Fitness center marketing, an outsider perspective

As news of Equinox fitness chain’s opening in Houston makes the news, I find myself pondering what I would recommend to my fitness center chain.

One of the things you can’t help but do if you truly love marketing is playing the “what if” game: What if I knew enough about the business model to suggest changes in their marketing plan, what would I recommend?

As news of Equinox fitness chain’s opening in Houston makes the news,  I find myself pondering what I would recommend to my fitness center chain.

First, some caveats/assumptions:

  • I don’t think my fitness center will be impacted that much, the price points are vastly different. But any time is a good time to assess your current market strategy, right? So why not now?
  • I’m assuming that my fitness center wants members to actually come regularly. In comparison, inexpensive gyms don’t want you to come.
  • I don’t know anything about my fitness center’s goals, revenue structure, etc. A review of these would probably completely change my recommendations, but it’s a fun mental exercise anyway and these may be good ideas for other fitness centers.
  • There’s a lot of things I think my fitness center does right, which is why I’m a loyal member. For brevity’s sake, this post will focus only on improvements.

Maintenace and equipment

Maintenance of equipment and new equipment has to be a huge line item in any fitness center’s budget and, unfortunately, I think it needs to be a much heftier part for most gyms. Nothing frustrates a “regular” more than broken machines. On Monday, I jumped between four treadmills before I found one that worked. Sadly, not as gracefully as the video below.


As I’ve written about before, facilites can really impact your marketing.  When thinking about location, you have to think beyond the interior of the walls. My fitness center’s locations are very convenient, but parking is usually a huge nightmare (especially at peak times) and the lots aren’t well-lit or very safe (said the warning poster at one of the local center locations about crime in parking lot).

Insert Fun

Fitness centers often try to insert fun into the atmosphere by getting members to dress up (i.e. “wear your Halloween costume to the gym”). These efforts usually fail because a) employees don’t participate b) I’m here at the gym at 6 am, what more do you want from me? c) My workout outfit cost over $100 already and I have several of them. I’m not spending any more money.

Instead, why not do something that involved the employees having fun and the customers just being part of the experience? Every day I walk in to a stack of square towels. Boring. I so desperately want to stealthily sneak a creative towel folding book onto the employee front desk and watch the employees take initiative and get creative. Imagine the impact. Social media posts, selfies, and “I have to get up and go to the gym to see the towel of the day” motivation. This may also increase employee retention.

A towel animal, possibly a ray, hanging from a ceiling with sunglasses on it
“Towel animal” by Klobetime, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Review System for Classes

We can review items we purchased on Amazon, we can review businesses on Yelp, how about being able to review classes and read other member’s reviews of classes offered at our fitness centers?

There have been several times I’ve walked out of a class and thought, “That was a waste my workout time.” If a review tool exists that showed me the difficulty level, intensity level, and attendee comments about classes, I’d not only use it, but contribute to it too. And be more likely to attend classes. It may also make instructor evaluation for the fitness chain easier and more efficient too.

Revise the Trainer Model

So far, my suggestions have been pretty simple. Here’s my radical one: Somehow, I’m not sure how, but somehow, change the personal trainer model.

Opposite goals are not ideal, but tolerable in a short term seller/customer relationship (such as a car sale); they never a good idea to create long-term relationships. A client’s goal is to reach their goal as fast as possible. In contrast, a trainer’s reward system is to have the client improve just enough to make them want to come back, but not enough as the client no longer thinks they need them.

This also usually means the trainer is solely focused on their clients (they are paying by the hour), usually at the expense of treating other gym members as potential clients or potential referrers of clients, which is ultimately bad for the gym and for the trainer’s future business.

What would you add? How would you revamp the fitness center business marketing model?


Ten marketing and pr lessons from FailBlog (and why it’s my favorite blog)

I know this is going to sound strange. Believe me, I do, but my favorite blog for marketing and public relations is: FailBlog. Of all the great marketing and pr blogs to choose from, it seems like an odd pick at first blush, but hang with me as I explain and it might just turn into your favorite as well.

