// Warming Up - Emmett Williams

by Emmett Williams

Warming up features the opinions of prominent people within the fitness industry. Here, Emmett Williams, managing partner of Creative Fitness Marketing, looks at how our industry can bounce back from the challenges posed by the past 18 months of economic turmoil to make 2010 a very happy new year.

2009 was a heck of a ride. Messages of ‘doom and gloom’ were spread around the world, household names teetered on the brink of collapse, Australia started heading towards a recession and New Zealand hit one. As unemployment started to climb, clubs, studios and
fitness businesses sat on their hands and pulled back on discretionary spending.

Consequently, capital expenditure on facilities and new equipment dried up, resulting in many clubs now being one year more ‘tired’. Marketing, too, was all but extinguished, meaning that if the consumer was even thinking of ignoring our product, we effectively rolled over
and accepted it. The outcome was that we didn’t impress our existing members with updated facilities, and we didn’t pique the interest of potential new ones.

The good news is that demand has now become, in economist-speak, ‘pent-up’. Just because we had a tough year financially doesn’t mean that people stopped looking in the mirror and sucking in their tummies, that photos stopped being cringed at, or that the incidence of heart disease, diabetes or other sedentary-induced illnesses declined. Vanity and health are still driving fresh demand at the same weekly rate as previously – and if prospects did not act on their desires in 2009, then there will not only be new demand coming our way in 2010, but we’ll see backlog demand from 2009 as well. It’s important to understand the concept of ‘demand per week’ and the effect of ‘pent-up demand’. The rebound in the share-market has meant that investors who bought in at the bottom (March 2009) have achieved a 50 per cent return on their money in just six months. Identifying the lowest point and then investing heavily is the key to great returns in both the share-market and the fitness market. The economy follows the share-market with a six-month lag, and the Reserve Bank of Australia is already increasing interest rates due to expected growth in GDP. Consumers are coming back – and the wise amongst us will invest now, because it is about to ‘gush’. One key product to invest in is weight loss, a trillion dollar business of which the fitness industry is well placed to take a slice.

We must offer a weight loss component to our services, whether it is a weekly in-club ‘slimming group’, a 15-minute one-on-one weekly session for an extra $10 or a tailored healthy eating plan. Whatever the vehicle, we need to deliver – and promote – weight loss via exercise and a ridgy didge nutrition element.

Another product to focus on is group personal training. Consumers want affordable support, social connection, fun and accountability. Group personal training ticks all these boxes, but the key is to theme your groups. Generic boot camp or ‘group training’ is all good and well, but for greater success you need to get specific. Start groups like ‘Silver Sneakers’ for the over 60s, the ‘Yummy Mummies’ for recent mothers who want their bodies back, the ‘Mid Week Boys Club’ for the 30-something men who wish they still played football for the camaraderie of other lads, or ‘Bodies for Business’ for local small business people wanting to interact with like-minded individuals (think of the appeal of Rotary).

The more specific your group, the deeper it will penetrate your target market, as your product yells ‘hey, I’m tailored for you!’ Also consider keeping your group programs to six to eight weeks because new consumers like ‘small bites’.

Promote your new programs with lots of internal advertising. Place posters in your facility, give verbal mentions on entry and exit, place balloons and streamers around the launch information in reception and plug the programs prior to group exercise classes. Stand up in front of the cardio equipment and announce it via megaphone, place posters above urinals, flier-drop cars in your own carpark (yes, your own members) and spread the word via social media. Externally, have the confidence to reinvest your profits into marketing, ideally 10 per cent of your gross turnover. In conjunction with your traditional newspaper/radio/fliers drop, do a web search for ‘guerilla marketing’ and try running three ideas a week. These may take the form of street corner signs, chalked messages on the pavement, Post-it stickers on magazines in local coffee shops or even a staff member shaking a wobble board on the busiest street corner in town. Just use your imagination, roll your sleeves up and get your message out there.

The time is now; all the indicators are looking good, the demand is there. Meet that demand by offering weight loss and group personal training programs, and yell it from the tree tops. By capitalising on the upswing, you’ll guarantee yourself a prosperous 2010.

Emmett Williams, BComm
Emmett is managing partner of Creative Fitness Marketing, an international sales and marketing company that generates over 45,000 new members every year for health and fitness clubs around the world. An independent club owner himself, Emmett has spent the last nine years working with clubs in the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

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