Category: Health & Fitness

Smart Marketing for Your Fitness Business

Digital, digital, digital. If you’re wearing an exercise tracker, welcome to the new world. I am curious how many FitBit users input additional data and manage it. For fitness owners and leaders who are also technology geeks, this is second nature. But for most exercisers or those just starting to exercise, digital tools may not be that useful to reach actual goals.

Digital marketing is a different story for business owners. Everyone is using digital marketing. (Hello, website.) What I often see is that many businesses don’t use digital tools to collect valuable information from customers at enrollment or during the prospect phase. Here are four essentials for successful marketing, digital or traditional:

  1. List inventory. How many lists do you have? It doesn’t matter if data is in an excel file, a club management system or Mail Chimp. But it does matter if the data is old, inaccurate or not segmented.
  2. Segment your lists. Why do we segment? One simple reason is to better understand customer types and target information by age, household types, interests or purchases. Is your current system capable of producing a mailing list (or email list) for customers who have bought massage or personal training? Be sure to set key categories within any system and audit data periodically.
  3. Identify number of visits per user periodically. Exercise frequency or visits is a basic benchmark. Many corporate wellness contracts require verification of visits per month to approve reimbursement. This data also may be used to establish member rewards programs.
  4. Health improvement. We’re in the business of improving people’s health. Can we show that? Actual biometrics may be managed through software such as TriFit, often only used by personal trainers. One way membership/sales can assist is by asking members to rank their health (from excellent to poor). After six months, re-ask this question and note if there’s been an improvement and congratulate the member! If not, time to check in on their exercise goals and program.

Beware the one-size-fits all software program: it often cannot segment AND include contract information for database marketing. If you have had success, please email me, and I’ll write a case study in a future column. There is a downside to using multiple programs as data is often duplicated or incorrect. This makes it even more important to manage lists and mailings (email and physical) through a yearly promotional plan.

It may seem easy to start digital marketing projects, but it’s difficult to retain quality and professionalism unless you dedicate personnel to manage the data and have a communications plan in place. One way to make content more meaningful is to personalize with photos or video of members (or team members) and their success stories. Make that a part of everyone’s job description, otherwise you’ll never have enough content.

Digital marketing is here to stay and grow. So take the time now to make sure team members understand the communications process for inputting and managing data and collecting great stories.

Essence of a Man: A Memoir

Ten years ago, we published a historical narrative of Brown Greene with memoirs from his four adult children. For this Father’s day, we re-issued and updated the book for the Greene family, but the story has resonance for other reasons. Creating this memoir was cathartic for John, as his dad died from a sudden heart attack when John was only 12. Although there are many wonderful traits John attributes to his parents, he also inherited heart disease. Given his professional background in wellness and as a cancer survivor in his 30s, John understood early on the benefits of daily exercise. Once he reached 50, he had his first stress test. Knowing that his father died at 56 of a heart attack, coronary care was critical for him. As a home chef focused on scratch cooking, he has been able to monitor his diet. But diet and exercise alone can’t combat our heredity. Understanding family history gives us a foundation of who we are, but looking into our family medical history gives us tools to potentially better our own health and well-being.

EssenceofaMan2015 (pdf)



Take Charge with Choose to Lose

Start planning now for a Spring 2015 promotion to build leads, sales and ancillary revenues. Last week at Club Industry in Chicago, I had the opportunity to present some thoughts on how healthclubs and wellness facilities could expand their referral network in the healthcare community. We have had success with developing self-referrals through a community-wide event, Choose to Lose. Here are some steps to get started.

First, identify the following:

  1. Project Goals
  2. Planning Phases
  3. Team/Resources
  4. Analysis & Results

I. Set Project Goals for Weight-loss Program (8 or 10 weeks)

Losing even 10 pounds can impact a variety of chronic disease conditions.

  • Participant objective, enroll 500
  • Sales objective, 125 new members, plus 8-week guest pass sales of 250
  • Community involvement of fire/police teams or other civic group. Your center/club will help them meet their objectives.
  • Program objective is to build awareness of your center’s leadership role in the community as a resource for health & wellness
  • Participant completion objective of 30%
  • Public relations objective is to receive press coverage of civic team and the medical fitness
  • Establish marketing/communication budget & tactics that integrate with your Facility’s role as a Thought Leader

 II. Project Phases

  1. Planning (Several key components below)
  2. Sponsorship & Partnership Outreach
  3. Development of 8-week self-guided program, supplemented by educational sessions with our experts (tie-in local physicians)
  4. Police & fire program, identify fitness leaders to coach groups to reach goals
  5. Communications plan, internal & external
  6. Weigh in & Weight outs, data analysis
  7. Results & PR

III. Team/Resources

  1. Your Staff
  2. Local Healthcare organizations for Screenings or Referrals
  3. Screen Team & Screening tools
  4. Potential local business partners for sponsorships

IV. Final Analysis & Results

  1. Press release with results to all local media
  2. Article/blog for digital media
  3. Video testimonials of participants with results
  4. Analysis of program, did it meet goals, why or why not?

