Selling Snake Oil Is Never a Good Idea

One last thought about sales. Everyone in the industry wants to make money, but the methods that different owners, vendors and other fitness professionals use to acquire the green stuff are very, very different. One thing holds constant though: your members and clients can spot a snake oil salesman from a mile away, and most won't take the bait.

You would think that in our profession, overpromising results or exaggerating product benefits wouldn't be an issue. Our industry is based upon years of exercise science research and a passion for learning what works and what doesn't in fitness. Most of us got into this business to help our clients get and stay healthy and fit. So, in most facilities it's not a problem, but I've been noticing more and more ridiculous “guarantees” in the past few months.

A club I visited recently was a master at this. While running on the treadmill, I heard a personal trainer promise a client that if she drank this special meal-in-a-can drink for lunch and dinner, she would drop weight. Well, duh. You could drink regular soda for two of your meals and drop pounds. It wouldn't be healthy, but, then again, a chocolate shake isn't exactly considered a “health food” except for a few vitamins and added protein. You could easily get these nutrients by taking a multivitamin or by eating a varied diet.

Then while watching television one night, I saw an advertisement for a club's tanning services. It was sort of a look-like-you've-been-in-the-tropics-when-you've-actually-been-in-the-Midwest-in-the-middle-of-winter type of commercial. Naturally, it featured a smiling, 20-something, skinny blonde in a bright red bikini. The point of the ad? When you are sporting a tan, you look slimmer. My jaw dropped. There are so many things wrong with this statement. Aren't we supposed to be “selling” health? This club was basically encouraging people to not work out and to sit in a tanning bed instead. I'm pretty sure lying in the fluorescent glow doesn't burn too many calories or increase cardio output. In addition, tanning isn't exactly on the list of top 10 healthy behaviors, and the swimsuit model is a poor choice for a spokesperson if you're attempting to encourage normal-looking females to visit the club.

At another fitness facility, a club owner promised me that if I just took this supplement once a day (for $39.95 a bottle), every day, my headaches would disappear, I'd have more energy and I'd never be sore again. A major part of the definition of a snake oil salesman is that they overpromise results. I'm pretty sure this is a good example of that.

Why do we promote ourselves this way? We know it's not right, but sometimes our marketing gets ahead of our thinking. I don't honestly believe that most people who promise these ludicrous things actually believe in them. Instead, I believe that in our increasingly competitive and sometimes oversaturated industry, desperate people resort to desperate measures. When you keep seeing your membership numbers drop or more clients not coming through your doors, you may feel like you have to do something. But remember, promising results that can't be regularly delivered or even promoting something that has nothing at all to do with health is no way to get you and your club where you want to go. Out-of-the-box marketing, creative programming and quality service are the best ways to stay the course and keep snake oil, no matter what it treats or cures, out of your facility for good.

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