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A Family That Pioneered One Of The Hottest Growing Trends Shares Their Secrets To Success

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at November 18, 2021

In the hills above Lake Constance, near the border with Switzerland, a 100-year old clinic in Germany attracts one-percenters, A-listers and the aspirational for its medically-supervised fasting program. Guests visit Buchinger Wilhelmi for 10 to 20 days, on average, for a mental and physical detox, along with medical benefits such as reduced inflammation, weight loss and the potential to increase longevity through cell regeneration.  

 Fasting is currently enjoying more than a moment as people increasingly adopt intermittent fasting (commonly fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8) and longer periods where only 250 calories are consumed per day. The regime is popular for its simplicity and results.

 There are now other fasting clinics in Europe, but the Buchinger method was among the first. It was developed in 1919, when Dr. Otto Buchinger experimented with fasting to cure the debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that kept him in a wheelchair. After three weeks consuming only water, he claimed he could walk again. Buchinger incorporated calorie restriction therapy into his clinic and in 1953, together with his daughter Maria and son-in-law Helmut Wilhelmi, established the current premises. Twenty years later, Maria and Helmut opened a second clinic in Marbella. Management later passed to their son Raimund and daughter-in-law Francoise, who is a trained medical doctor. Recently, they handed the reigns to their son, Leonard, the 4th generation, but they remain involved in managing the clinic. Dr. Wilhelmi de Toledo has spearheaded medical research studying the impacts of fasting. 

It’s often said that the first generation builds it, the second spends it and the third loses it, but in this case, Raimund Wilhelmi can be credited with adapting the business to stay relevant through the decades.  

After a downturn from global lockdowns, business is back with more first-time guests and longer stays. The pandemic has demanded another pivot, Raimund says. “We realized we could be the anti-pandemic; the place people could come to gain better health and to regain better health and reduce inflammation. We also shifted to less loud programs, and more quiet, reflective programs perhaps a bit more monastic.”  

Twenty years ago, Raimund identified the need to provide a more holistic approach to include mental wellness. He hired a psychotherapist in what was then an unpopular decision, Raimund says. “A lot of people were crying and had issues of being left by a spouse or professional loss or transition. My grandfather believed so much in the soul side of fasting. It was revolutionary at the time and the doctors didn’t think it was necessary.” 

While competitors added golf courses and bars, Raimund stayed focused on anticipating and responding to customer needs.  

Listen to the customer 

At Buchinger, guests wanted luxury, Raimund says, “They feel they worked hard all year they want a nice room, a swimming pool. They also wanted a gym. There were no fitness machines here. I said, ‘Buchinger is about movement in fresh air, not inside.’ But people challenged me. They also like to exercise with personal trainers, and finally I gave up and said, ‘Okay, I’ll build the nicest fitness room in the region.’ Another thing that was revolutionary for us was the cooking demonstration room. People want the after-care; they want to see and learn how to do this at home.”   

Broaden the base without losing loyal guests 

Buchinger’s guests don’t want rapid change. That means slowly relaxing a long-standing rule of no mobile phones in public places and offering programs that are either language-neutral, like art, dance and music. In an effort to attract a more diverse clientele, there are plans for an Inspiration Lab offering muscle relaxation and stress relief workshops as well as seated exercise classes for less mobile guests. 

Stay relevant while preserving the concept and your values 

“There’s a huge difference between what people wanted in 2019 and what people want now,” Leonard says. “Before, the world was turning much faster. People used to come for 10-11 days and now, it’s 3-4 weeks. My father (Raimund) says we are a combination of a hotel, a clinic and monastery and academy. We observe that people are much more in need of a place to make sense of the huge change that happened in the world.”  

Some client’s ailments have shifted, too. Buchinger is seeing more guests come to reduce inflammation from long Covid, which makes it even more important for the team to stay up to date on medical research. 

Manage growth at your own pace 

The family has resisted fast expansion or franchising. Leonard says they’ve ignored advice to reduce the 300 employees at each clinic. “This is the last thing we should do. This is a differentiator.”  

Instead, they’ve hired a digital team to film videos for a YouTube channel and a new app launching next year for those who want to fast at home.  

The biggest difference at Buchinger Wilhelmi is that guests used to come when they were sick. Now, prevention has become the cure.

*Fasting is not appropriate for certain medical conditions.


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