PLANNING – Thought Leadership

  1. Develop Theme/Concept for Promotional Campaign
  2. Identify key groups for building awareness
  3. Create content for press/your center’s blog
  4. Solicit other media sponsors
  5. Create messages for front-line staff

PLANNING — Program Content

  1. Reference organizations, resources for weight-loss, walking
  2. Determine staff needs for weekly weigh-ins, education
  3. Determine method for follow-up, emails, e-news
  4. Organize fun event to incent people to complete 8 weeks
  5. Tie-in sales promotion to successful completion or special offer during program
  6. Assign staff for phone call follow-up on regular basis
  7. Track usage of guest passes

FACILITY PLANNING — Sign up Week & Weekly Weigh-ins

  1. Develop process for weigh-ins, other screenings & data collection
  2. Develop registration form, HIPAA compliance, waiver for data, etc.
  3. Testimonials from participants, release for images/story
  4. Handouts/guidelines for participants on key health benefits
  5. Speaker schedule for educational sessions at key intervals
  6. Determine if data will be logged in system/website, establish criteria

Developing an Employee Wellness Culture

Given that there are more than 8,000 vendors serving the corporate wellness market, how do health clubs or wellness centers begin to differentiate their services? In reading a recent article in Modern Healthcare (May 26 issue), I was interested to learn that of the 8,000, four companies account for less than 15 percent of market share. This leaves plenty of opportunity for other wellness providers including your business to partner with small, medium-sized local organizations. The article didn’t mention companies like Virgin Pulse, which has 200 international clients with 1 million participants, so product differentiation is key.

Many clubs already partner with local businesses by offering a corporate discount on membership fees or providing a la carte wellness services, such as fitness screenings or assessments. I believe your club has a better opportunity to make lasting change by first modeling a culture of wellness among your own employees and providing targeted chronic-disease management programs. In this article we’ll go through some key steps to create your own corporate culture. In our next article, we’ll cover developing chronic-disease programs.

By modeling a wellness culture within your club, you gain first-hand knowledge of how to start planning with local businesses, and eventually will have key results to promote. First, consider these five steps:

  • Understand the concept of the benefits of a wellness culture and develop a strategy. Of course you understand the benefits of fitness, it’s your business after all. Here I’m referring to the nuts and bolts of your operation and how you communicate wellness in all aspects of your business to your staff from interviewing to new employee orientation as well as monthly memos or announcements.
  • Build buy-in of key people on your team. If employee retention isn’t a concern, you have motivated, supportive team players on board. Discuss your goals and strategies with your leadership team. Don’t have a leadership team? Organize one with regular meetings to discuss major initiatives, including your goal to be the No. 1 employer of choice in your area.
  • Develop an employee wellness and communications plan. This includes setting goals for enrollment in any type of program and outlining a budget for incentives and program delivery. Regular communication is easy with MailChimp or other e-news delivery programs, but developing consistent content to cover all aspects of the business requires an editorial outline and regular contributors (as well as an editors.)
  • Implement your plan. Getting started is one of the hardest parts. Staff time needs to be allocated for participation in any fitness or wellness events, and for those fitness team members who also will help deliver key components of the program. For example, if you are offering an assessment to all of your employees, calculate the hourly personnel cost.
  • Measure results on an ongoing basis. You’ve read the phrase, “What gets measured, gets done.” Or to spin it Peter Drucker style, what gets measured, gets managed.

Last year, we were honored to receive a Healthiest Employer award in the category of100-499 employees for a project we had managed for 12 years. We were acknowledged for complimentary memberships, group activities, rewards-based incentives and biometric screenings.

But actually we had spent years developing a healthy workplace environment that entailed more than just screenings and free memberships. We worked from the top down to communicate to our team that we were addressing all aspects of wellness for healthy living. Whether it was establishing a 401K plan to assist with savings or reviewing safety procedures, all of our team communications, trainings and policies were part of an overall strategy to support the mission and vision of the business.

