SAINT JOHN – Bruce and Claudine Sweeney met in Saint John while working for Air Canada in the mid 1990’s.
It was great for a while, but by 2001, they were craving something different.
“We loved working together, but didn’t like that whole concept of working at that type of business,” Claudine says.
At the time, Bruce was already using his background in health and nutrition to advise people for free. Their way out was a no-brainer.
That’s how Atlantic Canada’s most popular health and fitness franchise Simply For Life got its start– in the Sweeneys’ basement.
Their first client was their next door neighbour, but it wasn’t long before word started to spread rapidly. The Sweeneys soon signed their first big contract, Kennebecasis Valley Regional Police Force.
“So the police were coming to my place every Friday,” Bruce says. “Our neighbours thought there was drug trafficking going on.”
It wasn’t long after this that they moved to a less sketchy environment.
Today Simply For Life is approaching its 15th anniversary, with 37 franchises spanning from New Brunswick to Alberta. Their headquarters remain in the Port City on Rothesay Avenue. Bruce is still the nutrition guru behind the operation while Claudine takes care of the business end.
Simply For Life’s whole approach is based on simple but crucial diet and lifestyle changes. Clients get customized meal plans and recommendations based on a formula Bruce has created. When the business first started, this was all done manually.
“But then it became too overwhelming to do everything by hand. So we eventually put out a bid for a contract for an IT company to develop the software system that would use his formula to allow us to do the meals plans quickly so we can put our focus with the clients,” Claudine says.
This also allowed Simply For Life to duplicate their business model and the system is still used throughout their franchises.
With a ridiculous amount of weight loss and nutrition programs on the market, Simply For Life had to make itself stand out. Besides their customized plans, the Sweeneys say they do this through building strong customer relationships. They take great care with selecting the people they allow to run franchises and create a culture where you don’t have to fear getting your tongue cut off if you cave and eat a doughnut.
“Being successful in business, you don’t scream at people, you don’t kick people out. I think most people realize that I care about what I do,” Bruce says. “If I feel that this is not the right program for you I’ll say ‘I think you’re wasting your money, try this program instead.’ We create amazing relationships, we created a huge culture now that our branding has become very strong.”
“It’s no fun for anybody to want to start on a healthy lifestyle, but if you make it that it’s kind of cool and they look forward to coming every week, that’s what we created,” Claudine says. “That’s what people look for and they’re proud to say ‘hey, I’m going to Simply For Life.’”
Bruce also credits Simply For Life’s success to staying ahead of the curve. He’s pretty adamant on the importance of staying on top of the latest research.
“We’re five years ahead of everybody,” Bruce says. “It’s impossible to be cutting edge like us. I’m the only one I know that attends all the world-class conferences on nutrition, lifestyle and chronic disease.”
He says a lot of these conferences have their information and findings embargoed for a few years, meaning only those who attend the conference will have it until then.
“I’m absolutely fanatic about attending world-class conferences that have no influential ties with the pharmaceutical industry, supplement industry and government agencies. That’s where we shine,” Bruce says.
Simply For Life is all about promoting whole, fresh foods. So with a growing local food movement taking place in New Brunswick and in North America, they fit right in. Simply For Life does sell some food at their locations, but are limited due to space. That’s where other local businesses come in. If they don’t have it, they will direct clients to someone local who does. In a region where obesity rates are significantly higher, Bruce says this can only be a good thing.
“Things like Real Food Connections, we think so alike that we all collectively work together. . . it’s a really collective movement all working together. For us, it’s a charming thing to see that movement happening,” he says. “Unfortunately I’d love to have more, but it’s going to happen. People are starting to ask important questions.”
As Simply For Life approaches its 15th anniversary this fall, the company is getting ready to launch its own retail line of Simply For Life approved meals.
“So similar to how Superstore has its blue menu, or Compliments at Sobeys, we’re going to have our own exclusive line of items,” Claudine says. “For us it’s a new growth in the business and to have a bit more control of what we want in it.”
Even though it’s been 15 years, she says people are still surprised to learn that Simply For Life is based in Atlantic Canada, especially New Brunswick.
“People of Atlantic Canada are extremely proud that we’re from here. But the other ones, it’s kind of like a credibility thing. You have to win them over,” she says. “And we’ve done that.”