Weight Watchers was found in 1963 by a homemaker in Queens, NY, named Jean Nidetch. In 1967, Bob Machiz and his wife, Iris, were part of the first team to bring Weight Watchers to Arizona.
Iris had participated in a Weight Watchers’ program in New York and had been successful. She landed a job with the company and told her husband of the company’s success. “I wanted to do something else and possibly leave New York,” Bob explains. “We looked into franchise opportunities and voilà – we came out to Arizona.”
Bob’s dream for the franchise was to come to Arizona and change people. “They all will be svelte, and we will go out of business – but we will have done well,” he says. “That was the dream. I’m glad I had that dream to move us forward.”
It was a good thing that Bob had that dream to hold on to because they were off to a rocky start. “The second Weight Watchers meeting we ever had was at the Jewish Community Center in Phoenix – six people came,” explains Bob. “Sixteen people had come to our first meeting, 14 were at our third meeting, and by our fourth meeting, we were at zero. It was discouraging. I remember standing in a Laundromat thinking ‘What am I doing here?’”
But Bob, Iris and their business partners, Jerry and Isabelle Appell, persevered because they believed they had something good. “We had examples of success outside of us, so we thought if it succeeded there…we just needed to study the situation and be more careful about where we put our locations and go from there,” says Bob.
For example, one of their earliest locations was in Mesa, but it did not succeed. “Nobody told us that the people in Mesa watch what goes on in Phoenix and then if it works there then they will adopt it,” he recalls. “We didn’t know that was the attitude. We had to learn the psychology of the people.” Now their locations in the East Valley are all very successful.
Another factor that contributed to gaining momentum in the early years was the fact that many residents of Arizona have friends and relatives who live back east. The positive reviews they would hear from these friends and family members helped grow the Arizona franchise. Once it took off, it’s been successful ever since.
Bob believes that the main reason why so many people are successful on Weight Watchers when other diets have failed them is the support system. “The support group is the crux of the whole thing,” he says. “The support system along with the science-based diet. You can get a diet anywhere, but when you come into a meeting, you have a support group of people who understand who you are, what you are – and we don’t make fun of people.” The people who run the support groups have all been through the program themselves. “We don’t just take people off the street and train them; they have to go through the program.”
Each center follows plans designed from the corporate office, so everybody in the whole world is using the same program. Bob recalls when the popular “points” program was first introduced. “People didn’t like the word ‘calorie’ so we were thinking of a word that people would like and the word points came about. It really derives from calories. It’s a substitute word, almost a euphemism if you want to look at it that way.” This system has proven successful, and people will get creative with point tracking and even have contests among themselves.
Bob says that women are still their main clientele, but that there are as many overweight men as women. He believes that women are very sensitive about their appearance where men “get humorous about it – they think it’s funny to poke a finger in another man’s paunch.” He feels they don’t take it seriously and don’t do anything about losing weight, but they should.
Today, Bob owns all the franchises in Arizona and Imperial County in California. “We have the oldest franchise on the west coast, and I’m one of the oldest people in the system,” he jokes.
At 94, he still makes the “command decisions” in the business, although he admits he has a great general manager that runs the day-to-day operations. “There are times when I feel like going to the office and times that I don’t.” He has two sons that have more recently become involved in the business.
Having just celebrated his 50th anniversary he has been reflecting on the history of the business. “We came out with four people, and I’m the last survivor of the four,” he says. “The other day I realized that I’d lived more of my life in Arizona than I have in New York, so I guess I have more Arizona in me these days than New York.”
To learn more about Weight Watchers, or to find a meeting in your area, visit weightwatchersaz.com.