In addition, at the start of each benefit plan year, our communications tactics included itemizing all benefits for full-time and part-time staff in an overview of their hidden paycheck. For a wellness program to really take root, it needs to start with benefit plan design and a strategy to communicate mission and vision of the organization. Ultimately, our goal was to become the No. 1 employer of choice given the competitiveness in the fitness and spa industries for outstanding employees.

In launching our employee wellness initiative, we believed it was important for all staff to take part in our branded 5 Alive program, which was also a key membership benefit for the public and an important part of the Center’s retention efforts. With each membership, we offered five essential appointments:

  • Cardiovascular Equipment Orientation (group format)
  • Strength Equipment Orientation (group format)
  • Lifestyle Consultation (one-on-one with exercise physiologist)
  • Nutritional Consultation (based on three-day food intake questionnaire with 15-minute overview with registered dietitian on staff)
  • Personal Training Session (one-on-one with personal trainer)

Our goal in developing 5 Alive was to reinforce our mission of improving health and wellness for the public and our company. We also didn’t want to overlook housekeeping, childcare or spa personnel who may not have focused as much on their personal health and wellness as our fitness team. We also believed every staff member should have first-hand knowledge and experience in talking about 5 Alive, as every single employee was responsible for member satisfaction and sales.

In addition, we partnered with our health insurer to provide the entire employee wellness program online. We offered incentives through quarterly drawings (gift cards) for participation, with the 5Alive program being an important component. At the end of the first year, those team members who successfully completed all steps outlined for ACE were eligible for a discount on their monthly medical insurance premium.

Your team is your greatest resource, and you want them to know that helping them take care of themselves and their families is a priority. An employee wellness program is just the beginning, or at least just one aspect of a multi-level planning and execution strategy to create a wellness culture.

For a free outline on our 5Alive communications program, sign up on our website:

Fitness Futures: Retail Locations for High-risk Population Management

Walgreens, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City and other major insurers such as WellPoint, Humana and United Healthcare have something in common that should pique the interest of the health and fitness industry. These companies have launched new retail locations to provide and sell products and services to attract more wellness consumers. Specifically, their goals are to capture more of the $5 billion market for primary care services.

For some insurers new retail locations in neighborhoods are offering urgent care, occupational medicine, physical therapy and other similar services. For others, new store formats to sell insurance products including fitness and wellness classes.

Walgreens, which operates more than 6,000 stores and 700 medical clinics, is extending its pharmacy and medical personnel into the growing field of high-risk population management. For LiveBlue of Kansas City Blue Cross, two new locations are selling insurance in a more consumer-friendly environment that uses the carrot of providing yoga classes and healthy living seminars. With different service and retail models, these businesses can provide new accessible locations for managing the most costly high-risk patients.

Other national retail clinics have jumped on this bandwagon by linking with major health systems to provide care to patients. Both the Henry Ford Health System and the Cleveland Clinic have relationships with CVS Pharmacy in-store clinics for basic primary care services. What if other national retailers decided to tap into this market as well?

Whole Foods would be a logical candidate, along with other big box retailers (Walmart) looking to repurpose space and attract traffic. How could these new retail medical locations expand and deliver fitness, nutrition and weight-management services as extensions of their brands? How might it impact the fitness industry?

I believe the fundamentals include:
1. Dedicated, visible space-An esthetic environment distinct from the dominant retail theme is a necessity. The space needs to include a multi-purpose classroom with resilient flooring, personal instruction area, meeting room and smaller spaces for counseling and testing with an exercise physiologist as the lead.
2. Exercise Software-Software and apps currently provide appraisals and exercise biometrics (e.g., for healthclubs and individuals. However, a system needs to be developed for graded exercise programs based upon an individual’s health history of chronic conditions, medications and capability. These guided exercise and nutrition programs will need to be linked to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) providing consistency in managing diet and exercise for the care clinic provider. Exercise is Medicine through the American College of Sports Medicine is working on a Prescription and Referral Tool for healthcare professionals to link to the EHR. Given HIPAA requirements, it’s not clear how qualified fitness professionals would utilize the tool this stage.
3. Rewards-Money talks. Customer loyalty programs tied to individual compliance with established health and exercise goals could go a long way to stimulate and maintain compliance among low-interest participants.
4. Relationships with ACOs-I believe that an ACO will be the treasurer for paying out a portion of their bundled payments for vendors providing prevention and wellness services. These fees would likely be based on a formula involving capitated rates, frequency of use data and patient compliance factors. For retailers, payments may be a new source of income.
5. Strategic Site Selection-With so much commercial real estate, medical retail needs to follow the systematic approach used by other retail brands. This approach consists of knowing the target demographics and location criteria of higher volume comparables. For example, MedFit has developed a site selection model for urgent care clinics with more than 20 site-specific variables to forecast expected patient volumes.

