The Wellness Retreat Center, in San Jose, Calif., is a residential drug rehabilitation center that literally guarantees a positive outcome, or additional treatment is free. This commitment is based on the provision of what its founders describe as their major drawing point: exceptional client service.

That service, say founders Amanda Knight and Tiffany Douglass, distinguishes their independent rehabilitation center from its corporate competition.

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“Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all process,” Knight said in an interview.  “Our entire program model is based on individualized treatment; the personalized care our clients receive is pervasive, extending to each aspect of our clients’ treatment experience.”

Added Douglass: “We provide something that is virtually unheard of in the addiction industry — what we call our ‘Treatment Guarantee.’ At its core, this guarantee promises that people who authentically participate in the program but relapse within one year from discharge may re-enter the program for 30 days, free of charge.”


Knight said she and Douglass previously worked in the addiction rehab industry themselves and became disillusioned with many aspects of the treatment models available. They also observed large corporations purchasing independent rehab facilities to expand their reach and brand.

According to Knight, the industry’s shift from private to corporate ownership has correlated with a change in focus from treatment outcomes to profit margins. The results, Knight argued, have been devastating for patients and their families.

This shift, Knight continued, was what inspired her and Douglass to become entrepreneurs in their field, despite the challenges of going their own way. One of the biggest challenges, in a corporate-dominated industry, was deciding what went into their plan for success and then implementing it.

That plan included the following strategies the two women adopted, to deal with their corporate challenge:

Distinguish yourself.

Success begins by distinguishing your business from the competition. For entrepreneurs competing with large, established businesses, that difference can include a quicker response time and flexibility in services offered.

Then there’s that “Treatment Guarantee.” It’s what distinguishes their program from others, the founders said.

The guarantee demonstrates the confidence the owners have in their service delivery model and inspires confidence in their target audience — another factor, they say, that distinguishes them from their corporate competitors.

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Use your commitment as your foundation.

In the highly competitive market that is addiction recovery, sometimes the best way to distinguish yourself is to build your marketing strategy around your initial inspiration. When asked how their program is different from others, Douglass answered, “Motivation and intent. We had all the business savvy, technical know-how, clinical experience and resources to be successful — if you’re looking at our prospects from a purely formulaic point of view. 

“We had something additional, however, and it permeates through everything we do — from our program design to our clients’ experience: the philosophical mindset that client care comes first and all else will follow.” The founders’ initial inspiration of addressing client needs versus meeting corporate goals, she said, was the foundation upon which they built their business.

Provide an exceptional experience.

The Wellness Center experience includes a variety of treatment models and services and a true “retreat” environment that is showcased through yoga classes, acupuncture treatments, personal training services and chef-prepared meals. According to Knight, this level of services is not possible through most corporate-based programs.

For entrepreneurs in other industries, an exceptional customer experience might include perks such as loyalty programs and sales, free shipping, handwritten thank-you notes and personal shopper services. Entrepreneurs can and should fous on ways they can deliver an extraordinary experience which their competitors can’t match.

Implement a client-centric marketing plan.

Marketing a new product or service is challenging, especially when you’re competing with deep corporate pockets for the same target audience. Said Douglass: “The most sought-after addiction-treatment-related pay-per-click advertising keywords can run in the millions per month, and the corporate behemoths voraciously battle to win the PPC war. 

“It’s virtually impossible to compete in that arena and, in most cases, pointless to try.”

Instead, Douglass said, she and Knight focused on a reputation-based marketing plan utilizing customer advocates who speak directly with potential clients and their families to answer any questions and address concerns.

Referrals are an important part of the center’s reputation for quality, Douglass added. “We are the exclusive residential treatment program referral destination for many of the hospitals, therapists, outpatient programs and sober living environments in our area,” she said.

In fact,the center’s alumni program generates 20 percent to 30 percent of new admissions, she said.

Related: 4 Steps to Deal with an Employee’s Substance Abuse Problem

Bottom line:

The message that the Wellness Retreat Center offers is that entrepreneurs who create start-ups in corporate-dominated industries or markets should implement customer-centric marketing plans to grow their brand and their business.

While startup founders like Knight and Douglass may need to compete against large corporations to attract customers, they don’t have to play by the same rules. There are several advantages to being a small business, including the ability to provide customized services, which larger business often can’t match.

So, if you’re up against a corporate behemoth, focus on your strengths and utilize a customer-centric marketing plan to reach your target audience. Use that plan to build your client base and achieve success.