Matthew Hoo was on the fast track. Within a few years he had quickly moved from being a kid selling memberships at his local gym, to becoming its General Manager, and then moving to Thailand as the National Sales Manager to oversee growth of a chain of gyms there. The fitness centres he managed were very successful, and rewards and accolades followed. The fitness world seemed to be at his feet.
The problem was Matt himself was no living proof of what his gyms claimed to provide. He was overworked and overweight and probably unaware of his condition until he found himself at his step-father Leigh’s death-bed. Leigh was 52 and had the attitude of living his life in the here and now, which for him meant putting into his body what ever he wanted to, regardless of what was deemed to be healthy. As Matt was sitting beside him Leigh took his hand and told him that the way he had lived his life had not been worth it. This rocked Matt, and when back at work and his boss grabbed him by the love handles one day, Matt realised something had to change.
That night as he was taking a swim he asked himself what it was that he was actually doing and wanted to stand for. Reflecting upon his current job, he realised he had been fooling himself: he was not part of a business that was changing lives. He was a part of a business that was selling memberships, and that profited from people not achieving their wellness goals. And he didn’t want to do this anymore.
Relocating back to Melbourne Matt took it upon himself to start improving his own health and wellbeing. He started learning, attending courses and following people like Chris Kresser, Charles Poliquin, Ido Portal and Mark Buckley. He changed the food he was eating, improved his stress levels, and lost 30kg of fat and put on 8kg of lean muscle.
In itself this is a remarkable story of transformation, from the probably all to common irony of an unwell person working in the fitness industry to somebody who slept well every night, and waking up with energy every morning. But for me the thing that excites me the most about Matt’s journey is what he is doing now.
Disillusioned with the fitness world as it stood, Matt decided he could take what he knew and do things differently and better. He wanted to create a space where service and results came before profit and financials. He started to look for a gym business to buy, and while he did not find one that fit his vision, through this process inadvertently met his business partner David O’Brien.
In each other they found their compliment and somebody with an aligned vision for a wellness centre. And from this partnership 5th Element Wellness (5EW) was born.
Located in Fitzroy North, Melbourne, 5EW is a full-service integrative, functional wellness centre. They have available an impressive range of services, including yoga, meditation, strong-man, infrared sauna, blood-work analysis, macro nutrient planning, a GP, and Active Release Therapies. But this ‘shiny’ list of offerings does not get close to capturing what is different about this place over the countless other gyms in Melbourne.
What Matt and Dave have created is a place where a different way of thinking about wellbeing can exist, have drawn a community around this, and have let the results speak for themselves. The attraction is so strong that people are now moving into the area so that they are close-by this health club.
Because it is an all-encompassing offering, there is no ongoing confusion for members when they receive conflicting advice from one of their advisors. The can quickly gather the GP, their Personal Trainer, and Original Assessor together to determine where the confusion lies and what the solution is.
Personal Trainers are not incentivised based on the number of people they see, but rather on the results their clients achieve. They go through a rigorous recruitment process and receive weekly ongoing professional development. When becoming members clients commit to seeing their personal trainer weekly for 1 hour, as Matt and Dave realised this was how they could ensure results and ongoing commitment for their clients.
The focus on results has led to many transformation stories, and while 5EW may not have the same profit margins as other gyms, this is just where they want the focus to be: on the results their clients are achieving over the profits their business is achieving.
What I like about this place is that it is focused on helping people to be well in a wholistic way, enabling them to feel energised in as many moments as possible, and allowing the inevitable improvement in aesthetics to follow this focus rather than be the primary aim.
While Matt and Dave would love to create a chain of 5EWs, their focus on service and quality over growth means they are reluctant to push forward at the expense of quality.
They see that mentoring is one way they can help culturally embed this new way of thinking about our health, along with encouraging those with the deep technical and wholistic wellbeing knowledge to partner with those who have strong business acumen.
In regard to his own journey Matt reflects that a subtle thing he did was to ‘pay his dues’ in the fitness industry, learning about what it took to create systems that worked well and a good working culture. In getting very good at this he is now in a solid position to run his own business.
5EW is leading the way in personalised, results-focused, community oriented wellbeing, and this excites me about the direction the wellness of this city is going. I hope you enjoy our conversation.