The expansion of prevention and wellness with national retailers would augment the efforts of traditional fitness providers, i.e., commercial clubs, YMCAs, public recreation and medical fitness centers, capturing the enormous market of non-healthclub users. For these consumers, this expanded universe of locations would increase access. Combined with the correct mix of frequent communication, the numbers of Americans that could regularly receive sound exercise and nutrition guidance would push the national fitness club participation rate above the current national average of 20 percent, accomplishing a critical goal of the Affordable Care Act.

Fine tune your fitness programs for ACO networks

The first quarter of 2014 is nearly over (and hopefully that is true of our winter!), so it’s a great time to assess if your strategies are on track to make your fitness or wellness business better this year. Fine-tuning your programs and communications tactics can better position your club as a part of the new healthcare delivery model. Although it is unclear how physicians and hospitals receiving bundled payments may pay for prevention and wellness services, it is clear that they will need to focus more attention on an individual’s complete health. Let’s start with who is actually in your club and how you can leverage these relationships strategically.

1. Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen
Malcolm Gladwell shares case studies on “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” in his 2000 book, The Tipping Point. We assigned this book to a group of fitness center managers, and asked them to formulate their own tipping points related to primary goals for their center’s business.

We especially wanted to increase awareness of chronic disease issues in the community, as we had purchased a series of ACSM exercise protocols that we believed create a key competitive advantage. But first we needed the team’s help in identifying connectors, mavens and salesmen among the membership to help spread our message–to create our own tipping point. Having your staff formulate a plan to identify such customers for key message delivery is an effective group exercise that can energize your current plan or be part of your planning process next year.

Our primary goal was to identify the Mavens, whom Gladwell describes as the “information specialists, or people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” These prime referrers want to solve other people’s problems. While probably not motivated by actual referral rewards, this group still needs nurturing. Our goal was to identify this type from members who had responded to a Loyalty Survey or who had been recognized in Leader Circle groups (based on weekly attendance). Ultimately, we wanted to discover and promote their personal improvement stories, and to develop talking points and incentives to spur them on to more referrals.

The other key groups in the Tipping Point concept are connectors and salesmen. Connectors typically make introductions in social circles because they have so many contacts in their network. Perhaps this valuable group is already active on your Facebook page. As you already know, salespeople are persuasive and charismatic, and you have them on staff.

You need all three groups working in concert to position your club for health care. But you also need “the stickiness factor,” as coined by Gladwell. That factor is the message. We’ll describe more on key consumer segments and specific messages in a later article.

2. Strategic Visioning
Change is rapidly occurring in the $2.7 trillion health care industry–especially in delivery. How will you be part of that change? When did you last take time to dream about your business, to dream with your key managers? Ask your core team members to explore their high point in working for your club, a time when they were operating at peak performance. Have them tell the story and describe the most important and helpful factors in the organization and the results. What can you learn from each other’s experience in how change occurs? Capture these details as you prepare for other changes that will be occurring in our industry. Start by asking what was it about the organization or team members that made a positive experience possible? What were the best qualities, skills or values that made it a high point? Write them down.

3. Asking Better Questions
Are you asking the right questions of your employees, your customers and yourself? The answers we get are often determined by the questions we ask. If we ask irrelevant questions, we get irrelevant answers. If we ask better questions—empowering questions—we get empowering answers. Marilee Adams, an executive coach, has developed a system of tools called Question Thinking that she outlines in her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. In a future article we will use these tools to dive into new member orientations and health and fitness assessments. Get started with your team with these questions: What could or should our competitive strategic advantage be? What do we have the ability to create right now? In mid-term? In the long-term?

4. Living the Vision
How has your business vision changed? In an annual all-staff meeting years ago, we used the FISH! Philosophy video, which describes how Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle became world-famous. I still relate to its simple idea of coming together as a team to live the vision. Successful teams are guided by three principles:

Be it: make the vision part of everything you do
Commit: make a commitment to bringing the vision into your place of work
Coach it: teach others about the importance of the vision, and have fun in doing it

Are you modeling a culture of wellness and fitness among your employees? If not, how do they feel about delivering health and wellness to your customers, other clients and possibly mavens in your community? An upcoming article will explore corporate wellness programs and their role in the new healthcare landscape.

5. Leaders Lead
Leaders focus on people and ask what and why. They develop and innovate. Are you ready to lead this next innovation? It’s going to require a longer-term perspective and resources to create change in your club and its position within the community. We’ll give you tips on how to get there.

