A Brand Long Forgotten but a Marketing Lesson Worth Remembering

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How many of us remember the F.W. Woolworth Co., which was arguably the most successful five and dime in the history of five and dime stores? In 1979, the company was the largest department store in the world. Today, only 30 years later, most people don’t know Woolworth – or do they? In 2001, F.W. Woolworth Co. officially changed its name to Foot Locker, a brand that the company started in 1974.

Executives at F.W. Woolworth recognized that in order to remain relevant, they had to differentiate themselves. The fitness industry today is in the exact same situation; the similarities are so close, it’s frightening. Yet, most owners don’t see what’s happening. The ones that do are ahead of the curve, creating smaller boutique brands that best resonate with consumers today. And the funny thing is, those consumers are willing to pay more – a lot more – for that experience.

“So, what’s the plan?” I hear that a lot. The simple magic bullet that everyone thinks exists is the idea that marketing is going to change everything. Today, digital marketing is working mainly through efficiencies within advertising networks and the ability to reach a consumer most likely to join your club. As the market evolves, these advances in algorithms and targeting are going to be less impactful and the results of yesterday are going to be harder to duplicate. Either cost per lead (or cost per member) is going to increase or fewer prospects will be available to choose from.

This may be the calm before the storm, where suddenly new member fees can no longer cover cancellations and clubs find themselves having to offer fewer services to stay in business. The question now becomes, how can you use the resources available to take advantage of marketing efficiencies and a new breed of fitness consumers?

The answer is to go where others can’t or won’t based on infrastructure, human resources, know-how or plain old fear. Essentially, you must become a specialist in a world of generalists. Take your club, strip it down to its elements, and brand everything. From the kid’s club to indoor cycling, even the soap in the shower – everything. And I don’t mean to just simply put your club’s name on everything. Utilize real branding techniques, and you may even wind up selling your newly branded products to members as well.

This may seem like a lot of work (and it is), but we’re talking about where the industry is headed. If you want to see it for yourself, just look at the way hotels are marketing their experience. At Marriott, you can now buy the mattresses and linens. Make your brand ooze out of every part of your facility, and do it in a way that the competition can’t compete with.

Imagine the tour: “And here is our locker room. Please note the soap. It’s a specialized formula that is designed to rehydrate your skin after a workout. I’ll get you some samples before you leave.” Can you imagine what a prospect would think if they went to another club and asked what kind of soap they have? That is just one example of taking ownership of the member experience and making your facility different.

From here, the marketing almost writes itself. Posts are no longer just focused around motivation but differentiation. Although the industry is focused on price, new paid programs and trying to stem the tide of millennials going to boutique clubs, we are going to focus on experience – becoming not just a gym but a destination where members want to hang out with like-minded individuals, take part in incredible classes (that are branded), can enjoy a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights, and yes, can buy your soap. An experience that they can’t get anywhere else – especially not for $10 a month.

Now, back to Foot Locker. Their employees have referee uniforms, and there is a back-of-store area called House of Hoops where they sell higher-end products. Additionally, they have launch events for new shoes that come out. They moved from selling items for a nickel to selling a brand.

The bottom line is that this strategy might not affect your cost per lead acquisition (the market sets those prices), but it will increase leads, conversions and retention. Your cost per member acquisition is ultimately what is going to be significantly affected. Will your club come out with a winning strategy?


David Steel is founder of Sneeze It, a division of The Steel Method, where he serves as chief viral officer and helps his clients boost their marketing efforts and online presence. Steel educates companies on how to attract prospects, build a lead pipeline and convert those leads into customers. He is a best-selling author and online marketing expert who has given speaking engagements in the United States and abroad on how to create successful—and lucrative—digital and social marketing campaigns.

This article was included in Club Industry’s 2018 report, “Forward Five Years: How the Fitness and Wellness Industry Will Change.” You can download the full report for free by going here.


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