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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

Experiencing a seasonal downturn in business, fitness facility owner and operator, Mike Richmond, engaged a group buying website to increase his customer base.

Fit Life Health and Fitness is an established business with the aim of bringing wellness to the local community. In addition to being a swim school, we also offer a range of other health and fitness services, from rehabilitation to exercise. Run by a health and physio team, we also have a twist compared to other swimming locations in South Australia, in that we are now open 24 hours a day.

We traditionally experience a significant drop in students during the cold winter months. Many people don’t like the idea of even approaching the facility at all. Throw in the numerous competitors in the industry and gaining new clients can be tough. We needed to quickly and easily boost business and get an edge on competitors.

What we needed was a low cost marketing platform that would target our audience directly to educate them and create a call to action for them to visit the facility. We knew that once we had people through the door we would be able to provide them with a wonderful experience that would almost guarantee their return. It would also encourage them to spread the word around the local community. With little marketing or public relations experience, I decided to engage group buying site LivingSocial to try and get people through the doors.

I had heard various success stories of businesses that had launched through group buying – or ‘daily deal’ – sites and of others that had used the marketing platform to maintain customer numbers through quieter periods. I presented my objectives to the team at LivingSocial, and together we created a deal. There was no upfront cost, and the sales manager made it very easy to produce an engaging deal and copy. As well as being cost-effective, I also found it very stress-free as I was guided through every stage of the process. The upshot of this was that my client base increased by more than 50 per cent during an off peak period.

Having been through the process, my key piece of advice if you are contemplating running a deal through a site such as LivingSocial, Groupon, Cudo or Scoopon, is to make sure you have all your resources in order prior to launching. The last thing you want is to have unhappy customers as a result of poorly managed staff rosters or insufficient gym equipment.

Businesses also need to be alert to the fact that getting people through the door is only half the job – it’s what you do when they are in front of you that encourages them to return.

You hear stories of people attempting to use restaurant deals they have purchased being treated with disdain or given substandard service – to the point of being deliberately misled about the availability of tables in a restaurant. No business that treats customers with contempt will prosper in the long term. At no point were any of our customers, whether they purchased a deal or not, treated like second class citizens. Everyone was, and is, given superior service.

As a business tool, good customer service is invaluable. At Fit Life, it goes further than quick service and good manners. We work to create a community with our customers by chatting with them and creating a personal connection. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing their results and watching children who were once afraid of the water swim confidently.

Having enjoyed a fantastic experience at our club, courtesy of sampling it through the deal, around 50 per cent of customers who had purchased a voucher signed up to become members. Despite my confidence in our ‘product’ and the service we deliver, I was amazed by this result. If you are running a substandard business, no group buying site will breathe life into it for the long term. If, however, you have a great business, but little to no experience in marketing and no time to devise campaigns, then this type of site can be a great way of increasing awareness among consumers.

Make group buying work for your club
If you are thinking about running a group buying deal to market your fitness business, consider the following advice:

  1. Have a strategy in place and know exactly what you want to achieve as your end goal.
  2. Ensure that your business is able to provide the volume of service that your deal may attract. This is an opportunity to showcase your best assets; you don’t want this to be ruined by poor customer service.
  3. Be prepared to upsell – you have the client in front of you, now show them everything you have to offer.
  4. What makes you unique? Showcase your best assets – this is your chance to shine.
  5. Have a follow-up plan in place, i.e. offer return discounts, source email addresses for your database, and provide giveaways on the day.

Mike Richmond
A former Olympian, Mike worked as a physiotherapist for over 26 years before opening Fit Life Health & Fitness in Adelaide with his wife Catherine in 2003. Winners of the 2007/2008 South Australian Fitness Centre of the year, Mike and Catherine are passionate about helping people achieve their fitness goals, get in shape and live healthy lives.

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