Watch for our series for the Club Insider and excerpted here, Fitness Futures and Healthcare Delivery. We’ll cover:

Developing Healthcare Referrals: Sedentary, deconditioned and overweight. You can reach this market more effectively with lifestyle programs that can expand your ancillary revenues. But first you need to use the right message to get referrals from healthcare professionals in your market.

Your Club, Your Community: The healthcare environment is changing, and your role as a top fitness provider is a community asset. Have you identified community initiatives that can help you showcase your facility to residents and the health care community?

Going Corporate: Are you modeling a culture of wellness among your own employees? One of the best ways to develop a corporate wellness program is to practice what you preach.

Sticky Messages for Segments: Understanding who your customers are is one of the ways you’ve been successful in your business. Do you know what other customers you can reach in your market area? We do. With our Prizm analysis model for medical fitness center consumers, we’ve identified 10 top segments you can reach with lifestyle programs and targeted communications.

Measure and Evaluate. Assessing your programs is yet another way to communicate your results to your customers and potential customers. Plus, it makes smart business sense for those healthcare constituents you want to entice.

Use these ideas to start brainstorming on changes occurring in our industry. We welcome your thoughts and feedback. Sign up on our web site to get a list of analytical questions to help maximize your strategic competitive advantage.

Medical Fitness Trends

At MedFit Partners, our assessment of market conditions affecting medical fitness centers contains both challenging news and exciting opportunities for 2014.

1. Hospital-financed projects continue an anemic growth trend. During the last 10 years, health care has been undergoing a transformation at all levels. Priorities have shifted from local to regional perspectives as providers have merged to create larger, more efficient systems. In 2009, there were 52 hospital mergers, 72 in 2010, 90 in 2011 and 105 in 2012. The goal is market share with the correct cost mix of physicians and vendors providing outpatient services. In most markets, medical real estate development becomes too expensive and competitive with other medical users to support the returns from a medical fitness center. Without a pressing mandate, it will be difficult to gain hospital executives’ attention.
2. The word wellness is everywhere, especially in major urban markets. There is an amazing range of retail options in fitness, personal services, dining, grocery and information under the wellness umbrella. New entries arrive daily providing a variety of choices and price points for the knowledgeable consumer. Messaging, multi-channel marketing, outrageous customer service and outcome reporting are especially critical today in creating demand and differentiation for the medical fitness product.
3. Collaborations and networks are critical for improving community health. The 2008 and 2013 reports from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, Commission to Build a Healthier America, speak to the importance of making healthcare more responsively linked into the development context of our communities. To me, this means more public and private collaborations as well as integrated fitness networks with all types of providers. Just as there are “food deserts” there are “medical fitness deserts” that need our services to improve community health. Our goal should be to substantially increase the national fitness membership demand above the 20 percent participation rate.
4. Prevention and fitness under Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) may provide opportunities for medical fitness centers. Obamacare supports the creation of larger networks of insurers, hospitals, physicians and providers under ACOs. A limited number of trials are underway, providing medical coverage to a large group of lives paid under a bundled provider payment model. If the goal is to reduce the demand for medical services by managing chronic issues, what is a reasonable amount that could be allocated to prevention and fitness services provided by a vendor? If the average per capita medical cost in the United States is $8,601, what portion should cover wellness activities to reduce this number? This critical question needs to be answered by medical fitness center member research.
5. Orthopedic specialists and their ancillaries will continue to be major champions of medical fitness, but in smaller, more integrated settings. Driven by demographics, more active lifestyles and obesity, the demand for orthopedic services will continue at high levels, providing pre- and post- treatment opportunities. Medical fitness providers should be able to take on the role of outpatient therapy, extending patient care well beyond the typical reimbursement period.
6. Technology and its application to chronic-condition management for all age groups is a critical necessity for all fitness providers. Currently, one out of four adults has multiple chronic conditions—a focus of high-risk management strategies by ACOs. To control medical usage patterns, chronic patients will need to become more physically active under uniform, condition-based exercise guidelines applied through a software solution. Fitness providers will need to have certified personnel capable of translating and applying this technology to the specifics of the consumer and the ACO.
7. Weak economy continues to negatively impact sales and retention. The fitness industry is definitely feeling the impact of the weak economy—14 percent of adults out of work, weak consumer discretionary spending and static real estate prices. Simultaneously, there has been a dramatic increase in the supply of health clubs at all price levels. In some markets, fitness clubs are as prevalent as coffee shops. The result: consumers have a range of choices, and they are willing to try other fitness providers that have excellent staff, programming and clean facilities.