I’m a huge fan of Mike Levine’s book, Broken Windows, Broken Business and, in general, taking a look at signals that a business is sending to a customer that is killing the business’ marketing effectiveness. In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of a presentation on marketing effectiveness lately that talks about this subject at length. During those talks, I recommend that the members of the audience become regular subscribers of FailBlog so that they can train their mind to look for ways that their businesses are sending the wrong signals to customers. Basically the concept is, you learn from your mistakes, but you can also learn from the mistakes of others. Besides, most of them are just plain funny and will brighten your day.

So, to prove my point, here are the ten marketing and public relations lessons from FailBlog this week:

1. Think dirty

Whether you want them to or not, if there is a way to take your marketing message in a dirty or perverted way, someone will. So, before anything is finalized, ask yourself (or someone you know who has this kind of mind) if there is any way that your message could be considered dirty. If so, start over.

epic fail photos - Truck Design FAIL

epic fail photos - Things That Are Doing It: It's a Choking Hazard

2. Source carefully

Double check your sources, including photos and videos, carefully to make sure you are showing the correct thing. You don’t want to post the wrong Statue of Liberty on a stamp or something similar because it’s embarrassing and hurts your credibility.

epic fail photos - Fox News FAIL

3. Think big picture

Think about all aspects of your business and how they are put together. Incorrect combinations of products or services may be disastrous. So, take a step back, and look at the overall picture.

epic fail photos - Product Placement FAIL

4. Check displays, boards, online forums often

Pranksters are everywhere and some people may not understand that you weren’t the one that put the hangers next to the pregnancy tests, so it’s important that you check any areas that customers have access to often for signs of tampering or anything that may offend your other customers (and land you on FailBlog).

epic fail photos - Snack FAIL

5. Humanize your processes

I know this is contrary to popular thought right now, but full automation is not always the answer. Computers may not catch errors that humans can, so it might be worthwhile to add a human set of eyes back into your business’ processes.

epic fail photos - Probably Bad News: Accountability FAIL

epic fail photos - Drug Policy Answer Fail

6. Think functionality

It never fails that 2-3 times per week on FailBlog, there’s going to be some rendition of the vehicle or door or something else with moving parts that sends a different message than intended. So, double check placement and how things will look when the door to your shiny new van is opened before you finish your design.

epic fail photos - Church Van FAIL

7. Make checklists

If you are getting ready to launch a major promotion, it might be a good idea to keep detailed notes and checklists on what you did and what you need to do, so you don’t slip up and, say, let ads run congratulating a team that didn’t win.

epic fail photos - NBA Champions FAIL

8. Check on your employees

I’m in no way an advocate for micro-managing, but I do think it’s a good idea to get up, walk around a bit, and see what your employees are up to. Imagine how it would look to your business if people were waiting in line for help and they could see an employee in another room reading a book. Or, you may see and employee committing (hopefully unintentionally) something that is illegal. Knowing now and stopping it will save you from a lawsuit and some bad pr later.

epic fail photos - CLASSIC: Nap Location FAIL

9. Check your claims

So often, consumers are bombarded with claims like “world’s first” or “dependable” or “unbreakable.” It’s wonderful if they are true, but you need to make sure your claims are true EVERY TIME or you will immediately have a broken windows, marketing, and public relations issue.

epic fail photos - Unbreakable FAIL

10. Look at photos carefully

From now on, every time you take photos that you plan to publish in some way, take a few extra seconds and really look over them. What is everyone doing in them? Is there anything in the background of photos that could be embarrassing? The one photo you forget to check just might be the one that has an issue in it.

epic fail photos - Probably Bad News: Yearbook Picture Fail

So the next time your boss catches you laughing hysterically in your office while looking at FailBlog, you can now give definitive reasons why it’s a great tool to help you sharpen your marketing and public relations skills, and, ultimately, protect your business’ reputation.

Post originally published on my MSU Journalism blog, Fit To Type.