to scale further. Today they have 16 dedicated franchisees throughout the country along with 10 of their own clinics.

Based on client feedback, they recently set up an online store where clients can purchase protein products, vitamins and motivational tools as well as a mobile app where clients have access to a wide range of motivational tools.

"We also have a full-time nutritionist and have just published our own recipe book, aptly titled Deliciously Healthy," Paul says.

The couple are also looking at the various options to extend their services into Northern Ireland using both the franchise route and via online and digital - such as delivering their weight loss programmes via Skype.

"I would also love to see a time when the Health Service would work with clinics like ours to provide the one-to-one supports that patients need. This would be a far more cost-effective way to address the behaviours causing obesity rather than to address the huge health problems obesity throws up further down the line," Paul suggests.

While this is a successful business, it's not about the money for Paul and Asling.

"Our satisfaction comes from helping over 5,000 people a year to reach their weight loss goal. It's gratifying to hear our clients tell us how much of a difference our work has made in their own lives and the lives of their families. That's our buzz and what makes all the effort worthwhile," Paul says.

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