Business analysts will spend a lot of time evaluating how much of a bang retailers and manufacturers got from fourth-quarter holiday sales, but plenty of other businesses depend on bringing the new year in with a roar.
Plastic surgeons, travel planners, fitness industry veterans and others often report their highest receipts of the year in the first quarter. A lot of these sales are driven by resolutions, people who want “a new you for the new year,” but other, less-transparent factors also play a role.
At The Plastic Surgery Center in Sacramento, Dr. Wayne Yamahata is diving into a schedule that is just jam-packed for several months. The Christmas-New Year’s break can be an especially busy period because patients have time off and want to use it to get elective procedures done, Yamahata said, but the first and second quarters are also high-traffic periods for the practice over on Scripps Drive.
“January is full for us because it’s a good time of the year to have surgery, in the sense that certain operations do better when it’s not sunny or when people aren’t going to be outdoors,” Yamahata said.
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“So, for example, things like liposuction, after the operation, patients are going to have bruises, so they don’t want it done in the late summertime because if they wear a bathing suit, the bruising is going to show. And the same thing for things like tummy tucks and breast enhancement. With an operation like facelifts, after the operation, we ask them to avoid sun exposure for a while,” he said.
Yamahata and his partners market their services all year long, but they don’t increase their advertising at this time of year as do many practices that offer only Botox injections, laser surgery or liposuction. It’s just not necessary, Yamahata said.
Dr. Emil Tanghetti depends on referrals, not paid advertising, at the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery on J Street. His practice manager, Carolyn Hamann, told me that their business actually benefits from the surge in advertising this time of year, even though they aren’t the ones buying it.
“All this marketing is being done in the media,” she said, “and the more media attention brings more business for us whether we’re doing the advertising or not.”
Patients don’t always choose a surgeon based solely on advertising, Hamann said. Rather, they want a recommendation from a friend or relative they trust. Tanghetti’s schedule begins filling up in December, Hamann said, and that includes many patients who have met their insurance deductible. Consequently, insurers will pick up a greater share of their surgery costs.
OK, maybe you won’t cut, inject or laser your way to a new you, but plenty of consumers will begin sweating or dieting their way into new bodies. Sutter Health, which offers the Lean for Life program at its Sutter Express Care facilities, said that historically it has seen 5 percent to 10 percent more patients seeking assistance in the first quarter than in other periods. Weight Watchers also racks up its biggest sales of the year in the first quarter. The company reported revenue of $503.5 million in the first quarter of 2012. That’s 23 percent more than the company earned in the fourth quarter, that year’s slowest period.
“It goes right along with those New Year’s resolutions that people make,” said Leslie Bezner, territory manager for Weight Watchers in Sacramento and Northwest Nevada. “Over time, though, we’ve actually seen the business stabilize a little bit more throughout the year.”
Essentially, people are coming to see weight control as a lifestyle issue that must be managed over a lifetime, not in fits and starts, Bezner said, but because so many newcomers join Weight Watchers in January, the company introduced a new plan called Simple Start that provides a two-week meal plan.
“It allows them to focus on the foods and moving toward healthier eating without having to do any counting of points or even having to be overly concerned about portions,” Bezner said. The most successful Weight Watchers members, she noted, are those who attend meetings regularly and use the e-tools at weightwatchers.com. They are about eight times more successful than people who go it alone, she said.
January often brings regrets as patients realize they have overdone the feasting, said Dr. Thomas Atkins, medical director for Sutter Express Care.
“They have that last big feast on New Year’s Day, and they go ‘Oh, my goodness, I really need to take care of this,’ ” he said, “and so their thoughts are setting in around what they need to do to take better care of themselves and to set themselves straight on lifestyle and health issues.”
That, too, is one of several reasons why gyms fill up in the new year, said California Family Fitness co-founder Larry Gury. People let exercise go during the busy holiday period, he said, but in January, a well-lighted, bustling gym can be a welcome place when there’s less daylight outdoors and a greater number of inclement days. Gury said he would see new members join during this period and he would see existing members increase the frequency of their visits.
“We have some people that go seven days a week at the beginning of the year, and then they scale it back to tie it in with their lifestyle,” said Gury, now a consultant for the company he sold in 2006. “They may go down to two or three days a week in spring.”
While some people escape Sacramento’s typically dark and rainy winters in the gym, others call on travel guides such as SacTrip.com’s Grady O’Bryant to get them out of the area. O’Bryant told me that he offers more trips in the first quarter than during any other period of the year. His travels will take him to Jamaica, Ireland and Carmel, among other places, over the next three months.
“We do a lot of day trips in January, February when the weather is really crappy because we’re not competing with festivals,” he said. “We’re not competing with picnics. We’re not competing with a lot of things, so we’re pretty top-heavy at the beginning of the year to relieve cabin fever.”