The Well World of Trek Bikes: In providing both carrots and sticks, Trek Bicycle Corp. offers a case study in comprehensive wellness

Related Content:
Madison Execs Vie for Fittest Title

The corridors of Trek Bicycle Corp. offer clues to why wellness is a point of emphasis. Photographs of cycling greats like Lance Armstrong and others who have competed with Trek bikes adorn walls that frame a collaborative workspace. Clearly, no company that manufactures world-class racing bikes can ignore wellness.

Employee wellness is an all-consuming passion of the Trek executive suite and workforce. From the cafeteria where workers are served nutritious breakfasts and lunches, to fitness facilities that entice employees to break a sweat, Trek is really peddling wellness.

At first, however, wellness seemed like an uphill climb. Based in Waterloo, Wis., Trek initially focused on wellness as a way to keep employees healthy. Health risk assessments (HRAs) were introduced in 2005 as a voluntary measure, resulting in a participation rate of 21%. Not exactly the result a fitness-based company was hoping for.

Trek then introduced a $100 cash incentive, which boosted participation to 61%, but in 2007, when a 20-year employee died suddenly and the spouse of another long-term employee suffered a debilitating stroke, the company ratcheted up incentives for participation and created the position of wellness coordinator (now held by Marcus Gagnon).

Since linking wellness participation to higher employer contributions for medical insurance, Trek has seen participation rise to more than 99%. That would be enough for some employers to hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner, but Trek is always looking to add a splash of vigor.

Twinkie tax

The program begins with the aforementioned HRA to reveal background and lifestyle information, and biometric screening to measure blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and other health indicators.

But Trek-style wellness also features innovations like a “Twinkie tax” on the least healthy foods offered in its cafe. Revenue generated from this “tax” helps subsidize the cafe’s salad bar, which the employees can partake in for $5 or less.

“Three or four years ago, we removed the bullets from the gun and took the 10 worst items off the menu,” Gagnon said. “We heard about it, but people have accepted it and moved on.”

That’s not to suggest the cafe does not offer a good dining experience. Trek employs two chefs, and employers can take food to their workstations. Some will grab a healthy bite early and exercise during the lunch hour, either in the company’s new fitness center or on local bike trails the company has helped develop.

According to Gagnon, the next step in this nutritional evolution is to offer healthy “grab-and-go” items, even to feed employees’ families at home.

“We want to steer them in the right direction,” he noted.

The healthiest food items – lower in calories and fat – are identified with color codes or the label “B4C,” which stands for Blueprint for Change. The 12-week program, formerly known as Biggest Loser, is about more than weight loss. Blueprint also is an opportunity for workers to become fitter, increase muscle mass, and learn about nutrition.

Trek charges workers $150 for a 12-week program, but if they meet their fitness goals, the company reimburses that cost in full.

Some of their goals are met with the help of a 4,000-sq.-ft. fitness center that includes new exercise equipment and separate studio space for fitness classes. In addition, there is a special storage room for bikes, plus a full locker room and showers and towel service to accommodate people who cycle to work. Many employees live in Dane County and bike to Trek, which is tucked just inside neighboring Jefferson County along Highway 19.

In addition to sponsoring professional racing teams, Trek actively encourages employees to use its products on the 14 miles of nearby mountain bike trails it has provided. “People who work here obviously are passionate about bikes,” Gagnon noted. “Bikes are a selling point to job candidates, and so is the culture here.”

Now that Trek has become a self-insured company, it can better track return on investment in terms of lower health claims. Overall, wellness has helped to virtually flatten the cost curve, Gagnon said, which is one flat line that’s indicative of the company’s financial health.

Shaping up

Casey Kohner, digital marketing manager for Trek Bikes, gravitated to the Blueprint for Change in 2010 to improve his overall health. Even though he enjoyed cycling, he was overweight and was not in the best physical shape. Two years later, he’s lost 50 pounds and has completed his first 100-mile bike ride.

“That was a big accomplishment for me,” Kohner said. “At no time did I think that one day I’d be able to ride 100 miles in a single day, but it felt great. The program helped a lot, but I want to improve my time. The rides don’t get any easier, they just get longer.”

His fitness routine now consists of a 45-minute pump extreme class, which is a mix of weight and cardio training, plus mountain biking (including a recent ride in the scenic Kettle Moraine), high-intensity interval training, and yoga.

The company provides a website where employees can sign up for fitness classes and log entries into a food journal, and Kohner and other employees visit with a nutritionist who offers guidance on how to further refine their diets. The most important nutritional lesson has been an increased awareness of the hidden sugar contained in foods ranging from bread to salad dressing, which he called a “calorie bomb.”

On the advice of the nutritionist, he’s “focusing on eating as many fresh fruits and veggies and lean protein as I can.”

Chris Long, tech site and content administrator for Trek, has an even more impressive weight-loss experience, starting the program at 282 pounds and getting down to 208 as he tries to build muscle.

He once drank a lot of sugary soda, but now he’s a salad bar and vegetable devotee and has learned to cook healthy meals.

Like Kohner, his goals have shifted from weight loss to improving fitness, and his routine incorporates weekend bike rides and building muscle mass. He’s also running, having reached the six-mile run marker, and his sights are set on completing the Madison Mini-Marathon (13.1 miles). He will enroll in another 12-week blueprint session to help prepare.

Long marvels at the resources Trek provides, and at how far he’s come. “It’s had quite an impact on me,” he stated. “I have more energy. I’m feeling better about myself because I could not go on a group bike ride because I couldn’t keep up, and now I can.”

Executive buy-in

Gagnon said the quest to improve the program continues. Several months ago, Trek added an onsite health clinic staffed by two nurses. Employees can schedule visits and handle preventive care, and they don’t lose as much work time to address occasional needs.

The key to the program, according to Gagnon, is management support from chief executive John Burke on down. “John is the one who made the changes to the program,” Gagnon noted. “Talking with people at other companies, the biggest issue they have is buy-in from the top.”

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.